back to article Fukushima update: No chance cooling fuel can breach vessels

The story of the three quake- and tsunami-hit reactors at Japan's Fukushima plant continues, with indications that one of the three worst-hit reactors has sustained further damage. A fire also broke out at another reactor, shut down at the time of the quake and not previously thought to be a problem, but this has now been put …

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  1. Pawel 1

    You should probably update your story

    Current radiation level near the reactors of that plant is 100-400 mSv/h, which has immediated health consequences.

  2. Annihilator
    Heart

    Flat Earth News

    Thank you thank you thank you. To quote Dr Antone Brooks in that book "In my opinion, low doses of radiation are a piss-poor carcinogen and just not a big hitter when it comes to health effects. We have through our fear of radiation parlayed it into a major player when it is not".

    Another excellent book along a similar thread is Bad Science by Ben Goldacre.

    Thanks El Reg for continuing to report the news with regards to this, and not the rest of the media's self-stoked fire. The Japanese earthquake has enough tragedy to be reporting on without adding scaremongering to the story.

  3. Steve Murphy

    "Fukushima is a triumph for nuke power: Build more reactors now!"

    "Fukushima is a triumph for nuke power: Build more reactors now!" said Lewis Page yesterday.

    He even posted a link to a blog to the supposed writings of Dr Oehman - not the original one of course as the comments on their discredit it but a copy. Dr Oehman's Dad worked in the Nuclear industry, he himself works in "supply chain management"

    I wonder what Lewis Page's credentials are - is he employed by the nucelar lobby?

    In other news Japan's nuclear crisis has been upgraded to number six on the INES scale of nuclear accidents.

  4. Laurence Cuffe

    Fire in the pool

    Two points.

    1) your MIT scientist is not a nuclear physicist, or a reactor engineer. He is a well educated scientist making educated guesses, and some of his information such as that in the case of meltdown the first reactor core will drop into the core catcher, are incorrect as this reactor has no core catcher. Its a good post but has been super seeded by events.

    2) The worrying development at this point is the fire in an irradiated fuel storage pool. This is of concern because the variety of released nucleutides is potentially greater and more problematic.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Headmaster

      I think what you meant to say

      is 'superseded'.

    2. It wasnt me
      Thumb Down

      Yes, yes it has.

      "In other news Japan's nuclear crisis has been upgraded to number six on the INES scale of nuclear accidents."

      By France. In other news Afghanistan's Gold medal tally at the sydney olympics has just been upped to 43. By me.

      Other utter irrelevancies available on request.

      .

    3. serviceWithASmile
      Flame

      point?

      I think Mr. Page has made his thoughts on Nuclear power clear in the last couple of days (and before if you'd read any previous related articles). Yes he is being paid for his point of view - unless el Reg let him write opinion pieces for free.

      Implying he is being bribed somehow to say these things is a piss poor attempt to discredit what he is saying - I'm not being paid to say this either, but I think that 95% of news is hyperbole, and that the current load of bull being reported is no exception.

      Regardless of who is being paid to say what, taking money for being right doesn't make you wrong. Just potentially a bit corrupt.

      Regarding the #6 scale thing, according to the INES User's Manual (2008 edition) that means that there has been a significant release of radioactive material likely to require the implementation of planned countermeasures.

      Which is pretty much what happened.

      Strangely, no mention of whether or not any deaths from radiation have to happen for this level to be assigned to an incident - however levels 4 and 5 both mention explicitly deaths from radiation overdose. Did they assign is a smaller level first or go straight in with a six?

      To my knowledge there have been no deaths from radiation overdose, yet, even in the plant itself. Shurely shome mishtake?

    4. Mike Richards Silver badge

      A bit of a mixed bag

      What has probably given people in the know nightmares is that computer simulations of BWR failures show that small containment structures incorporating pressure suppression measures such as tanks, wet wells or ice condensors, offer much less security than the alternative design of a large heavy containment vessel. The small containments at Fukushima have a much greater risk of failing in the event of a catastrophic steam explosion or the high pressure ejection of the molten core - both of which could happen in a BWR.

      The good news is, as Lewis points out, the production of energy in the reactor is rapidly diminishing, and with every hour the risk of further melting recedes. The reactors are slagged, but it looks like the vessels have held.

      Where I disagree with Lewis is that the lesson of Fukushima is not to build more reactors now, it's to sit down and look at reactor designs and see if we need to learn lessons from this tragedy. Since we don't know the precise sequence of events that led to the loss of all off-site and on-site power for the pumps it is probably worth finding out what went wrong before proceding with new build. Fortunately we're not going to be building any more 1960s vintage reactor or containment designs; but that doesn't mean it isn't worth looking long and hard at what happened here and improving things further.

      Right now, I'd be looking at CANDU reactors, not just because the Canadians are nice people, but because we could start building them as soon as possible, they work, they work well and they're safe.

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge
        Boffin

        @point?

        It all really depends on what you call 'significant', doesn't it. I would suggest that a graphite fire and subsequent release of a lrge plume of long-lived radioactive isotopes over much of northern Europe, a-la Chernobyl would rate as significat, hence level six.

        On the other hand, short releases of very short-lived isotopes (i.e. tritium in radioactive cooling water released as steam) which decay to harmless isotopes in a matter of minutes, in the immediate vicinity of the plant, raising the ambient radiation to ~6 sieverts on the same timescale, before returning to much lower levels is by no menas as 'significant'.

        We have yet to see if any harmful isotopes have been released, but I suspect not. Iodine tablets have been issued to those living in the area, as a precaution against the effects of radioactive iodine releases but people have not been instructed to take them. This indicates to me that there has been no measurable level of radioactive iodine released, which means that there has been no release of core material. Some workers may have been exposed to potentially 'harmful' (but probably still actually safe) levels of radioactivity, most likely tritium which decays to nothing in a short time, and are being treated for the effects of such.

        My prediction of the health effects of this episode are: No deaths, no increased incidence of cancer in the general population, minor radiation poisoning for one or two people who will make a full recovery in a matter of days or weeks.

        In the meantime, 10000 people are declared missing or dead in the area from the effects of the tsunami, oil refineries are still burning (AFAIK), releasing unpleasant organic pollutants into the environment which undoubtedly WILL enter the food chain and have health effects on people. These are the sort of things that are carcinogenic and teratogenic (i.e. cause birth defects), exactly the fears that people have about the consequences of nuclear power.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          tritium half life

          Tritium has a half live of 12 years+. However I don't think facts have much of a place in this debate.

          1. L.B
            Boffin

            RE: Tritiun half life..

            You got there before me; tritium it does have a half life of about 11-12 years.

            It is also mostly harmless as it only emits low energy beta radiation.

            The same tritium gas is in my key ring fob, very useful if i drop it at night as I can find it with ease.

            Said radio active key ring fob was purchased from el Reg back in 2003, and still glows bright enough to be useful.

            ?does that boffin look like he glows in the dark?

            1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

              @tritium half-life

              Oops, my bad - it's the oxygen isotopes produced by neutron bombardment of water that have half-lives in the minute range (i.e. Oxygen 15 or Oxygen 14). Very little tritium would be produced by fast neutron bombardment of water, only a small quantity of deuterium, which is, of course, stable.

        2. Intractable Potsherd
          Thumb Up

          To add to Loyal Commenter ...

          "In the meantime, 10000 people are declared missing or dead in the area from the effects of the tsunami, oil refineries are still burning (AFAIK), releasing unpleasant organic pollutants into the environment...", and now the weather is getting colder, with snow and freezing temperatures expected (see e.g. http://english.aljazeera.net/weather/2011/03/201131411569226380.html). That is going to account for more lives over the next few days, probably more than will *ever* be attributable to the Fukushima events.

          A sense of proportion would be useful amongst the nuclear worry-warts.

      2. Joel 1
        Boffin

        LTFR

        I would like to see further development of Liquid Thorium Fuelled Reactors - as previously mentioned on El Reg, and as the Chinese have announced they will be developing....

        Watch the excellent summarised mix of Google Talks available at http://youtu.be/WWUeBSoEnRk

        Fascinating.... wouldn't have been subject to the problems currently being seen in Japan...

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Coat

        What went wrong is known

        The emergency power generators were designed to withstand a 6.5m Tsunami, which in itself is rather unthinkable. Unluckily for the engineers who designed the plant, the 7m tsunami that hit the plant put a "spanner in the works" so to speak.

        In all engineering, there is some level, which must be set. 6.5m? 21.3m? 7.5 magnitude? 8.3 magnitude? pick some numbers. The ones chosen were prudent and in every other situation yet experienced during mankind's reign on the planet they would have been collectively sufficient (the structures are all still there and intact remember, after an 8.9!). Personally, I am quite impressed that designs as old as these ones - we know so much more now and are capable of significantly better designs and implementations - have withstood what really is a massive natural disaster.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Spolling by the Quoon

      >> I wonder what Lewis Page's credentials are - is he employed by the nucelar lobby?

      He can type Nuclear, and doesn't get "there" and their" confused. What are your "credentials?"

      Mine? I'm just someone who doesn't believe the hype.

      1. Basic
        Coffee/keyboard

        @AC 14:35 LMFAO

        >> >> I wonder what Lewis Page's credentials are - is he employed by the nucelar lobby?

        >> He can type Nuclear, and doesn't get "there" and their" confused. What are your "credentials?"

        You owe me a new keyboard! I wonder, is the OP actually George Bush?

    6. Highlander

      Larry you *must* do some actual research before opening your mouth for your foot.

      The spent fuel in the containment pool can't catch fire, it's not combustible. However aside from that minor, but important point, the fire at reactor 4 was put out within 2 hours and as of 02:00 UTC (02:00 GMT) the fire had been extinguished. But perhaps the most important point is that the pools were no on fire, the fuel was not on fire. So your post is wrong on several levels. Frankly, you're doing nothing more than falling for the media crap. as of this morning more than 12 hours (US time) after the fire was put out, the US media are still reporting a fire at the plant, not that it's extinguished and are talking of growing radiation levels when in fact the radiation levels have been falling for the majority of the last 8 hours.

      No one in the media has bothered to point out that the reactors are shut down and that the issue is that the residual isotopes that decay quickly are what is causing the continued heat. Once those isotopes decay (which should happen in the next few days) the reactors will effectively go cold because the control rods are in place in all three reactors.

      This entire story has been utterly mis-reported by the 'news' media. So much so that I can only describe what they are doing as scaremongering and driving panic so that they have something to report. It's not so much fun reporting that the Japanese people are reacting with stoicism and calm to a disaster that would be incomprehensible to most people. It's much sexier to open news broadcasts with days old footage of a hydrogen explosion or some anonymous nuclear fuel storage pond and then spout words like meltdown and Chernobyl. That's what beings in the viewers and advertisers.

      Frankly the media's response to the calamity in Japan has been offensive. They have trivialized he loss of life by not reporting anything by the supposed international nuclear crisis unfolding at Fukushima Daiichi.

      Not that it will happen, but I would so love, once this is over, for someone in a major news organization to go back and retell the story with the truth, and contrast that time line with the news reports coming from the major media organizations. There are so many 'journalists' who don't deserve the title now.

      1. Bill B

        Upvote

        I would upvote your post about 10 times if I could.

        It makes my blood boil to see BBC News headlines "Disaster in Japan" followed by a story on the difficult (but progressing) shutdown of a nuclear plant. Very little is said about the massive humanitarian disaster in the surrounding countryside caused by the earthquake and tsunami.

        The biggest danger is that people focus on the minor incident and forget the major one and that much needed support is lost as a result.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          FAIL

          MSM wrong again - no news there, business as usual.

          The Fukushima Daiichi issue is a non-event. Japan was just struck by one of the biggest earthquakes in recorded history followed by a massive tsunami with a death toll certainly in the 5 or maybe 6 figure range. Has anyone even been hurt or been irradiated enough to get a tan from the power stations issues yet? Compare with 000s dead by being crushed, drowned, electrocuted etc

          The Japanese live in a wobbly part of the planet and are well prepared, but preparation is one thing, how they act when the proverbial s***t hits the revolving apparatus is what impresses. The nuclear engineers and the electric company that own the plants have demonstrated skill and integrity, and the government of Japan seems on the ball as well - but this is a non-story!

          Worse, the MSM are not reporting, they seem to be making it up as they go along, scaremongering and demonstrating zero ability to deal with what is happening in factual terms.

          MSM lost the plot years ago, and I removed BBC World from my TV years ago - they are as crap as CNN now - superficial, supersillious and super bad.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Flame

            "skill and integrity"

            "the electric company that own the plants have demonstrated skill and integrity"

            Which planet did you say you were on? Five senior executives commit fraud, get caught and then you declare the company has demonstrated integrity? Mind you, executives in some UK industries commit fraud on a routine basis and never get held to account.

            "MSM lost the plot years ago"

            That we can agree on. Though it was nice to see Walt Patterson on TV again, and I gather the UK's Channel 4 News has had John Large in.

          2. Intractable Potsherd

            Getting most of my news ...

            ... from Al Jazeera theses days. There is spin, but they aren't as strident, and don't seem to have strayed so far from the path that their moral compass is useless.

      2. The Flying Dutchman
        FAIL

        Spent fuel is not combustible...

        ... But the zircaloy tubes it is packed in, under certain circumstances, certainly are. If the fuel gets hot enough (through its own decay heat) zircaloy may oxidise very rapidly, i.e. burn. The reaction is strongly exothermic and thus adds additional heat to the system, which will further propagation.

        Also note that the spent fuel pool of No. 4 (the one in trouble) contains a full reactor core's worth of fuel elements that have been unloaded from the core a couple of months ago (or so). These are quite hot both in the conventional and the radiation sense of the term, and if cooling fails a zirconium fire is not at all unlikely.

        Such a zirconium fire will result in a white hot molten eutectic mixture of zirconium and uranium oxides, spiced up with fission fragments many of which are volatile at temperatures involved, and there will be no containment structure to stop these from getting into the environment.

    7. Highlander

      Not really, perhaps you need to read the IAEA's news brief on the subject?

      Short lived isotopes giving a locally high reading, does not equate to major release of radiation or radioactive material.

    8. 42
      WTF?

      ROFLMAO

      Page will,never let the facts get in the way of pushing hie nuclear barrel.

      All reports indicate the situation is getting worse, and is very serious.

      1. Basic
        WTF?

        -er-

        "All reports indicate the situation is getting worse, and is very serious"

        Really? Would that be reports from competent scientists or from news agencies that make money by having "exciting" headlines?

        I don't mean to belittle the risks of nuclear power but frankly, I think the situation has been handled remarkably well - Added to which, compare the current risks from radiation (which I understand as being minimal from my own reading) with the other effects on the area and really nuclear power is by far the smallest problem they're facing

        I admit I have no knowledge beyond a degree in Physics (Different area) but really this does seem to be over-hyped.

        Of course, we'll find out over the next few years who is right. I sincerely hope it's me for obvious reasons.

  5. Hermes Conran
    Flame

    Another great triumph!

    So they are left with 4 fused and corroded raioactive lumps to get rid of and a large amount of the country's generating capacity ofline at a time when they rest of thier infrastructure has taken a huge hit. It will take years (decades, never?) to dismantle the site and years to get their capacity back to where it was before the quake both at enormous cost. Win!!!!

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What is cooling fuel?

    What on earth is cooling fuel, professor Page?

  7. Steve Murphy

    Chernobyl "not that serious."

    Really? I guess when you only include provable deaths and ignore all the other health problems.

  8. Name 7
    Dead Vulture

    Thus far

    Counted two "thus far" in this "update".

    Sticking to facts always results in better journalism. Labelling the Fukushima disaster a "triumph" is anything but for The Register's reputation (or what's left of it).

  9. Steven Jones

    A different note...

    Do I detect something rather less triumphalist than Lewis's last, rather ill-considered headline? Whatever this is, it is not a triumph for nuclear. It may not be a full-on environmental disaster, but it's going to be extremely expensive to clear up.

    The obvious question to ask is whether the risk assessment was done correctly, and was this taken into account in the placement of the plant? Tsunami is a Japanese word, so they can hardly plead ignorance as to the vulnerability.

    The rather stupid thing here is that the measures required to place the relevant parts of the plant beyond the reach of a tsunami are probably going to turn out to be considerably less than the clean up costs, the writing-off of the remaining plant life and the economic damage caused by loss of generating capacity. Fair enough, the loss of life is likely to be limited, albeit the emotional impact of poisoning land cannot be ignored. However, the economic cost is much worst and much of it could surely have been avoided.

    So was it a triumph for the nuclear industry? Decidely not I would say. Much better is to be a bit humble, learn lessons and not over-state cases. This was a bit of a cock-up by the original designers as what has happened is a far from unlikely scenario. Most likely optimistic assumptions were made and short-cuts taken.

  10. Stefing
    WTF?

    El Reg hearts nukes

    The Register's reporting has hit Clarkson levels of bias.

    A new low,

    1. Chris Miller

      What is cooling fuel?

      I suspect that it is fuel that is cooling, once nuclear reactions have ceased (as is the case in the three problem reactors). I'll be generous and assume that English is not your first language.

    2. This post has been deleted by a moderator

    3. James Hughes 1

      Fuel is Cool!

      No related to this incident but there are a number of situation where fuel is used to cool.

      Dragster engines use a large quantities of fuel to cool the cylinder head as it passes through.

      Many rocket engines used fuel passed round the nozzle to cool it, and film cooled ones use fuel down the sides as well.

      Interesting times.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Boffin

      True

      When you include unrelated deaths and ignore all speculation from nefarious sources, then yes Chernobyl was very serious. If you attribute all the Plague victims from the 1300's to it as well it becomes a pandemic.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Down

        So will you be spending your holiday in Pripyat this year?

        Thought not.

        Suggesting that Chernobyl was not serious disqualifies you and Lewis from having an opinion on anything related to nuclear safety.

        1. GavinC

          I did...

          I did spend my summer holidays in Pripyat back in 2008... ok it was only a day, but the only thing stopping me from going back for a two week break is the lack of bars, rather than the radiation levels.

          You think Pripyat is unsafe? Tell that to the workers at the Chernobyl power plant, which was still operational until 2000, and to this day is still manned 24/7 by crews decomissioning the plant.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Grenade

            and your point is what?

            Presumably the lack of bars is not because of they have introduced prohibition but because no one lives there to staff them. So are you saying Pripyat should not have been evacuated or that every so often, having to abandon a city is not really a big deal.

            <boom!>

            oops... there goes Oldbury. Hey Bristol, Cardiff, Glouchester. Do you mind coming back in 10 years? People in Swindon... can you stay indoors for 5.

            Thanks in advance.

            Magnox North Limited.

            Producing weapons grade plutonium under the guise of 'clean energy' since 1962.

        2. Intractable Potsherd
          Thumb Down

          Actually, AC 15:29 ...

          ... I have been thinking about it. The major stoppers are that it is an essentially lawless area,* which is a major downside (I wouldn't go to Somalia, Afghanistan, or even Panama for much the same reason), and, as far as I know, you need special permission to enter the area. The "radiation risk" does not even enter enter into it when I consider reasons not to go.

          * I have a problem - I love places where there are few people, especially those areas that were built-up previously, but I am not the right type to be able to cope with the numbers of people living outside the rule of law.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      If I was forced to make a guess...

      ...I would go for "fuel which is becoming less hot over time"

    6. DaveyDaveDave
      WTF?

      a letter and/or digit

      I'm guessing here (and, apparently, the only commentard here to admit that - I can only wonder how the rest of you, clearly employees of TEPCO currently deployed at Fukushima, have time to be commenting here), but presumably having the plant near plenty of water was a direct result of the risk assessment being done "correctly" - to cope with exactly the circumstances that they are currently (successfully) dealing with.

      1. Steven Jones

        @man who likes repeating his name...

        Hardly worth replying to an idiot, but I guess I can't resist it.

        Firstly, who the hell suggested building nuclear plants away from copious supplies of water? Everybody knows thermal power stations need that. However, it's not beyond the wit of mankind to place the critical parts of the plant out of reach of the tsunami, yet being close enough to the coastline to pump water. The important thing here is that the backup generators were apparently disabled by the tsunami and, at the very least, such critical backups should have been protected - or maybe the plant could have been built on a platform excavated into the hillside sufficiently high enough to be out of reach of any tsunami that might reasonably be expected. Or possibly there are diversionary barriers that can be built - you can't stop a tsunami, but you may be able to direct it away. You do not need oceans of water to provide emergency cooling for a reactor - it's only the residual heat and that generated by the decay products that need to be dealt with. That's a tiny fraction of the energy produced under power, but the important thing is to keep the emergency cooling circulating which is what failed here. Now this all costs money, but a fraction of the economic costs we've seen here.

        Also, whilst I'm not a nuclear engineer, I'm a physics graduate and involved in critical IT infrastructure. The issues of multi-layered protection, risk management, recovery procedures, disaster scenarios and so on are not so different. Oh - and without going to much into it, some of those IT systems are critical. If they fail, people will die and the costs will be enormous on some of these systems (albeit not in the billions).

        Now mine are just suggestions - but whatever happened, something has gone very wrong and I find it not credible that this couldn't have been forseen and dealt with. Probably it was cost cutting and optimistic assumptions that held sway - read Richard Feynman's account of the Challenger disaster and he describes very well the systemic issues that occur in a project which screw up the risk assesment process.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          WTF?

          Sorry, but?

          "Also, whilst I'm not a nuclear engineer, I'm a physics graduate and involved in critical IT infrastructure. The issues of multi-layered protection, risk management, recovery procedures, disaster scenarios and so on are not so different."

          Great, then what are you doing in I.T.? Obviously you should be Senior Director of Hindsight at TEPCO?

          1. Steven Jones

            @AC

            Might I suggest that addressing the issues and arguments rather than misdirected sarcasm is the appropriate thing to do. Questions regarding the placement of nuclear facilities vulnerable to a tsunami on a coast with known vulnerabilities are surely valid questions to be asked.

            I think when the dust has settled on this issue, to use an unfortunate metaphor, we will see that all governments with coastal nuclear facilities vulnerable to tsunami will be evaluating how well their plant is protected. Some might argue that is in hindsight, but that does not, to use another unfortunate metaphor, hold water as there have been others warning of the dangers of nuclear plants in geologically active areas for many years.

            here's one example at plucked at random. It might, or might not, be valid. It's clear that the Japanese got this one wrong.

            http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2010/09/23/2003483569

            1. Maurice Shakeshaft

              Were is the scarasm?

              That's all?

              1. Steven Jones

                @Maurice Shakeshaft

                "Great, then what are you doing in I.T.? Obviously you should be Senior Director of Hindsight at TEPCO?"

                I think that counts as sarcasm.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          FAIL

          False assumption

          Foot in mouth 101.

          Your false assumption that the tsunami risk was not part of the design permeates you pointless post. Not only was it known, it was factored in at a phenomenal 6.5m. Unluckily, it seems that the unthinkable of 7m occured. Your "suggestions" show that you know little and have bothered to find out less

          1. Steven Jones

            Still wrong

            I've no doubt they did factor in - they simply they got it wrong. There is archaeological evidence of tsunamis available.

        3. DR
          Coat

          I might have the benefit of 20:20 but...

          if you need a copious supply of water, then it makes sense to build on the coast...

          but why the Pacific coast, why not the coast of the Sea of Japan? -much less risk of tsunami in that nice more sheltered patch of water?

          if for this fact alone surely the comments about "was the risk properly assessed" or "was the site a wise choice" actually make sense.

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