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

    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?

    1. Arctic fox
      FAIL

      The downvoters should be ashamed of themselves.

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

    2. Otto von Humpenstumpf
      Grenade

      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.

    3. Combat Wombat
      Badgers

      Let's see

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

    4. JC 2
      Alert

      @ 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.

      1. Charles Manning
        FAIL

        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.

    5. 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...

      1. Captain TickTock
        Alert

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

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

    6. 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?

    7. oddie
      Troll

      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?

    8. Rich464
      Stop

      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.

    9. Gorbachov
      Thumb Down

      alternatives?

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

      http://goo.gl/fDGRR

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

      1. 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.

      2. Charles Manning

        LFTR maybe?

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

        http://blogs.howstuffworks.com/2009/12/01/how-a-liquid-fluoride-thorium-reactor-lftr-works/

      3. 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.

    10. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Prick

      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.

    11. kororas
      Alert

      so...

      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.

    12. DavCrav Silver badge
      FAIL

      Check facts first?

      Meltdown = we can't use it again.

      Meltdown =/= everyone dies.

    13. 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

    14. 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?

    15. This post has been deleted by its author

    16. Bill Neal
      Unhappy

      safe?

      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?

    17. ~mico
      Boffin

      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?

      1. peter_dtm
        Grenade

        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.

        1. byrresheim
          FAIL

          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.

    18. Anonymous Coward
      Flame

      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.

    19. Anonymous Coward
      Flame

      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.

    20. 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.

    21. 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..."

    22. This post has been deleted by its author

    23. 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.

    24. Mark 65 Silver badge

      @Elmer

      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.

    25. 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:

      http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-03-12/explosion-destroys-walls-of-japan-reactor-building-nhk-reports.html

      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?

    26. 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?

    27. 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.

      1. Chemist

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

        What !!!!!

    28. Ray Simard

      @yesterday

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

    29. 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.

      http://english.kyodonews.jp/news/2011/03/77123.html

      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.

      ==Kyodo

    30. ZankerH
      Megaphone

      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.

      1. 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....

    31. Timfy67
      Flame

      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.

    32. Intractable Potsherd

      Yes!

      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.

    33. Ian McNee
      Troll

      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

      (iv) <INSERT FAVOURED SPURIOUS BOLLOCKS HERE>

      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...??

    34. 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.

    35. Paul 139
      Unhappy

      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.

    36. Oliver Mayes
      Boffin

      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.

    37. 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.

    38. 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.

    39. sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD

      Tragic

      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

  2. Jeroen Braamhaar
    Stop

    For a better view and some insights ...

    Go here:

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/03/11/nuclear-meltdown-race-to-save-reactors-in-japan/

    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.

  3. Drakkenson

    latest news

    The explosion was caused by hydrogen accumulated outside the reactor shield but inside the outer building. How this hydrogen came to be there is as yet unknown.

    Now they are pumping seawater inside the shield to cool down the core. The general impression is that the situation is being brought under control.

    it is now 2.27 am here in Japan.

    @ Mr Phud, I think you have no idea how powerful this earthquake was. Even so, if the emergency generators had not been damaged, none of this would have been news. So, when building the next plant it will be built with even more redundancy than this one.

  4. Hooch181
    Alert

    Dude...

    if they can deal with Godzilla, they can deal with this...

    Sure hope they can get it under control though!

  5. NogginTheNog
    FAIL

    Lots of "told ya so"s

    Hmmm: nuclear reactor... earthquake zone... what could go wrong??

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Err...

      Yes, because power station design engineers don't take the local geology into account when designing a power station.

    2. Steve Evans

      Re: Lots of "told ya so"s

      They don't really have a choice, their entire country is an earthquake zone!

      The USA do have a choice, but they still built SF on a fault... And then rebuilt it when it get destroyed!

      1. Steve Evans

        Hmmm...

        Would the down-voter, presumably a west coast USA resident, like to make himself known and explain the urge to live on a fault zone?

  6. Bryce Prewitt
    Flame

    Eating crow.

    @ Rik

    Is it possible that you could start indicating in these articles that these are LIGHT WATER reactors and therefore NO CHERNOBYL IS POSSIBLE? The worst we'd get is Three Mile Island and that's a stretch, at least according to Japanese nuclear scientists speaking to government and press. These reactors are far safer than the older designs people are so used to and are designed to take forever to cool down if they just have to shut down the entire thing. NHK are reporting that since the explosion the heat has actually dropped and so has the radiation level.

    From what I understand, again according to those same scientists, is that a worst case scenario entails a maximum of 20-40km would be irradiated and only temporarily. Tokyo would be fine and actually the US would catch the brunt of the "fall-out". What barely makes it over here that is.

    @ Elmer

    So, if these reactors wind up coming down nice and easy like, and there is no big nuclear catastrophe, are you fucking anti-nuke wanks going to eat crow and admit that maybe, just maybe, we've advanced to the point where nuclear science can safely handle just about everything we/nature can throw at it?

    Mistakes and accidents can always happen, but you don't throw the baby out with the bath water. What you NIMBY jerk-offs don't seem able to do is admit when you're wrong. If the container doesn't burst and no shit is flung at any fan, will you own up and go "Oh, I'm a god damned fucking self-interested dick with an agenda and am using other people's tragedy to invoke my own selfish righteous indignation?"

    No? You won't do that? Oh. Well then.

  7. Sineira

    Serious!

    This is not something you make jokes about. Shame on you TR. Rest assured they are downplaying the seriousness, this is Japan. I'm worried for all my friends in Japan.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    some rough figures I've seen

    1,000x normal.

    2.4 mSv per year is normal, 1000x that is a chest xray every 2 weeks.

    And thats only smack bang in the middle of it, at the gates its 'just' 8x 'normal'

    NB/ These figures may get out of date very soon so but for now I think they're about right.

    Thanks to Brian Dunning for the figures.

  9. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Troll

    @Elmer Phud

    Do not feed.

  10. XMAN
    Unhappy

    So the whole world is fuked?

    If this thing blows, is the whole world fooked? Is it the equivalent of a nuclear missile or something?

    1. peter_dtm
      Stop

      can't

      can't blow up

      with the control rods in (which they are) it just needs to cool down - this takes a little time.

      for all the other doom merchants

      there's been a 8.7 magnitude earthquake and a 30ft tidal wave

      And

      there is a minor problem at TWO rectors.

      Not much else around there survived at all; never mind still working - apply sopme brain power to the implications of this

      1. Manu T

        RE: can't

        Frankly that earthquake worries me more than the nuclear power plant. Especially since they expect more to come. This is serious shit. The problem is that these ppl have nowhere to go. Their entire country is an island amidst quake zone-central.

        I really hope that they can get that power plant under control because they need that power. You need heavy machinery to get survivors from under the rumble. If a meltdown occurs then that power plant is useless (unfortunately the current cool-down mission also renders the reactor useless and is the same kind of disaster for Japan). You can't build new powerplants overnight (even coal, oil, wind or other source). This is a true dissaster for that area. For all the ppl trapped. Imagine having no electricy, no lights at night, no heat when cold, hospitals with no means to help wounded. We can't imagine how brutal nature can be. And this is happening to a very technically advanced and organized society.

        I really wish them well. We should do everything we can to help them. And keep investigating earth, because this planet is a son of a bitch.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Grenade

      Naa

      The two ( missiles and power plants ) work differently.

      You certainly wont get a big mushroom cloud.

      Tbh, Once they manage to get cooling sorted they will be able to gain control again.

      The control rods have been deployed and its just a matter of time until it cools down.

      Once its safe I suppose they can then remove the rods and close down the site forever ( since they have borked it now with salt water.. )

    3. Giles Jones Gold badge

      Nope

      A proper nuclear explosion isn't possible. It would be like a dirty bomb, an explosion that scatters radioactive material.

  11. Mr Young

    Wow!

    Seen some video and I would at least hope that is a steam explosion as the nuclear lad finally cools down a little? Who needs that sort of problem after an earthquake and awe inspiring tsunami event! Good luck

    1. Dale Richards

      Title

      Despite the disproportionate media coverage, I suspect that the Fukushima nuclear failures are relatively insignificant compared to the damage caused elsewhere by the earthquakes and tsunamis.

      There seems to be a great deal of hysteria wherever the word "nuclear" is involved. I'm sure a couple of core meltdowns will necessitate an expensive decommissioning operation but there's very little risk to life, and its economical impact will form only a small proportion of the overall cost of the earthquake disaster.

  12. Chad H.
    Joke

    Forgive me...

    But will El Reg be offering rolling MonsterWatch coverage?

  13. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    Radioactive Posting

    May I be the first to call our pro-nuke friends "right-wing hippies"?

  14. This post has been deleted by its author

  15. Ejit

    China Syndrome?

    What is the Japanese equivalent?

  16. mcav
    FAIL

    News =/= fact

    Maybe you don't understand the difference between news and fact, but the rest of us do.

    The situation is grim, but it is FAR AWAY from nuclear meltdown.

    To make it clear, according to the actual official information, the boxy that keeps all the nasty stuff in it was not damaged in the explosion which, to the eyes of anyone who may have "dabbled" in physics, is obviously not a nuclear explosion.

  17. Leeroy Bronze badge

    @ Elmer

    You are correct, the Japanese PM made a statement yesterday that everything was under control and while the automatic shutdown did not function correctly the manual override did. Everything seemed OK on the nuclear front.

    Today there is an explosion that was not expected and had not (as yet) been explained.

    If the pressure vessel fails are we looking at another Chernobyl or worse ? I can't see a huge concrete dome surviving the earthquakes that it would frequently experience.

  18. norman
    Alert

    Hmm...

    Due to the location, wouldn't that be The Cape Town Syndrome?

  19. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    40-year-old power station fails.

    Re-read yesterdays thread and I don't think anybody said it couldn't end in a failure - just that a failure is nowhere near as bad as you seem to think. Yes, the reactor does appear to have melted down now, so it's probably impossible to repair and will be extremely expensive to dismantle.

    Still not really any different to the oil refinery down the coast that failed earlier. Are you also calling for all oil refineries to be banned?

    What you're saying here is exactly the same as:

    "OMG - cars built in the 1930s didn't have anything to stop the occupants flying out and dying if it crashed! We must immediately stop all car production FOREVER!!!"

    You appear to be assuming that all nuclear reactors are the same as Chernobyl. You may be surprised to learn that newer designs (even 1970s designs) don't have the same flaws as older ones.

  20. hplasm Silver badge
    Headmaster

    Here we go... redux

    Yes - I know it's 2011.

    2010 because we should be in Jupiter Space in a Nuke powered craft by now.

  21. hplasm Silver badge
    Flame

    Here we go...

    2010 the Return of the Luddites.

    This earthquake will be the Green equivalent of 9/11; expect a War on Nuclular Energy.

    Just when it looked as if we might not cover the globe in windmills.

    *sigh*

    Fire because that is all we'll have for heat and light in 20 yrs.

  22. RhinoAl

    Re: yesterday

    Those comments were mainly, rather misguidedly, about the 'new generation' reactors. Too late for that now, in this case, but perhaps business & governments ought to be persuaded to carry out the upgrades anyway? Or solve the world power shortage some other way....after all our brightest minds could surely do that, couldn't they? Preferably without potentially destroying us all in the process...

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    @Elmer Phud

    Just because the technology isn't perfected yet doesn't mean we stop using it. Where would that get us? So you would rather keep sending billions of $ to the middle east for oil, instead of using free energy source.

    Where there is an air crash, do people like you say 'it's not safe, stop using it', no, we investigate the cause and safeguards to ensure it doesn't happen again. The Fukushima reactor is fairly old now, we don't know if modern systems are in there, and what is really going on yet.

    You have nothing to be smug about either, nature has caused thousands of people to die.

  24. wim

    Japanese news update

    Japanese news released information about the amount of leakage.

    800 something but I could not understand the metric they used.

    The second figure released was 70 and again I did not understand the metric.

    I know this is not really helpful but maybe somebody else has the correct information.

    The problem is that the company managing the reactors is not releasing their numbers.

    They promised and update at 18:30 (Japan time) but it is now almost 21:00 and I could still not get the numbers.

  25. tirk

    @ "Elmer Phud"

    How many people do "conventional" power plants kill each year? Shall we start with the c 5000 Chinese coal miners killed each year, and then try to factor in the consequences of the pollution they produce?

    Nuclear power station accident deaths? Chernobyl, period. A total death toll of about 70 (and that includes people killed in a helicopter crash!)

    Nuclear power is demonstrably safer than coal power, whatever the trendy view is.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      @tirk

      Nice, but you forgot to mention the dam that burst and swept away several hundred homes. That's hydro-electric generation ruled out as well, at least in earthquake zones.

      Of course, if you just don't generate the electricity, then people start dying for other reasons, as the world's population slowly resets to the levels of (say) a hundred years ago. But that's only a few billion dead and those who were left would all feel *ever* so smug about their "ethical" lifestyles.

  26. tommy060289
    WTF?

    As has been said many times before though...

    This tech is a 40 year old design, the newerr plants use a much safer design that doesn't allow core over heating!

    Go back to the forest beardy

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Gloating does not help.

    For the people involved this is a pretty big issue, I think you'll agree.

    Nuclear power represents a component of UK & World future energy needs not least because it is already used and is, incorrectly perceived by some as, adequately safe and clean.

    Any future reactor systems to be used in the UK energy mix will be of a substantially more modern and almost certainly more robust foreign design than that involved in this incident. They will still consume massive amounts of energy in their build and operation (including waste processing!). They will be dependent upon fuel derived from parts of the world over which UK & Europe have little political or economic control. They will leave a contamination legacy for hundreds of generations to deal with.

    So, IMHO, we should not import a large amount of either nuclear fuel or technology over which we have little control and place it in areas were changing sea levels due to 'climate change' could make a total Horlicks of the energy supply.

    But what do I know when faced with the massive intellects of the FWs who run our country and brought us the Banking crisis.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      ... so what would you do about it ...

      OK - if the answer is not nuclear, then what is it?

      I get fed up with the "<insert item x> is bad" camp - you guys never seem to actually be able to come up with any viable alternatives, other than going back to the stone age sans electricity.

      We don't have coal, we don't have oil, and we no longer have enough gas. Wind, solar, and tidal are crap primary energy sources until someone works out how to store a significant proportion of our daily usage for when we actually need it.

      The options are (1) import it, or (2) nuclear. If we go to (1) what kind of power plants are the "other guys" going to build? You guessed it - nuclear - hello France.

      Hell, even Greenpeace has started coming around to "we need nukes" point of view from what I've read.

      And as has been mentioned before - read about Thorium reactors - they solve most of the issues you raise.

  28. Paul Johnston
    Grenade

    Seems smugness still abounds

    Judging from more down votes than up votes!

  29. TRT Silver badge

    WHY?

    Does a plant designed to generate steam rely on electric pumps? A steam engine driven pump to circulate the cooling water would seem to be a self-regulating solution to power failure.

  30. anarchic-teapot

    For once Twitter has been a useful tool

    I've been following updates from a tech who works in nuclear safety. "Meltdown" just means the fuel has melted (due to overheating). That explosion was probably hydrogen, which would have been produced by melted fuel coming into contact with water, going BANG after being informally introduced to a spark or something.

    This, however, sounds even worse. People are starting to get badly hurt.

    http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/RS_Battle_to_stabilise_earthquake_reactors_1203111.html

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ... all my troubles seemed so far away ...

    Hmm. Were't those people who were saying reactors are safer nowadays talking about modern reactors, which aren't the kind of reactors at Fukushima?

    Not that that really helps with this particular incident.

    As yet it's not clear whether the explosion that occurred a while ago has released any nuclear material and thankfully the scientists involved haven't yet taken to running around with their pants on their heads.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yep, I'm still smug....

    and confident that when all the dust has settled and all the hyperbole about meltdown and Chernobyl has dissipated we will find out that no one has died from radiation exposure (as opposed to the steam pressure explosion in the turbine room) and that the exposure for the workers is equivalent to a few X-rays.

  33. Anton Ivanov
    Thumb Down

    Chernobyl redux, just this time caused by nature, not humans

    I have a bad feeling about this one. They said the same things during the first days of the Chernobyl disaster...

  34. britling

    My hair's not falling out yet...

    I'm in Japan and can safely tell you that the Hiroshima-like apocalypse that seems to have been predicted in the foreign media is not going to happen. The station is releasing a relatively small amount of radioactive material into the atmosphere, but it hasn't been completely destroyed. The explosion earlier today caused injuries but no chain reaction. We don't even know whether the reactor was involved with the explosion. In any case, there is a six-mile exclusion zone in place around both stations. The real effect is the likelihood of rolling blackouts due to there not being quite enough power to go round. The 'danger time' is this evening, but the lights are still on as I write this.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Unhappy

    Bin it.

    I do buy the hype that lots of small fail-safe reactors are fairly safe and easy to relatively to handle should one go tits up. I also accept these are old plants that are not fail-safe (presumably the ones HMG wants built will be along similar lines).

    The fundamental problem that is not solved it what to do with the waste. The waste actively destroys anything that it is stored in, and just to make it really challenging some of it will do that for longer than any human civilisation (or building for that matter) has existed. So far the only solution HMG and the nuclear industry have come up with is dig bigger holes under some poor bastard sheep farmers so any leakage will enter the food chain. Bloody brilliant govtards.

    When they sort the waste disposal/treatment problem out properly I might take nuclear power seriously as a solution, until then nuclear power is a fuck up waiting to happen.

  36. Patrick 8
    Unhappy

    heart out to japan

    and fingers up to the australian mp's in canberra who just recently tried to tell aussies the time is right to turn australia from a nuclear free continent to one filled with reactors!

  37. Rocket

    final straw?

    I guess this is a deal breaker for clean energy in the future.

    Windmills are here to stay

  38. Horizon3

    Please stop using MSM Sensationalizing

    Here is a kink to the straight scoop from TEPCO.

    http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/11031301-e.html

  39. kain preacher Silver badge

    Recycle

    France has worked out a way to recycle the used fuel rods.

  40. Adrian Taylor
    Dead Vulture

    a couple of useful links

    here is two useful links, both pages have been updating, i wouldn't rely on anything that comes from news organisations (register included), as they have a sensationalist agenda, read/research, make your own mind up :-)

    http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/index-e.html

    http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/RS_Battle_to_stabilise_earthquake_reactors_1203111.html

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/Design/graphics/icons/comment/dead_vulture_32.png

  41. jake Silver badge

    Perspective.

    An earthquake measuring near 9 on the Richter scale hits Japan. It's a rupture 250 miles long, shifting the sea floor of the Pacific plate some 50 feet down. The entire main island of Japan is said to have shifted nearly eight feet west from where it was this time last week. 700 are known dead, 10,000s are missing. The resulting tsunami was strong enough to kill a man 6,000 miles away on America's north-west coast, and wreck boats[1] in the Santa Cruz harbor in central California.

    And yet you lot are rabbiting on about a relatively tiny radiation escape? Pu-lease ... Grow the fuck up and get a sense of perspective.

    [1] Albeit poorly secured boats, likely owned by idiots ... I used to have a boat in that harbor, and still have friends there ... Of the boats that broke free, they say (mostly) "good riddance".

  42. Alan Firminger

    So

    The best case discussed above is that 30 year old reactors are dangerous. So why do we use them now ? We could switch a few things off.

    Nuclear is great provided that it is totally safe from mine to waste disposal, and provided it is economic.

    Following energy disaster after energy disaster the problem is : Whose advice can I trust ? Everyone involved gets committed; compare the confident assurances from thirty years ago.

  43. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    It wont be

    long before various anti-nuclear groups in the UK will be demanding we build our power stations to withstand an 8.9 earthquake and 40 foot tsunami, before going back to saying we should be building wind mills to make electricity so we can sit in the dark for 30% of the time.

    1000's dead, 1000's injured, 10 000s made homeless, billions of economic damage and the head lines are

    1 nuke plant damaged and put out of action, followed by a bunch of talking heads who are 8000 miles away.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    "almost certainly more robust design"

    Why do you assume more modern means more robust?

    The control and safety systems of something four decades (maybe even two decades) old were probably logically and physically independent. They were probably mostly analogue, and therefore necessarily very simple, with the minimum of computer software in the picture. If there was computer software, it probably wouldn't involve the nightmare can of worms called an Ada compiler.

    The reactors being proposed for the UK, like those being implemented in the much-delayed vastly-overbudget Olkiluoto plant in Finland, are proposed with a single integrated control and safety computer system. The application is probably written in Ada, which means that no one can understand the relationship between the source code and the eventual executable. This despite the fact that traditional European nuclear regulatory policy says "thou shalt have separate control and safety" and "thou shalt have no place for complexity, especially the complexity of compiled high level languages". But the proposals have (afaict) ignored this, presumably because being compliant would cost money.

  45. Manu T

    wool, please

    Has anyone have some wool left so I can continue knitting my woolly socks :-)

  46. cyberdemon
    Boffin

    Chernobyl

    I wish people would stop going on about Chernobyl and TEH OMG WTF WERE ALL GOING TO DIE

    There were a hell of a lot of things wrong with chernobyl: The main one being a positive void coefficient. This meant that the reaction sped up when coolant disappeared, because the coolant itself (heavy water) was being used to control the speed of the reaction. (imagine if your CPU decided to overclock itself because you turned the fan off)

    When chernobyl melted down, the melted fuel just got hotter and hotter and didn't stop until the material itself starts to vapourise, and then you're REALLY in trouble.

    The control rods in chernobyl were made of graphite, which after the pressure vessel ruptured, caught fire and were impossible to extinguish. The fire carried radioactive materials such as ceasium 137 in its plume.

    But (in contrast to what some people seem to be saying) even the accident at chernobyl was nothing like as extreme as a nuclear bomb. A nuclear bomb releases all its energy in one instant. Chernobyl was more like a great big fire compared to a bomb explosion.

    This reactor has a negative void coefficient, which means the reaction slows down when there is no coolant. It can still melt down, because the reaction will slow but not necessarily stop entirely. Even if it loses containment, then it will be just some radiation released. The Nitrogen-16 released so far has a half-life of 7 seconds, which means it has zero long term consequence. If the containment is breached, then some longer-lived isotopes could be released, but certainly nothing even remotely on the scale of chernobyl, and whoever thinks there is going to be a nuclear bomb blast is a complete moron.

    All in all, i think they have bigger things to worry about.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Flame

      Thank you cyberdemon

      First time I've seen the positive void coeficcient of the RBMKs mentioned.

      Chernobyl relied on there being coolant between the fuel rods to mediate the reaction (absorb some neutrons before they struck the next rod over). The coolant in chernobyl should never boil. When it did there suddenly appeared steam bubbles in the coolant (that's what boiling water does after all), reducing its density and thus reducing its absorption of neutrons. More neutrons strike the other fuel rods thus increasing the heat even more. When the operators understood that the coolant was boiling they hit the Big Red Button(tm). This caused the control rods to descend into the core. The problem was that the control rods were encased in steel jackets that were longer than the control rods themselves (by about 70 cm). So Steel cylindres full of air displaced coolant between the rods a second or so before the control rods inside the cylinders were in place to absorb neutrons. This caused a runaway reaction, 7 seconds after the SCRAM-button was pressed the coolant flash-boiled resulting in a steam explosion that tossed the 3000 ton lid on the reactor up in the air, demolished the building (No containment in place), wrecked the control rods so they couldn't decend further and scattered pieces of fuel all over the roof of the building. The core promptly melted and ran into the basements where it happily solidified again. Worst case would have seen the lava burn its way down to the ground water and setting off the mother of all steam explosions down there.

  47. AbortRetryFail

    So much junk science and ignorance

    As someone has already mentioned, anyone with any knowledge of physics and reactor design can see that this situation is under control now.

    I was sent a really interesting (and long) blog post today written by someone who appears to know what they are talking about. He's a PHD working at MIT and whose father worked in the German nuclear industry.

    http://morgsatlarge.wordpress.com/2011/03/13/why-i-am-not-worried-about-japans-nuclear-reactors/

  48. peter_dtm
    Grenade

    Yup

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/03/11/nuclear-meltdown-race-to-save-reactors-in-japan/#com-head

    Go to the end of the comments.

    The politicians, journalists & ludites will continue to blather on without any technical understanding, apart from "it is nuclear"

    Cheap headlines, find and follow some of the engineering blogs discusing this. Journos, politicians and ludites have long a long history of being unable to do simple arithmatic, do yo really believe they can handle the maths required to understand anything more complex than 2+2=4 ?

  49. Philip Lewis
    Megaphone

    The facts help

    Earthquake impact on Fukushima Daiichi

    Reactors 1, 2 and 3 were in operation at Tokyo Electric Power Company's (Tepco's) east coast Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant when the magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck. Three other reactors were already shut for inspection but all three operating units underwent automatic shutdown as expected. Because plant power and grid power were unavailable during the earthquake, diesel generators started automatically to supply power for decay heat removal.

    This situation continued for one hour until the plant was hit by the tsunami wave, which stopped the generators and left the plant in black-out conditions.

    The tsunami wave that hit the plant measured at least 7 metres in height, compared to the maximum 6.5 metre case the plant was designed to cope with.

    The loss of power meant inevitable rises in temperature within the reactor system as well increases in pressure. Engineers fought for many hours to install mobile power units to replace the diesels and managed to stabilise conditions at units 2 and 3.

    However, there was not enough power to provide sufficient coolant to unit 1, which came under greater and greater strain from falling water levels and steady pressure rises. Tepco found it necessary yesterday to vent steam from the reactor containment. Next, the world saw a sharp hydrogen explosion destroy a portion of the reactor building roof. The government ordered the situation brought under control by the injection of seawater to the reactor vessel.

    http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/

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