back to article Fukushima one week on: Situation 'stable', says IAEA

The situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear powerplant in Japan, badly damaged during the extremely severe earthquake and tsunami there a week ago, continues to stabilise. It is becoming more probable by the day that public health consequences will be zero and radiation health effects among workers at the site will be so …

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  1. dr2chase

    I thought the principal worry at this point was smoke-up, not melt-down

    Given a fuel rod fire in the cooling pond, with a change in the wind direction (not unheard of) this blows some amount of radioactive smoke over populated areas. Evacuation, simply to give the wind room to mix and dilute in that event, seems not-so-foolish.

    1. ziggy
      Heart

      ignorant author - situation very dire

      Indeed a spent fuel pool fire would be worse than contained meltdown, the author of this article is technically ignorant and just aping what he has read. The dirty little secret of the nuclear power industry is that an uncontrolled spent fuel pool fire would release the contamination of a few Chernobyl, the 40% of 180 tons ejected from Chernobyl doesn't compare to the amount of contamination of 300 or more tons of spent fuel in a single pool in this disaster nor the 1800 total tons stored at Fukushima's six pools.

    2. asdf Silver badge
      Flame

      thread jacking to be at top

      Stupid hysteria aside you have to admit the Japanese government is not been trustworthy on this at all. Kind of sad the US military has to fly its own radiation monitoring aircraft over the site due to not trusting information coming from Japanese.

  2. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Stable?

    So that's why they've raised the threat level then?

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-12783832

    Any more stable and we're all dead!

  3. Matt Bucknall
    Grenade

    You're damn right

    The amount of FUD the BBC has been coming out with over the last few days (never mind the rest of the time) has been intolerable. Is it actually possible to get any world news these days without it being diluted 9 parts bullshit, 1 part fact?

  4. alexh2o
    Thumb Up

    Common Sense

    I'm glad at least somewhere is reporting the situation with facts and science - not scaremongering hysteria!

    The amount of people I've encountered who genuinely believe a "melt down" is imminent, and that means there's going to be an explosion akin to a nuke going off, is simply absurd!

    Good job Reg.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Well Done Lewis

    I routinely disagree with your reporting Lewis, but in this matter I have sought out your reports as being more honest and better analysed than the rubbish elsewhere in the media, especially on the BBC. During this week, I have felt it necessary to complain to the BBC about their scare-mongering stories.

    I should add for the other commenters. I, like Lewis, am an ex-military officer. An Engineer in my case; and with experience of nuclear technologies.

  6. Munchausen's proxy
    Pint

    Thanks, Lewis

    It seems even educated people sometimes prefer to repeat worst case analyses and even complete fiction, rather than think logically and critically about the provenance of the sound-bites they are amplifying, or the relation of those sound bites to the real world.

    Radioactivity is scary to many, and certainly can be hazardous, but treating it as something magical and inexorably deadly to anyone who so much as learns of an incident is not helpful to anyone with a working brain.

    1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

      Not a threat level

      That value indicates the severity of the incident. If you had researched it at all you would know it's an indication of a number of factors including spread of radiation. Equating this to the same value as TMI is actually fairly re-assuring as the article quotes there was no release of radiation into the extern environment at TMI.

    2. Anton Ivanov
      Boffin

      No, just the japanese are being honest about it

      An incident where the reactor containment is broken is more or less automatically 5.

      According to the laws of physics, the danger decreases exponentially with every day the plant is under at least some sort of control.

      It is still fluid, it is still dangerous, but it is actually probably past the point where a major blowup could have occurred.

      In any case, just take Lewis article as a running assessment. It may still turn to worse, though I doubt it. This is not Chernobyl, there is no graphite to burn and carry the radioactive material for thousands of miles.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      FAIL

      There are some problems with your post.

      Isn't it funny that it was reported widely when the threat level was raised to 6, then it went completely unreported when it was dropped to 4, but now that it's being raised to 5 it's in the headlines again? I don't know how these people sleep at night.

      1. Fluffykins Silver badge

        Honesty seems to be patchy.

        Check this out:

        http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20263-japans-record-of-nuclear-coverups-and-accidents.html?DCMP=OTC-rss&nsref=online-news

      2. lord_farquaad
        Heart

        not exactly

        The threat level has never been taken down from 6 to 4.

        It was a different agency that set the level to 6.

      3. Eponymous Howard
        Stop

        it was never officially 6...

        ...a French regulator gave the opinion that it was. Reuters reported that.

        Lewis is still retarded though.

    4. blackcat

      INES Level != threat level

      "So that's why they've raised the threat level then?"

      The INES level has very little to do with the amount of radiation released, the type of radiation released or the number of people injured or killed. Its pretty much only about how far the radiation has spread.

      Note that Windscale, a level 5 accident, irradiated large portions of Scandinavia.

    5. Sean O'Connor 1
      FAIL

      Yeah, stable

      That doesn't mean things are getting worse! It just means they've decided that there was a limited release of radioactive material to the wider environment so technically it's been a level 5 incident.

    6. Chris Miller

      I agree

      Although the BBC have managed one decent, factual report (Radio 4 - Material World):

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00zf4j5

      While we're Beeb bashing - I believe they sent 40 (FORTY) additional reporters to Japan to cover the disaster (including the inevitable and utterly pointless Jim 'Air Miles' Naughtie, interviewing the Japanese ambassador to the UK 'live' from Tokyo). Well that's just what you need when you're trying to help people survive a once per millennium disaster - a couple of BBC film crews descending on you asking where they can find food, shelter, petrol, some dead bodies to film, etc.

    7. Quxy
      WTF?

      WHO is downvoting these thumbs-up to Lewis?

      Are there that many El Reg readers with personal grudges against Lewis? It's hard to believe that so many IT "professionals" really feel that rational thought is a Bad Thing...

    8. Jules
      Thumb Up

      I agree

      I agree that Reg has done a good job and for that reason, contrary to his Personal Bootnote, he should not be ashamed to be a reporter because he has lifted himself above the rest. Yes, Good job Reg.

    9. Gareth Jones 2
      Pint

      FUD

      Dear news media:

      Remember back in the '50s and early '60s, when we set off something like 900 atomic bombs in Nevada?

      And how we just let the fallout blow wherever and it landed all over the eastern US?

      And how it wiped out life as we know it and all that was left from Colorado to the Atlantic were six-legged rats battling two-headed cockroaches in the glowing ruins?

      Yeah. Exactly. So shut up with the panic already.

      (h/t Tamara K via small dead animals)

      1. Eponymous Howard
        Grenade

        Um...

        ....you do realise there have been huge lawsuits related to that a- and that the cast of one movie, filing in Nevada as some tests went on, had a massively out-profile rate of cancer deaths in the following years?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Posting as someone who liked Susan Hayward...

        ...though hated John Wayne...

        https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Downwinders#Health_Effects_of_Nuclear_Testing

    10. rally_champ
      Thumb Down

      BBC were often truly AWFUL

      This is the first time I have really noticed how bad some of the reporting from the BBC was. Particularly bad were, the so-called science correspondent, Pallab Ghosh who kept referring to tidal waves and how this was Japan's worst earthquake ever; and Clive Myrie who reported that evacuees could see out of their windows smoke rising from the power plant from the "flaming fuel rods".

      I made a formal complaint to the BBC about his alarmist reporting.

      But I did appreciate Alastair Leithead's efforts to show the devastation in a measured and respectful way. Also Damian Grammaticas had some good reports.

      1. The Beard

        The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

        Thank you for writing that reporter's name, he has been so irksome and inflammatory I was thinking of complaining but had no idea of his name. Didn't help that every other sentence he uttered had me turn the BBC News off.

    11. Efros

      CNN were worse

      If you think the Beeb were overreacting to this you should have heard the drivel that CNN was broadcasting as news. At one point they identified the Indian Point reactors in NY as being the ones of highest risk in the US. The risk was based solely on how many people lived in the surrounding 50 mile radius, not on any chance of accident. Then we had Sanjay Gupta (CNNs resident doctor and Medical Insurance Industry mouthpiece) waxing lyrical on the effects on the population of radiation sickness and the threat to thee weest coast of the USA, the man is a bloody neurosurgeon, well qualified to delve into your brain with a scalpel but not on these matters. CNNs attitude: he's a scientist he knows about this stuff. I'm a chemist, anyone wanting me to conduct a prefrontal lobotomy just let me know. We need a FUD icon!

  7. Steven Jones

    At best a very, very expensive close call

    I certainly do hope that this is now coming under control, and as somebody who is seentially pro-nuclear, I do not take such a rosy view of this. Even if the public health implications are zero (we'll see) this if going to be a monumentally expensive clear up operation. If it turns out that some of these reactors can be restarted behind much better tsunami protection, then why was this not done in the first place given that boiling water reactors were known to be dependent on active cooling? Following the 2004 tsunami (much more devastating from only a marginally more powerful earthquake), then it's impossible to plead ignorance of the possibility. Indeed the Americans carried out just such a study on the vulnerability of their plants to tsunamis. Did the Japanese do something similar, and if not, why not? If they did, then whate were the results?

    http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/nuregs/contract/cr6966/cr6966.pdf

    Now these aren't primarily engineering questions - they are for the industry and regulatory authorities in Japan and, perhaps, GE to answer. The strong suspicion is that short term financial considerations took priority over a proper risk assessment. If it turns out that relatively modest expenditure could have dealt with danger, then that will turn out to be a major scandal. Should any of the reactors which were shut down restart with improved tsunami protection, then that would rather prove the point (I suspect that if any of these reactors do restart, then it will be out of desparation as Japan is now critically short of generating capacity - this was also done at Chernobyl).

    At best this will have been a very, very expensive close call which very likely could have been avoided if safety had not been shortcut. I simply don't believe the "this was unforseeable" line - following 2004 there is absolutely no excuse for that. They rode their luck and lost the bet.

    Of course the hype of the media is a different thing, and if its one thing that is annoying and pretentious its for somebody to take on the responsibility for apologising for what other people have done whilst simultaneously saying it's not me. That's egotistical narcisim. Keep apologies for what you might do wrong, and that's still plenty.

  8. arkhangelsk

    These posts are a tonic...

    ... another day, and again I am bombarded by my local press making strident, desperate reports on this whole Fukushima business. It is enough to get anyone paranoid, and so here, every day, around 13:30 GMT, I read Lewis Page to get a much needed sense of peace and perspective. Never has he been so useful before.

    Let's hope his steadiness is rewarded.

  9. jeremy.garside
    Thumb Up

    Thanks goodness for a broadly educated journalist

    I suspect I'm at more risk from raised blood pressure from reading nonsense press stories than from any potential nuclear incident in the UK. Watching a Japanese collegue worry about friends and relatives in Japan as a result of shoddy journalism aimed at selling more paper in the UK reminds me that most journalists have lost their true calling - the persuit of the truth - keep up the good work!

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Well done, Lewis

    As a fellow hack, I completely understand where you're coming from with your apology, and I have to congratulate you for having the bollocks to take a decisive stand on this very early on, and bet everything on a careful, reasoned view of the events. You've been a buoy in a sea of slime.

    7000 dead, and more often than not in the UK press they're given the "in related news" treatment in two paragraphs, after hundreds of words devoted to despicable histrionic hand-wringing, points-scoring and/or scaremongering.

    It's disgusting that attention has been diverted from the true victims of this disaster towards some tasteless debate about the "end of the nuclear age". That phrase, by the way, was an actual front-page headline from the Independent not even a week after the catastrophe, when bodies were still being found at a horrifying rate. And they still are.

    1. Spiracle

      "You've been a buoy in a sea of slime"

      There's a quote for your CV Lewis.

    2. Anton Ivanov

      You are contradicting yourself

      The Japanese Tsunami assessment practice is described in detail at the end of the document you refer to.

      1. Steven Jones

        Some stuff on Japan - but not the

        Indeed it is covered - but about methodology and not anything you can pin down to particular sites. What we'd need to know is what reports were done when, what the assumptions were and how it relates to particular plants. As the report doesn't cover that, it's impossible to know. Of course any such reports are likely to be in Japanese, and who knows if they are in the public domain. Given TEPCO have a history of cover-ups (with convictions), then one wonders. However, I would hope Japanese journalists are asking right questions.

        If this was the UK I'd also expect a public inquiry, but I've no idea what the Japanese approach is to such things.

    3. Darryl

      What's got me wondering

      ...is why there are always comments about how expensive it's going to be to clean this up. People did notice that there are entire cities and towns that have been mostly washed away by the tsunami, right? I would think that the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami are going to be ridiculously expensive to clean up/repair/replace, so I'm not sure why people are fixating on how expensive the nuke plant is going to be to fix. If the plant hadn't been there, Japan would've been able to fix everything from petty cash? If a large hydro dam was there and had to be replaced, it would have been easier/cheaper?

      1. Steven Jones

        Expense in context

        Of course it is going to be expensive to rebuild following the tsunami. However, I fail to see how it helps to have a huge bill to clean up the mess of several severely damaged reactors on top of that. Indeed that surely makes the situation worse.

        As for Lewis's line that the reactors exceeded their design target - well, big deal. Yes, the people who designed the reactor did their job, but if the design parameters were inadequate then that's still a major failing. What really matters is how those design targets were arrived at and were shortcuts taken for financial reasons.

        To pretend, as Lewis seems to make out that nothing major has gone wrong and there are no serious consequences, well I beg to differ. Three Mile Island took 12 years and about a $1bn at 1980s prices to dismantle the reactor (and the main building remains contaminated and will incur further costs when that is finally removed). Adjusted for inflation, that's more like $1.7bn.

        It's clear that the problem at Japan is much worse with several reactors, higher levels of contamination, wrecked buildings, storage pools affected and at least one of the containment vessels seriously damaged. How much is this going to cost to clear up? Who knows, but it's going to be several billion dollars minimum. That's before the costs of replacing the lost generating capacity is considered or the economic costs of power shortages. Whilst one of the reactors was due to be turned off in 18 months or so, some at the site had much longer operational lifetimes. Whether any of the reactors at the site are ever used again, is surely still uncertain. Certainly none of those which have sustained serious core damage will ever operate again.

        Some suggest that the cost of the damage to Japan's infrastructure is of the order of $200bn (according to the Economist). Dealing with the consequences of the damaged reactors and replacing lost capacity could easily approach 10% of that. If, as Lewis suggests, some reactors could be restarted behind improved tsunami protection, then that surely points to a major risk assessment failure as such measures would surely have cost a fraction of clearing up the mess and replacing lost generating capacity. At a time

        I'll repeat again, I am not anti-nuclear, but the pretence that there are no serious consequences is a bad joke. The idea also that this was an unforseeable event is also highly suspect. Plant like this, where the economic and environmental consequences of severe damage is so high cannot be designed for things like 100 year events (which would give a 40%+ chance of an occurrence), they have to be designed for much rarer ones.

        Lewis's argument that we still design roads, railway and bridges despite the dangers is also way off. To a large extent those are essential to modern life - there is no choice, albeit we seek to do them better. Power generation is, of course, similarly essential, but the difference here is that these reactor installations have now proven to be highly vulnerable - and vulnerable in a way that was foreseen, as the US report shows. This is a management and governance failure, not primarily a technical one, but a failure it is.

        1. Sil_W

          Points Missed

          Steven Jones - I can't help thinking you've missed the point quite widely.

          You title your post with the words "in context", yet you seem to ignore the true context here in order to promote - despite your claim to be pro-nuclear - a strong anti-nuclear angle.

          The point being made here is that the nuclear problems are the least of Japan's problems right now. Yet, because it's a story with words like nuclear and radiation, the media are having a field day trying to scare everyone to death - knowing that the public is largely ignorant about nuclear power and, as mentioned elsewhere, tend to equate nuclear power with nuclear bombs.

          You complain that it's wrong to imply there are no serious consequences. But I don't think anyone is doing. The point is that this is a catastrophe involving the death of thousands of people, the displacement of many more, but much of the world's press prefers to concentrate on stoking panic about radiation.

          It's shameful, and Lewis - and the few others reporting factually - do a public service in calling them on it.

        2. arkhangelsk

          Up to 10%? In other words...

          ... according to you, the probable cost of burying those reactors is less than the likely error margin in Economist's estimate of the total economic damage. That doesn't sound so bad in relative terms.

          "were shortcuts taken for financial reasons"? There's no need for an investigation. The answer is Yes, and it was always Yes and will always be Yes.

          The luxury of being able to ignore finances and cost efficiency is a luxury of laymen, think-tanks and foreign experts with no real responsibility. As you get closer to having real responsibility, balancing engineering ideals with finances is increasingly a priority. Then an accident happens, and the guy making the call gets pillored.

          And for America's report, surely, what should be more interesting to you is not whether they scribbled a purely academic report, but whether its recommendations are being implemented with vigor. Unless the answer is yes, it is just an empty gesture, but let's not pillor them in such a case - as I said, operational reality (finances) always matter to those who must do real work.

          1. Steven Jones

            It's still a major failure

            I have been careful not to use alarmist language anywhere in my comments, and I believe they are going to be aligned with what will finally emerge as the concensus. As more is emerging on the background, then it's becoming clear from analysis by more informed commentators that the implementation of nuclear power in Japan in the post war period had economic development as a priority, with safety and security secondary issues. This happened with a compliant population and press following the catastrophe of WWII. That appears to be about to change from current reports.

            Being pro-nuclear does not mean being blind to the issues and mistakes. Whilst the West never took the outrageous risks that the Soviet Union did with the RBMK designs, the US designs, with their reliance on an active emergency cooling system still had a major weakness. In this case, the implementation clearly failed. As is pointed out in this week's New Scientist, the same event (the earthquake) took out the grid supply and, via the tsunami it cause, the secondary power. That's contradictory to basic principles of not having dependent failure modes. That's and engineering failure, pure and simple. Following 2004 it is also not sustainable to claim this couldn't have been forseen. That a major failures in the reactor building could cause so many problems with cooling pools is another.

            That a cost of perhaps $10-20bn in direct and indirect economic effects can be dismissed as insignificant is not sustainable as an argument. It's a general rule that designing to avoid such failures, rather than expensive and patchy improvised damage limitation processes is the way to go.

            Another thing to note is that some Japanese reactors are in more vulnerable positions with regard to the direct affect of earthquakes, let alone the tsunami. The epicentre of this one was at some distance. A serious risk analysis will need to be done on these.

            The one thing that can be said is that at least people can now see that it wasn't the end of the world when one of these facilities did fail, but the nuclear industry will be required to treat low probability, high impact events more seriously. In the case of the west, then even where seismology isn't such an issue, the possibilities of terrorism surely have to be looked at more seriously.

  11. Willington

    Shameful media panic very slowly begins to subside

    Let's hope the same applies to the comments section here.

    "I have never been so ashamed to call myself a journalist."

    You can't be held accountable for the actions of others Lewis. I think you did an admirable job.

  12. dave 93
    Joke

    Nice try

    ...but common sense, or facts, are too boring to sell ads around.

    I am also somewhat disappointed that this series of disasters can't be linked to the iPad or Steve Jobs, or that Android offers a more open solution to earthquakes, tsunamis or inadvertent nuclear meltdown.

  13. dh10
    Thumb Up

    thanks

    Thanks, Mr. Page. Your clear-headed analysis of primary and secondary sources has been extremely helpful throughout the crisis. Ignore the bastards who are accusing you of shilling for the industry. You have done fine analytical work throughout.

  14. Justin

    The biggest threat to Japan

    The biggest threat to Japan this weekend will be the snow. I salute El Reg for having the guts to present technical stuff correctly and in a way that non-technical people can understand.

  15. Andy Farley
    Black Helicopters

    Thousands will die in 20 years!

    But none from this. Let's see if that makes a difference.

  16. Lars Petersson
    FAIL

    Keep Calm and carry on...

    I for one have been enjoying the calm restraint and facts based reporting over this past week while people I know have been waving their arms in the air and shouted about how the sky is falling and we'll all die from radiation...

  17. Tom 38 Silver badge
    Heart

    To be fair to the other journos

    The Times now costs £1 a day, the only way I'm going to buy that is if they can tell me stories of impending mega-nuclear-apocalypse.

  18. Rafael 1
    Thumb Up

    Please do go on

    I'm seeing a lot of non-informative news that are just generic enough to scare people and increase readership (by morons) -- in an on-line newspaper site there was a photo of some people waiting in line in an airport with the caption "Japanese population flee the region" or something like that, FFS.

    We need a "I Believe in Lewis Page" badge.

  19. Archie The Albatross
    Thumb Up

    Cheer up Lewis!

    Think how p*ssed off the BBC and their fellow doom mongers are, because the sky is still stubbornly refusing to fall.

    My only fear is that they will put Robert Peston on the story, then we really will be doomed!

    Seriously though, thank you for what appears to be the only objective coverage of this matter.

  20. AdamSweetman
    Thumb Up

    Well said that man..

    Refreshingly written, good to see an objective assessment of the situation. The media hysteria attached to all things nuclear has distracted attention away from the real humanitarian impact of the disaster and recovery efforts.

  21. adrianww
    Go

    3...2...1...

    Go! Lots and lots and lots and lots of pointless arguing, name-calling, misinformation, personal dogma, utter balderdash and downright lies from both sides please. It won't be an El Reg Fukushima comments thread without it.

    Rational thought optional, but not recommended (based on what we've seen on here over the last week).

    And Lewis...you naughty boy you. You're just doing it to annoy them now aren't you?

  22. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    the first sensible thing Page has said all week.

    "I have never been so ashamed to call myself a journalist."

    Couldn't agree more. Perhaps you'll do us all a favour and stop pretending to be one.

  23. fixit_f
    Thumb Up

    Nearly vindicated, not quite yet though

    Chances are you've been right all along Mr Page and the impact of this will be pretty minimal, some of the commenters on here probably owe you an apology. For me I've been sat on the fence. I think you should consider that your clearly very pro-nuclear bias may have filtered into your writing a bit more than it should have done to be properly "objective" though which fuelled the fire a bit.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Let the flames commence!

    Another good article Lewis.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What I don't get

    Why did it take one week until they finally went and installed a new 0.6 mile (according to NHK) power line to get the plant plugged into the grid again and powering the cooling pumps?

    Surely it would have been the easiest option from the start, they may even had kept their reactors instead of scrapping them at a cost of billions.

    1. Steve X

      0.6m

      If this is a multi-kilovolt overhead connection to the grid, as it surely must be, then a week isn't that long to get pylons and cables in and erected, especially given that they would be working through tsunami debris.

      They'll also want to be damn sure that it works first time and continues to do so for months. It would be embarassing to switch all the cooling pumps over to it, only for it to a pop a fuse an hour later.

      1. johnnymotel
        Alert

        don't they....

        generate electricity at this plant??

        1. Stoneshop Silver badge
          Flame

          Not anymore

          Which you could have known if you had been paying any kind of attention at all.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      WTF?

      Well...

      Apparently there was an Earthquake and a big wave... I think that might have made things a bit tricky...

    3. Anonymous Coward
      FAIL

      Weasel...

      Use your name if you are gonna say stuff like that tou weasel...

    4. Archie The Albatross
      Boffin

      Because

      They had just been hit by a magnitude 8.9 earthquake and it's attendant tsunami.

      That's why.

      That boy at the back! Wake up!

    5. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge
      FAIL

      The propaganda is working.

      People have clearly forgotten already that the key issue here is that there was one of the worst earthquakes in human history, followed by an inundation that would have made earlier people start writing about gods wiping the earth clean.

      Just to recap - there was a huge earthquake and tsunami that caused the Daiitchi powerplant to have serious cooling problems. As a result of the earthquake/tsunami combo, the surrounding infrastructure was so badly damaged that roads, railways, powerlines, gaspipes etc no longer actually exist in a recognisable form. The fact that electrical supplies have been restored this soon after the catastrophe, with aftershocks so big that they would usually class as major earthquakes, must be a huge, dramatic story in its own right. Lets face it, there are still places affected by Hurricane Katrina that aren't yet fixed.

      How dare you, Gk.pm, belittle the true heroism of the people that have worked to get things to this state. You clearly have no idea of the devastation that has been caused, nor the level of selfless heroism that the construction crews have demonstrated. You should be utterly ashamed of yourself.

    6. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge
      Stop

      @AC

      Fuck off - seriously, just fuck right off.

      (OK, Ms Bee - I'll understand if this gets lost in moderation, but it is really the way I feel for this utterly wrongheaded attack on Lewis after his work this week)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Do I look stupid?

        What are you guys on about? The news reports said it was only a 0.6 mile cable connecting to the other power company's grid. Not sure about the state of that one, but nowhere have I seen mention that they had to rebuild anything else.

        For high voltage system a 1Km cable would weight around 2 tons, even an helicopter like the dozens they sent during the nuclear problem could have been used to install it.

        There are such things as temporary pylons used in disaster areas, and I reckon for such a small distance 3 would be enough. It doesn't need to last forever, just keep the pumps going until the full replacement connection could be installed. Surely technicians could see the need to prioritise this?

        I'm sorry but this story has too many loose ends. I also happen to know a bit of the typical Japanese hierarchy, and suspect it played a role in this.

        Then there's also the unresolved mystery of to why the mobile generator trucks that did get sent were not able to power the pumps.

        I'm not belittling anything btw. They are doing a great job, just asking if by any chance some of the effort did not go in the most ideal direction.

        1. Shane Orahilly
          FAIL

          Yes, and you're not helping to change that image.

          You're making far too many blind assumptions about national priorities, safety of personnel, suitability of equipment and efficiency of logistics in an epic-scale disaster area where everything has to be done on the fly.

          Have you considered becoming a Projects Manager for Network Rail?

    7. Horizon3
      Unhappy

      That was exceptionally callous AC

      That was a mean and undeserved remark, and you owe Mr. Lewis an apology.

  26. Alister Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    agreed...

    "As one who earns his living in the media these days, I can only apologise on behalf of my profession for the unbelievable levels of fear and misinformation purveyed this week. I have never been so ashamed to call myself a journalist."

    Well said, Lewis.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Crazy

    I couldn't believe my ears last night when no less an august body than the BBC in a Newsnight report described one of the reactors as a potential "dirty bomb". The Guardian on line has virtually wet itself daily about the "nuclear disaster".

    It is such a shame, as this dishonest reporting has led to a diminution of attention on the real disaster of the earthquake and tsunami damage. I hope that there is a media inquiry about this when all has died down.

  28. John 62

    Spent fuel pools

    hmm, I'm in agreement that the reactors are not going to be a disaster, but the fuel storage pools are causing lots of people more and more concern because although they don't have the same potential to melt all in their path compared to the reactors, they also don't have anything like the shielding and containment the reactors enjoy. Hence the rods can burn in the air, uncontained, and cause all their nasty radio-isotopes (most notably Stronium and Caesium) to float off into the atmosphere, potentially to fall on California.

  29. ratfox Silver badge

    Whiplash

    Just coming from the New York Times website, I feel a strong case of whiplash. (The big title there says: "Frantic Effort at Plant as Japan Raises Warning Level")

    Though I do feel that the concerns about the nuclear reactor are overblown considering the thousands of deaths due to the tsunami, Lewis does sound like an ostrich.

  30. Gordon 10 Silver badge

    Bravo

    Well done Lewis! If there was any justice in the world The Reg should get an award for this coverage.

  31. Bunglebear
    Thumb Up

    Thank you

    Thank you for this article, very timely and very much needed

  32. HP Cynic

    Well said

    The UK papers sank to new lows with this one with 2-page spreads such as "Apocalypse" complete with little nuclear hazard graphics.

    Thankfully the Reg was here and on the same day as the above report the article here was "Still no cause for concern".

    What amazes me is that the devastation caused by the quake and the tsunami were just not sensational enough for them so they had to invent this meltdown fantasy too....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      float?

      Strontium weighs 2.6kg/litre, and cæsium about 1.8. I can't see either doing much floating...

      1. John 62

        particulates

        particulates get swept into the air even though the materials they are made from are dense. Fires, and explosions are good at creating particulates and giving them a boost upwards. Then, even if they don't go far, they're likely to contaminate the groundwater.

        Water likes to be in oceans, but there are plenty of clouds.

      2. copsewood
        FAIL

        Strontium and Ceasium float well enough

        They floated well enough into the high altitude weather systems above Chernobyl to make some sheepmeat unfit for human consumption in the UK decades later. Almost anything will when carried high enough by a strong enough fire in small enough particles. Radioactive ceasium and strontium also have half lives of around 30 years, short enough to create an ongoing radiation hazard and long enough to be around for 300 years before decaying to 0.1% of the original level.

      3. JonHendry

        Well...

        "Strontium weighs 2.6kg/litre, and cæsium about 1.8. I can't see either doing much floating..."

        I hope you don't like sushi. Or fish. Because it's going in the ocean, where it'll likely be taken up by the bottom of the food chain and work its way up.

      4. Efros

        Caesium

        Won't float, but it will explode on contact with water, besides the elements will not be in blocks should they be released, they would be particulate smoke and in that situation the density of the pure material is irrelevant.

    2. Ian Stephenson Silver badge
      Flame

      Just as well..

      MOx fuel is already oxidised isn't it?

      A liitle hard to get it to combine with yet more oxygen in an exothermic reaction (that's burning to the hard of thinking).

      Awaiting incoming flames.

    3. Highlander

      The mass media in general are idiots

      The sad part is that so many tech journalists, people who should - like Lewis - be educated and scientific enough to work from fact, not fiction, have towed the party line of doom.

      I honestly think that the slime balls in senior positions at the major news organizations would have preferred a catastrophic meltdown event and explosion so that they could do more wall to wall coverage. not one of these bastards will have the courage to come out and tell the public that they vastly overstated the facts and the risks and that they are sorry for doing so.

      I often tell people that Hyperbole is no substitute for thought. Never has that been more true. Never. I'm utterly ashamed at the way the Western world has reacted to this crisis and the effect it has had on our perception of what has happened in Japan and the Japanese people themselves. What's actually worse is that the Japanese people have been deluged with foreign media preaching doom and gloom as fact, when their own local media and officials working with information closer to fact have been relatively calm and not full of hyperbole. Human nature leads people to worry about the possibilities and with the doom laden foreign news saturating things, people in Japan started to mistrust their own media and officials. Granted TEPCO hasn't exactly got a lot of credibility. However it seems increasingly certain that in all of this, TEPCO, the Japanese government and media have in fact been far, far closer to the truth than any other agencies or news media. At the end of the day, irresponsible reporting by the western media may turn out to have been the most significant public health threat at Fukushima Daiichi.

      Mark my words though, unlike Lewis, not one of these people has the respect or courage to admit their wrongdoing, and not one of them will apologize.

    4. Highlander

      The INES level isn't a THREAT level

      The increase in INES rating is *not* an increase in threat level. The fact that publications like the NYT call it a threat level is simply another illustration of the utter mis-reporting going on.

      Hyperbole is no substitute for thought.

    5. Am

      5 > 4 but < 6

      Or less concisely, it started at 6, dropped by two to 4, and has only been raised by 1 to 5.

    6. JonHendry

      Um.

      "I couldn't believe my ears last night when no less an august body than the BBC in a Newsnight report described one of the reactors as a potential "dirty bomb". "

      I don't see the problem. If a terrorist blew up a truck containing a few tons of spent fuel rods, that would qualify as a rather large dirty bomb. There'd be a huge mess of contamination to clean up.

      If a load of fuel rods burns on its own, because it isn't being cooled, the result is effectively the same, and probably worse.

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The BBC doesn't hire anyone who can add, let alone do science

      For many years I have been sorely irritated by the BBC's eagerness to advertise its utter ignorance of and hostility to science. It seems to be packed with wishy-washy, liberal, Arts graduates who regard even small integers with terror, and every time anything remotely technical starts to be discussed it is relentlessly extinguished.

      I can't for the life of me figure out whether they are actually all as pig-ignorant as they appear, or whether their opinion of their audience is so low that they think we won't be able to understand anything harder than 2 + 2 = 4.

  33. S Larti
    Thumb Up

    Thanks Lewis

    Nice to see a decent bit of reporting about the whole event. Now if only the MSM would join in...

  34. The Fuzzy Wotnot
    Pint

    Yeah but...

    ...where's the fun in telling the truth?

    The mass media consider such headlines as 'NUCLEAR ARMAGEDDON! YOU"RE ALL GONNA EFFING DIE!' to sell a bit more copy than "NUCLEAR REACTOR HEATS UP A BIT TOO MUCH BUT IT'S ALL SORTED NOW THOUGH AS THE TECHS WORKED IT ALL OUT JUST FINE!'.

    Plus with this being Japan the scum press have the wonderful option of dragging up the past for these poor people by raking over the details of the horrendous bombs dropped at the end of WW2.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    By stable, you mean they just raised it one level on the accident scale?

    Another triumph.

  36. E 2

    Be the first to post a comment

    Join Lewis on a trip to reactor vault of Unit III at Fukujuima Daiichi, where Lewis will explain in detail, with close up examination of the relevant twinkly bits, why you are perfectly safe.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    "I can only apologise on behalf of my profession..."

    Hadn't realised the media had appointed you as their spokesman...

  38. John Robson Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Sanity

    My daily dose.

    Although I saw something about Libya on the news today - is there something going on there?

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Pint

    The calculus of risk

    Actual danger = Probability * Consequence

    Perceived danger = Probability * Consequence * 'Majorness' of the event

    The second version may be unreasonable from a purely numercial point of view, but it is not unreasonable from a human point of view.

    E.g. Airplane transport is vastly safer than car transport (by any meaure) because IT HAS TO BE. A380 aircraft have to be even safer still.

    Read that again. It HAS TO BE.

    Making it a pure numbers game ignores some fundamental truths about humans.

    It is perfectly reasonable to evacuate an area, even if the average actual risk is slightly increased by doing so.

  40. Fenwick
    Megaphone

    Good information

    http://www.bousai.ne.jp/vis/

    With the application of google translate.

  41. Sekundra
    Thumb Up

    Spot on

    Lewis

    A clear, sensible and detailed article with an entirely unecessary mea culpa. And no brick bats at the MoD even!

    1. The Commenter formally known as Matt
      Troll

      raised it one level

      you mean after dropping it two levels?

      1. Darryl

        @ formerly Matt

        shhhhhh! We weren't supposed to notice that!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          FAIL

          @@formerly Matt and @Darryl: Why is it OK for one side to make stuff up but not the other?

          See, if your whole argument is about a bunch of hysterical journalists misrepresenting and distorting the truth, then you are a hypocrite if you misrepresent things yourself.

          Of course, it's always possible that you are talking about stuff you haven't properly understood. It was never six according to the same people who said it just went from four to five. The Japanese authorities and TEPCO have been calling it at four all week; yesterday they raised that to five. Meanwhile, and entirely separately, the French nuclear agency, who aren't there and don't know, said it was six, sometime in between the Japanese announcing it at four and raising it to five.

          So it never went up to six, then down to four, then up to five. There are two entirely separate sets of figures here coming from different source; one of them says it was four and now it's five, the other says it is six all along. They obviously disagree with each other, but for you to take the figures from both of them and mix them together without mentioning that they came from different sources is speciously dishonest of you.

          Or, as I suspect is actually the case, merely ignorant and uninformed.

          Incidentally, I have had it with this fallacy-of-the-excluded-middle bullshit. It is neither a triumph nor a zOMG we're all going to die. ***Lewis, in seeking to destroy, has become what he despises.***

    2. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Apart from the fact ...

      ... that tourists would be getting in the way of dealing with an ongoing incident, and the Japanese * are going to have more than enough disaster tourists taking up their resources, I'd be more than happy to do that.

      What exactly do you consider to be the problem?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Big Brother

      the mass media and headlines?

      > The mass media consider such headlines as 'NUCLEAR ARMAGEDDON!, The Fuzzy Wotnot

      Curious, I see the exact opposite, lots of feel-good-don't-worry-type "reports" by western nuclear experts. They're pumping in seawater for crissake !!!!

      Something that I have always wondered about. How is it that all the main-stream press and the main television station come up with the exact same sub-set of "stories" each day. For instance today, some tabbie who survived being sucked down a drain is in all of them and no doubt will feature as the fade out piece on the nine O' clock news. How do all these "independent" news editors so happen to pick the same stories.

      Reg Editors, not you of course ...

    4. Highlander

      Your equation for perceived danger is missing something

      Actual danger = Probability * Consequence

      Perceived danger = Probability * Consequence * 'Majorness' * Hyperbole level of international media orgy.

      Actually, perhaps that should be;

      Perceived danger = ('Majorness' * Hyperbole level of international media orgy) + (Probability * Consequence)

      After all if a major event also garners a feeding frenzy of the worst kind (as Fukushima daiiichi has) it doesn't matter much what the possible or actual consequences are, the perception will be dire in the extreme.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh my ...

    Some excellent reports this week Lewis, but ...

    "As one who earns his living in the media these days, I can only apologise on behalf of my profession for the unbelievable levels of fear and misinformation purveyed this week. I have never been so ashamed to call myself a journalist."

    Get over yourself .... please. Journalists are frequently wrong, this is little more than a bit of, "told you so nyah nyah!"

    Magnanimity and the confidence in knowing *you were right*

  43. a person
    Alert

    Cost of the cleanup?

    Ignoring for now that the world effectively has no safe way to dispose of spent nuclear fuel and other radioactive waste, this mess is going to cost an almighty sum of money to clean up. Wikipedia's description of the 3-mile island disaster:

    Cleanup started in August 1979 and officially ended in December 1993, having cost around US$975 million

    So, 14 years and a billion dollars in them day's money for the cleanup of one reactor vessel and containment building. Good value, that ... lets hope there's no more tsunamis while they're cleaning up these four.

  44. K. Adams
    Pint

    Hey, Lewis: Let me buy you a pint...

    ... if I ever get a chance to amble past Vulture HQ.

  45. Andydaws
    Thumb Up

    Perhaps a little premature...

    Lewis, I can understand your frustration with the reporting of this - for example, CNN were running this morning with a report that 20 workers at the plant were seriously ill with radiation poisoning, according to the IAEA, when the IAEA's press release stated that only one person had had even potentially problematic exposure.

    I can also understand the urge to wave two fingers at many of the hysterics that've posted comments on your previous stories. But we're not out of the woods yet.

    I suspect you're right that the situation with the reactors themselves is well on to being stabilised. The big factor there will be if they're able to use electrical power to bring back on line the main emergency core cooling systems. The primary uses a spray from above the fuel assemblies, so will have the rather useful characteristic of acting to condense steam, and get coolant directly onto the fuel itself.

    Incidentally, this:

    http://www.jaif.or.jp/english/news_images/pdf/ENGNEWS01_1300433768P.pdf

    gives some useful data. Go to the second page, and you'll see a table listing the pressures in the reactors and containments. Notably, in reactors 1-3 the reactor pressure in Reactors 2 & 3 is pretty much down to atmospheric pressure, and that in reactor 1 is around 2 atmospheres. That tells us they're well on the way to cooling. Note also, the containments in both R2 and R3 are holding at least some positive pressure - which says that although perhaps compromised, they're not leaking freely to atmosphere (earlier today, that in R3 was at about 2 atmospheres, before venting.

    So, as power is restored, they should be fully stabilised, on cold shutdown in a day or two. Note, incidentally there's still a need for heat removal - but with power, there are systems for that, the ones used for residual heat removal during refuelling.

    It's not as simple with the fuel in the ponds, though. I'm dubious about the hydrogen fire theory on reactor 4 - that took place well before the readings of 84C were taken in the pool, and it's hard to see how rods could be at hydrogen generating temperatures, without the entire pool being boiling. Having said that, there's a good chance they're exposed, at least in part - that'd be consistent with the high direct exposure levels above the reactor (it'd be easier to tell if someone would say what the dosage was made up of, alpha, beta or gamma). It should also be pretty easy to tell if they've been compromised, as the isotope mix would be pretty obvious. The fact that no-one's screaming about having found actinides around the plant makes be suspect they're substantially intact, albeit might be outgassing Xenon. Other fission products would also be obvious.

    However, the buggeration is going to be doing anything about it. It's be a sod of a problem to approach the ponds to investigate why they're low on water in the best of circumstances; and as the top of reactor 3 is covered in debris, that'll be particularly hard. Anyone exposed to direct "shine" from the fuel at close range is dead. And even if only a few rods have failed, there'll be all sorts of nasties around the place. It'll almost certainly come down to using some form of robot to approach to investigate, I'd have thought.

    So, I don't think that'll get solved fast. I'm not panicky about the prospect of melting, or a fire - it's all but impossible to get zircalloy to burn, and as the rods have been out for three months, I'd be surprised if air convention didn't keep temperatures will below melting - albeit far hotter than they should be. Things are looking less bad than they were - but don't count chickens.

    In terms of where this will end up, my guess is it's obviously not a Chernobyl, or even a Kyshtym. But it's obviously let a lot more radioactivity out than Three Mile Island. Unless things take a turn for the worse, it's probably similar in impact to the Windscale fire. We'll have to see.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Stop

      This would be true in a lot of cases, but

      The MSM shriekings related to this particular incident have been particularly shrill, and particularly stomach-turning.

    2. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge
      Happy

      If we all did that ...

      ... he'd be too incapable to write for weeks (and that would be a bad thing).

    3. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Thanks, Andydaws...

      ... great comment. I was working through ways to get to the cooling ponds last night, and had come to the same conclusion as you - this is an ideal job for a robot.

    4. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      But ...

      ...the doom-panderers could never have been "right" in this instance. There has been nothing but shameful cynicism and willful ignorance on the part of most major news outlets. They have acted disgracefully, and dragged journalism down to levels of politicians and ACSLaw.

    5. Darryl

      title

      You know that there was one of the world's largest natural disasters there last week, right? A billion dollars is going to be a very small percentage of what it's going to cost to fix northern Japan

    6. jodyfanning
      WTF?

      No way to dispose of nuclear waste??!

      You obviously haven't heard of fuel reprocessing then, or fast breeder reactors.

    7. hrrrrrrrrrmmmmmmm
      WTF?

      the atmospheric pressure in reactors

      is because they bore holes in reactors' containment vessels so as long as things do not get exploded the pressure would be as it is outside. The reason why they bore hole in the units is that otherwise they could not pump (sea!) water into the units so they can stay cooled and avoid air contact.

      BTW: the units that get sea water pumped into are pretty much out of service forever even if they did not have holes in containment vessels.

      As for spent fuel rods. They may be spent fuel but they produce heat and according to IAEA one of the pools had water at 82C (for you Anglo-Saxon crowd that is almost boiling) and that was point of concern as water at this temperature evaporates fast hence all the choppers dropping loads of water etc.

      As for robots investigating things in nuclear plants - these work well as long as spent fuel does not lie around in chunks as Russians found out in Chernobyl. Yes even the heavy duty Russian HW could not cope with radiation and they had to send troops in improvised protection suits - each man for 90second shift. That is what happens when things turn really bad.

      This whole discussion convinces me also that all the proponents of the good nuclear energy should volunteer to serve in emergency recovery units at the nearest nuclear plant or be forced to shut up. In fact why all the 'hurray-how-safe-fukushima-is-people' should go and help deliver food, water and fuel to all the people trapped just outside the zone around the plant. After that is done they could help in decontamination efforts, removing debries from power plant (chunks of concrete roof that landed in spent fuel rods pool haveto be removed too). Yes - the media exaggerates slightly and some morons in Europe even buy iodine and Geiger units - yet to say nuclear energy is safe is just a sign of brainlessness. We may need it anyway but at least we should be aware of consequences - ignoring those is silly.

      1. Chris Miller

        @hrrrrrrrrrmmmmmmm

        Pity, you were doing quite well until your last paragraph

        If there were anything I could do to help (rather than just get in the way), I'd be prepared to assist at my local nuke plant - knowing that I would be monitored for radiation exposure and taken out once I'd exceeded the safe limits (250mSv*, only permitted in situations where I would be contributing to saving a life). Meanwhile, due to the "slightly" (slightly!!) exaggerated statements from the press, people in desperate need because of a once in a millennium tectonic event are being deprived of supplies because drivers won't deliver to areas where they fear 'hazardous' levels of radiation.

        Very few things in the real world are "absolutely safe" (as that BBC savant, Jonathan Dimbleby, kept asking on 'Any Questions' yesterday) - the sensible question is whether nuclear is safer (and/or less damaging to the environment) than other forms of energy production - to which the answer (on most bases) is 'yes' - 200 times safer (based on deaths per kWh) than wind power, for instance.

        Xkcd (natch) has an excellent guide to radiation, here:

        http://xkcd.com/radiation/

        * this level of exposure probably (best estimates suggests) raises your lifetime cancer risk by 1 or 2% - but that risk is something like 20-25% to begin with.

      2. mmiied

        volunteer

        if I had any training I would in a heart beat

        + I do not speek japineese beyond the lvl of watching amine

      3. Andydaws

        Oh, Dear....

        "is because they bore holes in reactors' containment vessels so as long as things do not get exploded the pressure would be as it is outside. The reason why they bore hole in the units is that otherwise they could not pump (sea!) water into the units so they can stay cooled and avoid air contact."

        No, it's not. The holes that have been drilled are in the (non-pressure bearing) secondary containments or reactors 5&6, in case there's any hydrogen build-up as per the other units.

        And no, nothing to do with sea water. Pumping sea water into even the primary containment would do next to nothing to cool the reactor. The sea water's going into the reactor pressure vessels. Probably the most effective place, as that's where the fuel is....

        By the way, you understand the difference between pressure (gauge) and pressure (absolute) do you? Go take a look at the link I provided. In future, don't lead with your chin.

        "As for spent fuel rods. They may be spent fuel but they produce heat and according to IAEA one of the pools had water at 82C (for you Anglo-Saxon crowd that is almost boiling) and that was point of concern as water at this temperature evaporates fast hence all the choppers dropping loads of water etc."

        Eventually - but unless there's boiling, you won't move it fast enough. Do the sums.

        Even if you're boiling the whole pond, a simple, GCSE-type heat balance will tell you it'll take you several days to expose fuel. Try doing if from evaporation, and you'll be there for months.

  46. Anonymous John

    Nuclear experts are beginning to condemn the international hysteria

    Some of them were being hysterical until today.

  47. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Unhappy

    In other news...

    Japan has raised the nuclear alert level.

    1. PsychicMonkey
      Flame

      please see

      earlier posts about why this doesn't matter. not that you'll listen.

      Oh Ok then. LIES IT@S ALL LIES< WE@LL ALL DIE SCREAMING IN AGONY!

      Happy now?

  48. S 10

    The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

    The anti-nuclear knee-jerking from various governments in light of this has been really depressing. If we can't take a clear scientific approach to something as important as where we are going to get our energy from over the next 50 years, rather than rash emotional judgements, then we are going to find ourselves in trouble.

    1. PsychicMonkey
      Pint

      Thats

      the problem with governments, they generally have knee jerk reactions to everything.

      is it beer time yet?

  49. Hermes Conran
    Flame

    "The Fukushima reactors actually came through the quake with flying colours"

    Then proceeded to do more damage to themselves than the quake + tsunami did.

    To paraphrase another 'tard, any system that self distructs when power is removed is normally called a booby trap.

    1. John Robson Silver badge
      Boffin

      required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

      Better than them (or say the petrochemical plants) being totalled by the quake.

      If they'd just vented straight to atmosphere initially, would we have had the hydrogen explosions?

      Maybe that's the important bit here - In cases like this we should just vent anything with a half-life below 10 minutes (or above a few trillion years (that's >1000 times the most stable uranium isotope)) direct to the atmosphere.

      Or maybe we'll use dedicated, remote, intermediate chambers...

  50. Anton Ivanov
    Badgers

    As the russians say:

    There is a Russian saying: Do not say hop-la until you have jumped.

    One thing however is quite clear - the spent fuel storage facilities pose a danger on par with a nuclear reactor if not greater in an event like this and they have a much lower degree of protection. I suspect that some form of redesign so that they can be cooled easier if the proverbial sh** hits the proverbial fan will be ordered throughout the world.

    There is another thing which is also clear - the Japanese are still a nation which will fight against overwhelming odds. I would rather not think of how an incident like this would have looked in the land of the H&S act.

    The rest - too early to say. Let's not say hop-la until we have jumped shall we?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Ummmm... No....

      "One thing however is quite clear - the spent fuel storage facilities pose a danger on par with a nuclear reactor if not greater in an event like this and they have a much lower degree of protection."

      The reason they have less protection is because they are far less of a danger than the reactor core. They can not generate the kind of temperatures found in the core and do not have the levels of radioactivity either.

      The media may now be telling you that the spent fuel will bring the end of all we know, but they're only looking to save face after their apocalyptic predictions about the core didn't come to pass. Dangerous yes, but "on par with a nuclear reactor if not greater" definitely not.

    2. ian 22

      Fuel storage

      It seems the entire site is spent fuel storage. Similar to many other commercial reactors, spent fuel simply accumulates, with disposal costs simply pushed further into the future. High-level waste storage problems must be addressed, and costs assigned to the power companies creating the waste. Otherwise this is simply another example of market distortion.

      1. Shocked Jock
        Unhappy

        @ ian 22

        The real problem with the nuclear industry is that, as an offshoot of the bomb, governments saw that they had to hide the costs. The major costs of nuclear power - both mining, which destroys environments and cultures, and waste disposal (albeit preferably not into the Japanese atmosphere or the Irish Sea, for example) - don't get counted, but shoved under the carpet. If these costs were internalised (and adjusted upwards following every major nuclear incident), then nuclear power would have been scrapped long ago as unprofitable. After all, we already have a useful, distant, fairly safe nuclear reactor to keep us warm: it's called the Sun.

        Nuclear industry advocates include some very smart people who can make convincing arguments, but the costs of providing fuel are immense and the costs of waste disposal are incalculable. They will never be laid at the door of private companies, but we will all pay for them for ever - or as near as makes no difference.

  51. Anonymous Coward
    WTF?

    "I can only apologise on behalf of my profession..."

    For selectively quoting the IAEA ?

    Stable means not getting worse. It doesn't mean things are improving. In fact they use the term serious.

    Before I get spunked on by your fanboys, I suggest they read the Reuters article you link to.

  52. bamalam

    Too early to claim....

    ... that things are going to be alright. There obviously seems to be multiple levels of failure and there was inadequate preparation for cooling of reactors and containment pools that need power to safely operate.

    At the very least the nuclear cleanup is likely to take as much money as the rest of the tsunami disaster. Anybody volunteering to be the first up on top of the reactor buildings to cleanup? The cost of cleaning up Chernobyl finished off the Soviet Union - this will do long term damage to the health of the Japanese economy and hence resources to deal with their aging population.

  53. Anonymous Coward
    WTF?

    Hear Hear

    I concur Mr Page.

    Were I a journalist I'd be very much ashamed also. The hype and exaggeration has been monumental.

    It's as if there's some opposition to nuclear power on high level agenda's. Were I fitted with a larger tinfoil hat I'd say that the oil industry quite likes the situation.

    I couldn't believe that German woman too, trying to justify getting rid of all nuke power on the back of this tragedy. This was a natural disaster, yes, but the actual outcome is a triumph of humanity's ability to plan for such things.

    Everyone involved should be praised for coping with this mess and doing such a blinding job.

    Reading the papers over the past few days has made me think I never want to read one again!

    1. Andydaws

      How do you work that out?

      re "At the very least the nuclear cleanup is likely to take as much money as the rest of the tsunami disaster. "

      TMI cost a billion dollars to clean up over 10 years. With the best will in the world, even if you treble that for this case for each reactor, you're an order of magnitude or so away from the cost of the Tsunami itself.

      Japan's GDP is something like $5.4 trillion. The estimates doing the rounds are the Tsunami costing 2% of GDP - that's $108 billion.

      1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

        Economic analysis

        "The cost of cleaning up Chernobyl finished off the Soviet Union"

        Oh, and here was me thinking that the unworkable planned economic system lacking competition, market feedback and discouraging management excellence (and as the result relying on low-added value export of natural resources, notably oil, the price of which fell, as it sometimes does, quite dramatically) finished off the Soviet Union...

  54. lp15

    As unbiased as Fox News

    I'm sure that the author of this article is technically competent, but his blatant editorialising calls into question the objectivity of everything he writes. It's also boring and an insult to intelligence.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Dead Vulture

      For a balanced article

      Take a look at the article on Ars Technica: http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2011/03/understanding-japans-nuclear-crisis.ars

      A much better read all round - factual, balanced, sums up the pros and cons of the plant design, describes the current situation well, and has a balanced summary of the potential risks.

      Contrasts enormously with this tabloid piece from The Register. Notably, a comment posted on the article says,

      "Someone's been reading Lewis Page at theregister.co.uk"

      The author's response?

      "Not for this. I explicitly said i was using credible sources."

      Says it all really.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Boffin

        Re: For a balanced article

        A good article, indeed, made all the more readable by the absence of frequent references to "technofear hippy luddites" and all the usual flamebaiting that Lewis (and Mr Orlowski) seem unable to resist slipping into their articles.

      2. John 62

        robotic_tourist

        at the risk of blowing my anonymity, it was me who posted that comment on Ars. I found the tone of the articles quite similar basically saying that Fukushima is not apocalyptic and won't cause scores of deaths, but Ars had a bit more worry about the fuel pools and a bit less of the 'everything is fluffy kittens'.

        and then I saw this phrase "where we are now is completely beyond our control, and that highlights some reasons why this can't be considered a _triumph_". (emphasis mine)

        Can't think why I'd make the connection!

        though there's plenty of criticism of the Ars piece in the pages of comments.

        1. Werner McGoole

          But how serious are the health issues?

          I can't see why you'd think the Ars piece to be better. A lot of the content says much the same thing as Lewis says, but there's no analysis of the health risks beyond saying that the reactor workers are "putting their health at risk".

          To my mind, quantifying the health risks is the crux of the matter. Health is the only thing we're really worried about here and if the risk is negligible then it's important to know that as it changes the entire story.

          I think the fact that the reactor workers may never suffer any health problems at all because of what they are doing (never mind the general public), if correct, puts the whole thing into perspective. I haven't seen that discussed anywhere else. (Unless you count the Daily Mail's radioactive poison cloud that's currently swallowing up the US of A.)

      3. Steven Jones

        Good article

        That's a very good article indeed and balanced. Lewis should learn from the approach which is analytical, balanced and presents both sides. It concurs pretty well with my thoughts - the reactor coped pretty well with the circumstances, but there was a major failure in the tsunami prevention. Further, it cannot be reasonably argued that this was a very unlikely risk factor, even at this level.

        When this thing calms down, I think the finger will point at that very issue and that shortcuts were taken for which the Japanese are going to pay a heavy financial penalty. I think we'll find that this could have been prevented at a relatively modest extra cost.

        On the plus side, if nothing worse happens, then at least it demonstrates that a near worst-case scenario doesn't necessarily end in nuclear Armageddon.

        It's fairly obvious that there's a bunch of Lewis groupies around - possibly outnumbering the Lewis haters. However, what is surely true is that his journalistic style is that of a polemicist. All the arguments are assembled to support his particular story line. Personally I prefer the analytical style of John Timmer. Much better to have somebody intent on getting to a balanced view of the truth than one primarily interested in winning his argument and making statements like there will be no serious consequences. There are already - at the very least, the price of nuclear expansion will be increased safety costs, although that might not be such a bad thing.

  55. cnapan
    Pint

    Risk of ad-hominem attacks reduce to Level 4

    Throughout this series of articles, those whose hysteria was met with reason turned time and time again to ad-hominem attacks on the author.

    We see this in religion and politics a lot, so we shouldn't be surprised, but with the prospect of our descendants having to battle with the living hell caused by the release of prehistoric levels of fossil carbon and methane into the atmosphere, we ought to be facing up to our responsibilities *today* to turn to all viable alternatives to fossil fuelled power.

    In a few places, renewable energy is a useful part of the mix. For much of the developed world though, nuclear power remains the only alternative to fossil fuels.

    For this reason, it is critical that we are HONEST about the true risks from nuclear power today, and stand up to the baseless belief systems that have built up about the threat from nuclear.

    The management of spent nuclear fuel and other highly radioactive materials from decommissioned nuclear plants is, to my mind, the only significant issue that remains to be resolved, but today, this material is of no consequence in comparison to the effect of the waste products of fossil fuels, whose greenhouse effect is sure to lead to widespread desertification and loss of farmland and cities through sea level rise over the next two centuries.

    1. Jolyon

      Honest about it all?

      I'm all for the honesty but are you honestly able to say the greenhouse effect from the waste products of fossil fuels is *sure* to lead to desertification the loss of cities due to sea level rise?

      There seems to have been an awful lot of debate for something that is so obvious and inevitable.

      Lewis Page for example might disagree with you (but don't call him names if he does).

    2. Highlander

      The general level of understanding of Nuclear physics is extremely low

      The problem is that this is exactly like those religion debates. People in general know so little about the technology or the actual risks, so they believe that the risks are far greater than they are in truth, and they believe whoever sounds the most believable to them - the priests. in this case, the ear ticklers are the mass media and news channels who have painted a picture of international doom with such confidence that facts and reason do not mater. so much so that anyone presenting facts and reason are treated like heretics because they do not conform with the accepted belief that we're all doomed.

  56. James Cooke
    Unhappy

    Insignificant? Does not take account of deaths in evacuation

    14 elderly patients died due to being evacuated from a hospital near the plant. There will no doubt be others similarly effected by the displacement.

    Now I do generally agree with Lewis that the situation has been hyped by the media and the deaths pale in comparison to the quake/tsunami but the nuclear problems have caused significant effects just not so much from the radiation.

  57. calumg
    Stop

    Stop insulting us

    Ok, so let's imagine that there's a 75% chance that there won't be a significant release of radioactivity. Does this vindicate the tone of this article? Of course not. The fact there was a near miss is still extremely concerning. The fact that nuclear regulation in Japan is dysfunctional is concerning.

    I find it extremely insulting to my intelligence to suggest that I don't understand risk and that I should not be concerned about this. The minute we downplay the risks as the author is doing here, we start to get complacent.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge
      FAIL

      How about a 99%, or 99.99999% chance?

      At what point would you say it vindicates the tone of the article?

      You clearly don't understand risk, as if you did and applied the same criteria throughout, you'd be calling for the banning of all petrochemical refineries. Or have you forgotten those *massive* explosions already?

      You'd definitely refuse to visit Cornwall... That place is radioactive!

    2. Andydaws

      that's not the point....

      The point that Page is making isn't about a percentage chance - it's about the general hype. A release of readioactivity on the scales that seem credible isn't an "Apocalypse".

    3. PsychicMonkey
      Coat

      well

      it's not the plants fault, the panic really caused those deaths. if the building was falling down due to the earthquake they would have moved them as well.

  58. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    happy days

    for right or wrong this article is refreshing

    It doesnt matter what the story is, a news paper or anyother news media outlet has to make money, they do this by publishing stories in an intresting way whilst attempting to keep to the facts. If they didnt they would go out of business, end of story.

    The issue is all of these outlets have a politically or financially motivated managment, you can never completely trust anything that any news outlet says.

    The old saying of, 'taken with a pinch of salt' is still true today, anything you read you should assume its not correct but is based on being correct, so read it, watch it and just think for a second that the truth is probably a little bit further away than whats being reported.

    As has been stated, its not over yet so lets not count our chickens, it could have gone a lot worse,

    What will be intresting is what tehy say after this is over, i suspect they will stop saying absolute messages and everything will become so and so said that this that and the other happened

  59. J 3
    Dead Vulture

    In other other new...

    Are they now mumbling something about just burying the whole crap in sand and concrete, sarcophagus-style, as a "possibility in the back of their minds" or something? I hope it does not happen, but if they are even acknowledging the possibility...

    Anyway, I never imagined I'd see the day so many at El Reg trusting a government's word so much... Not that they are necessarily lying, I have no information to judge (as I'm sure you don't either, when it comes to that, or are any of you a specialist at the site?). But Lewis' and his commentards' faith in gov and TEPCO officials is touching, it sure is.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      FAIL

      Here, let me try something:

      "Anyway, I never imagined I'd see the day so many at El Reg trusting the mainstream news outlets' word so much... Not that they are necessarily lying, I have no information to judge (as I'm sure you don't either, when it comes to that, or are any of you a specialist at the site?). But the anti-Lewis commentards' faith in the Guardian and the BBC is touching, it sure is."

      See what I did there? Your comment has zero value. Looks like it's back-to-the-drawing-board time for your opinions.

  60. nickpaton

    A proper explanation of the Japan Nuclaer "Disaster"

    This YouTube video explains it all:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5sakN2hSVxA

  61. lostinterest
    Stop

    Still not really a "triumph for nuke power" now is it?

    I've got nothing against nuclear power but it really bugs me how it the nuke lobby ignore half the expense of it.

    How much is it going to cost Japan to clear up this mess? Should that be factored into the per MW cost of nuke power when doing comparisons against other types of power?

    And why is it perfectly acceptable for nuclear advocates to ignore the costs of decommissioning and storage of waste in their calculations? Last thing I read, the decommissioning of existing UK stations was estimated at £70bn alone. I guess calculating waste storage cost is impossible as some has a half life of 1000s of years - the cost is pretty much infinite as far as we know. Bit unfair on the accountants to make them add that up.

  62. There's a bee in my bot net

    Balanced...

    This article is certainly more balanced than any of your previous on the topic.

    But it still far from objective. When you say "hit by a monster earthquake and tsunami, one of the safest places to be is at the local nuclear powerplant" is that not just on the opposite side of the scale from "imminent meltdown"?

    Are you not as guilty of sensationalism as the rest? I mean, saying "Fukushima is a triumph for nuke power: Build more reactors now!" is again on the opposite side of the scale from whoever is saying "Fukushima a dirty bomb waiting to happen" (don't ever build another Nuclear power plant ever again! (I added that last bit for some balance)).

    1. Jolyon

      Should be possible

      To calculate the cost of fossil fuel generation over the lifetime of these reactors to see if they've been any cheaper - there must be comparable clean-up operations going on at non-nuclear plants in Japan at the moment to provide the whole-lifecycle comparison.

      Not that economic considerations are the be all and end all for energy policy decisions.

    2. mmiied
      FAIL

      title

      first of on the new builds it IS factored in (I know pepol who do this)

      second off why can fosle fule plants get away with dumping most fo there wast up a chimly and then forget about it where as the same atude on a nuke plant would get you in a heap of trouble (what is the half life of c02? or murcury?)

  63. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    It's not the numbers

    No one cares about how many Sieverts are involved. For better or for worse nuclear accidents are tarred with the "no more Chernobyl" where any form of malfunction is considered to be a threat to life. Everyone "knows" that: radiation is invisible, life-threatening and long-lived. To talk about numbers after that is to play Al Gore to George Bush in the 1999 election campaign.

    The perverse consequence of this is, of course, nimbyism with everyone craving cheap energy but wanting at least at arm's length. So, the German government having just extended the lives of its reactors has just unconstitutionally (because the Federal government is not responsible for safety) imposed a 3-month shutdown of 7 nuclear power plants, at least 2 of which will probably not go back into producation, jjust before several important state elections. While this is likely to cost billions in compensation to the power companies it is apparently not endangering the supply of electricity. I haven't currently come any figures as to whether shortfall will be made up by imported power that may be nuclear from France or elsewhere. The editorial in the Economist puts the case rather well: nuclear is pretty much dead in the water in democracies but all the more likely in other countries as the market for power will stay very strong.

    An informed debate is required. However, citing WNN is only one side of this. WNN is run by the WNA, a lobby association of vested interests.

  64. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    I've had more mSv from CT scans...

    ...than anyone other than the 50 are likely to get by being at the site. A persistent and potentially serious health issue left me having two of my three most treasured bodyparts ultrasounded approximately 7-8 times in as many months.

    Assuming radiation levels at the plant can be proven not to have exceeded indicated levels then there's going to be a lot of embarrassed people once the reactors are back under full control. Quite how it has been allowed to eclipse the wholesale death & destruction of the quake and tsunami is astounding.

    The irony being the people most vocal against nuclear power are usually warmists who are railroading the world down a high carbon future - using less power isn't realistic and renewables are nothing but an expensive sideshow. It's nuclear, or coal & gas.

    None of that should detract from the worldwide respect the 180 at Fukushima are earning day by day.

  65. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Dispassionate...

    ...is what a good journalist should strive for in their reporting, alas Lewis Page's coverage of events at Fukushima Daiichi has not been dispassionate (they have improved from his early pieces) - instead he's been very passionate, and is now patting himself on the back.

  66. Michael Brown
    Flame

    The feeling is mutual

    "I can only apologise on behalf of my profession for the unbelievable levels of fear and misinformation purveyed this week. I have never been so ashamed to call myself a journalist."

    After the propaganda and misinformation purveyed by you this week, most journalists would be ashamed that you also claim to be one.

    1. amanfromearth

      A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

      Sorry my friend, ultrasound is not ionising radiation. Nor is it electromagnetic radiation.

      Other than whatever your illness was, you have nothing to fear.

    2. PsychicMonkey

      bacause

      the other media has been so dis-passionate as well. I must of missed it.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @AC 15:42 GMT

      I'm sorry to read that your health is at risk, but I do need to respond to your "warmist" prejudice.

      It seems you are in the same bed as B. Obama, who is on record favoring more nuclear power generation, or Professor Barry Brook (see http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/03/17/fukushima_thursday/page3.html) , a card-carrying "warmist" and pro-nuclear.

      Strange bedfellows, AC, for a Ménage à trois!

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Ugh.

      ultrasound and CT scans are very different things. I somehow doubt you've had 8 CT scans in 8 months, doctors usually shy away from that kind of thing.

      Even if they did it would certainly be a very localised scan, not whole body like the plant's radiation.

  67. veskebjorn
    Stop

    Rubbish!

    Right now, plant workers who have volunteered to absorb lethal doses of radioactivity are busy dying. Yet, in Mr. Page's alternative universe, the sun is shining and things are getting better every day.

    The entirety of the cooling at the facility is supplied by fire trucks and occasional air-lifted buckets of water. Supplying power from the grid is, as yet, simply wishful thinking. To what will the power be connected? How much of the control systems remain operable? How much of the cooling systems remain operable?

    In one respect, circumstances in Japan are far worse than Chernobyl or Three Mile Island. Both of these disasters involved only one reactor. The operator (TEPCO) of Daiichi has reported life-threatening emergencies at four reactors and six "spent" fuel rod storage racilities, collectively involving a total of thousands of tons of radioactive elements.

    In a second respect, Daiichi is similarly unique: reactor number 3 is fueled with a mixture of plutonium and uranium. This makes the Daiichi disaster the first to afford the general public the chance to get up close and personal with the most poisonous element known.

    I find Mr. Page's remarks ill-informed, thoughtless, heartless, and otherwise often simply disgusting. As I have said once before in this forum, the Register should employ copy editors and fact checkers.

  68. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Anyone know...

    ... how the Windscale decommissioning is going? That was a level 5 event I believe.

  69. doperative
    WTF?

    situation continues to stabilise?

    "The situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear powerplant in Japan, badly damaged during the extremely severe earthquake and tsunami there a week ago, continues to stabilise"

    Would you please stop regurgitating this PR waffle. What corrosion effects will seawater have on the damaged reactor cores? What happens when the radioactive sludge reaches the water table. How are they even going to move the radioactive waste?

    "Officials at the Nuclear Safety Agency have raised the severity of the nuclear crisis unfolding at the plant damaged in last Friday's magnitude 9.0 earthquake from 4 to 5 on a 7-level international scale"

    http://rt.com/news/races-restore-cooling-plant/

  70. armyknife

    Better a meritocracy than titles

    Thank you:

    "I have never been so ashamed to call myself a journalist."

    Oh look, I've done a 'Lewis'.

  71. Seanmon
    Thumb Up

    Good job Lewis

    I thought your first "Triumph for Nuclear Power!" article was perhaps a little hubristic, but thanks for some generally clear-headed writing this week. Kept my blood pressure just about under control after the guff spilling from the mainstream meeja.

    No-one's denying it's not a dodgy situation at Fukushima, but it has pretty much always been under control, and the general hysteria is detracting from the real issue - the slight matter of the massive humanitarian tragedy.

    I'm still waiting for the hysterical footage of all the equally dangerous refineries, petrol stations and coal-fireds that were destroyed. After all, they're built to far less rigorous standards than the nukes.

    I'm particularly disgusted with the BBC, supposed to be an authoritative and reliable source of news. I trust that anyone else who saw Newsnight last week has written in to complain. I did.

    But the prize for the most revolting piece of journalist? Step forward Daily Mail. This is, quite frankly, just offensive.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1365225/Japan-earthquake-tsunami-Did-supermoon-cause-todays-natural-disaster.html

    1. Highlander

      Post proof or retract.

      'Right now, plant workers who have volunteered to absorb lethal doses of radioactivity are busy dying. "

      Post proof or retract.

      1. Highlander

        Looks like the original post I replied to has indeed been retracted

        Looks like the original post I replied to has indeed been retracted

    2. Highlander

      The definition of a level 5 event...

      The definition of a level 5 event, only one of these things need be true to make an event a level 5 event.

      Impact on people and environment

      Limited release of radioactive ­material likely to require i­mplementation of some planned­ countermeasures.

      Several deaths from ­radiation.

      Impact on radiological barriers and control

      Severe damage to reactor core.

      Release of large quantities of radioactive material within an installation with a high probability of significant public exposure. This could arise from a major criticality accident or fire.

      It's clear that there has at lest been one or more instances of this; "Limited release of radioactive ­material likely to require i­mplementation of some planned­ countermeasures."

      It's also clear that there has been some reactor core damage, although it's not at all clear whether it meets the criteria of "Severe damage to reactor core.".

      Either way, the limited release of radioactive material at the plant itself, and the local environment that may require clean-up automatically means that this is a level 5 event. It doesn't even matter if the short lives of the isotopes release mean that they will be indistinguishable from background radiation within a couple of months. It still qualifies as a level 5.

      This incident quite clearly no longer fits the 4 classification and is a hell of a long way from the INES level 6 or 7 classifications. At present, it appears to be a low level INES 5. Clearly there are still many unknowns, but unless there is a catastrophic worsening of the situation, this will not exceed the parameters of an INES level 5 even. Considering the incredible devastation that the area underwent with the 4th largest recorded Earthquake and one of the worst tsunami ever seen, it's somewhat of a miracle that we aren't looking at a much, much worse situation. Well, perhaps not a miracle, just damn good engineering and an incredible job of planning and execution by the crews at the power station.

      1. Ian Stephenson Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Severe damage to reactor core

        Several thousand gallons of seawater will have done that.

        No need for the severe damage to have been done by the glowy stuff.

    3. James Hughes 1

      Where did this little snippet come from?

      "Right now, plant workers who have volunteered to absorb lethal doses of radioactivity are busy dying."

      Because from what have read and heard this is blatantly not true. Please post your evidence on the subject.

    4. Munchausen's proxy
      WTF?

      Back to the provenance question

      "Right now, plant workers who have volunteered to absorb lethal doses of radioactivity are busy dying."

      Why do you believe this? Well, of course, we all could be said to be busy dying, but you seem to be implying that the plant workers actually have absorbed 'lethal' doses of radiation and are dying from it. Why do you think that?

      "Yet, in Mr. Page's alternative universe, the sun is shining and things are getting better every day."

      I'm not sure of the time-zone difference from Page's alternate universe, but where I am right now, the sun IS shining. And I'd certainly like to believe that things are getting better - do you imply the opposite is true because you have evidence, or simply because you like to think so?

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Grenade

      ...and further rubbish

      Good work veskebjorn!

      Although it is a totally different sphere - it amazes me that the (probably) IT-savvy minds on here can be so ignorant of the risks of ionising radiation and heavy metal toxicity.

      Toxically, there is more than enough plutonium in the MOX reactor to kill everyone on the planet ...*if* delivered evenly to your dinner plates, I'll admit.

      Cellular damage and consequent risk from these substances and their decay products is cumulative through life. Plus, a short intense exposure will do you more damage than a gradual grilling over time.

      So for Lewis to characterise the levels as low at 0.24 milliSieverts/hour...

      "Radiation readings at the site boundary remained low through Friday morning in Japan, dropping to 0.26 millisievert/hour"

      ...is an obvious fallacy - and yet he gets applauded for his unusual common sense!

      0.24 milliSieverts/hour is ~1000x background radiation - and delivered quickly (i.e. worse). This isn't even engineering or physics or risk assessment - it's F***ING ARITHMETIC!

      The Japanese workers in there at the moment *are* at enormous risk of hugely shortened life-span.

      Some of the depressingly credulous Nukers on here need to look at some medical history and cut it with the science-good critics-bad knuckle-draggery!

      Personal Background? Physics/Toxicology/Epidemiology (...he trumpeted )

    6. Highlander

      ROTFLMAO!

      The first word in the second paragraph in that story tells you everything you need to know about it.

      Here's the quote;

      "Astrologers predicted that on March 19 - a week tomorrow - the so-called 'supermoon' will be closer to Earth than at any time since 1992, just 221,567 miles away, and that its gravitational pull will bring chaos to Earth."

      "Astrologers"!?!?!?!?!?

      OMFG! what dolt at the Daily Mail was paid for that bull?

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Boffin

      your not a fan of the gravitational pull effect influencing earth stresses then !

      while the daily mail isn't exactly credible in their coverage of the subject, i take this then your not a fan of the gravitational pull effect greatly influencing the earth stresses at times of then !

      there are a number of real scientists around the world that are growing more convinced of plate slippage due to the gravitational pull effect .

      it seems logical, we see that effect all the time in the well understood daily tidal motion's etc, just saying.., it's a potential factor and they may yet calculate the effects and increase greater understanding and perhaps allow accurate causal effect predictions in years to come

      1. Poor Coco
        Thumb Down

        Well then...

        The moon is 2% closer than average, IN A LOCATION IT ARRIVES AT ON EVERY SINGLE ORBIT (it usually arrives there while not at full moon, which is a matter of illumination not distance from Earth). There are exactly ZERO stresses from the 'supermoon' that the Earth is not exposed to EVERY MONTH, idiot!

    8. Anonymous Coward
      FAIL

      Grid power has been reconnected

      .. and Lewis' arguments have the slight advantage of providing reasoned explanations for why plant workers are not likely to experience severely harmful effects from all of this. Unless you meant they're "busy dying" in the same sense that we're all shuffling off this mortal coil.

      Go away and come back with some proof to wave at us, instead of just your damned flailing arms.

    9. Anonymous Coward
      FAIL

      fact checkers?

      Pot, meet kettle. There's hardly an accurate fact in anything you've just written.

    10. Andydaws
      FAIL

      utter hyperbole.

      I'll not respond directly. Merely quote someone who understands these matter rather better than you. From the BBC's "latest" story:

      "And it may turn out, said Richard Wakeford, that no deaths at all will be attributable to the Fukushima incident.

      "If you take one of the workers who's been exposed to 100 milliSieverts (mSv), that's not going to have any serious short-term effects," he said - "certainly nothing like the situation facing the Chernobyl emergency workers that killed 28 of them.

      "The risk of a serious cancer arising from that kind of dose would be less than 1% in a lifetime - and you have to consider that the normal chance of dying from cancer is 20-25% anyway."

      What was that about "busy dying"?

      On the broader topic of releases, interesting remark from the IAEA team doing radiological surveys. From their sampling in Tokyo, there's no detectable trace of iodine or caesium. Which means that the only fission product potentiall released from fuel so far is Xenon 135. Which is both chemically noble, and has about an 8-hour half life

    11. byrresheim
      Unhappy

      Wrong question tonight

      you seriously risk spoiling the party for the nuclear cargo cult. That won't do.

      If you find any article about the decomissioning of Windscale I younger than 3 years, please let me know, will you? Somehow nobody seems to be publishing about the subject anymore.

    12. Andydaws

      Quite well, to all accounts.

      They started in 2006 - and the "care and maintenance" period's been brought down by 40 years. I think they're defuelling it at the moment. I'd have to check.

  72. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Urmmm arn't we forgetting something?

    With regards to the powerstation and the cost of decommissioning the plant. It was scheduled to happen in the near future anyway, it's just come sooner than anticipated. It's also a plant that's been around for 40 over years to which when it's coming to the end of it's life is there honestly a point to putting a massive cost in upgrading it's cooling system and increasing the hight of a seawall which was considered more than adequate for predicted tsunamis.

    A 9.0 earthquake and it's consequences are highly unusual occurrences to which just like in any country cost has to be balanced with risk. In this case, the Japanese came close to losing but did not.

    Yes lessons will be learned but the tech has since moved on and as the plant has shown if old designs can hold up (more or less before the generators where knocked out. Place them higher or even underground with sufficient drainage and water tight exhaust ports to survive the time the water takes to retreat) then more advanced reactors should be able to ride out similar events without issue.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      A bit higher

      I think you'll find the price tag on decommissioning partially molten reactors adds a few more zeros to the right on the number.

      1. Highlander

        More zeroes? Oh?

        I'm fairly sure that one solid lump of radioactive metal is about as difficult to dispose of as another. Not that a damaged core is much of anything to laugh about, but if you have to remove the nuclear fuel and reactor anyway to decommission the site, it's not entirely much more hazardous to remove a partly melted and re-solidified core and reactor. Sure it might be a little more expensive and time consuming to remove the partially damaged cores. But since the reactors are essentially intact, it's hardly the picture you'd paint.

        1. byrresheim
          Thumb Down

          And I am fairly sure

          that you underestimate the additional problems decomissioning is now faced with by a long shot. My guess would be several powers of ten. (In financial terms)

        2. Steven Jones

          The problems

          The costs of decommissioning a reactor in a contaminated, wrecked building with a partially melted down core is going to be a great deal more expensive than one that was shut down under full control. Among other things, a controlled shutdown allows the spent fuels to be removed using normal unloading means. This will now be impossible.

          The best example to use is the Three Mile Island reactor, in an essentially undamaged (albeit contaminated) building with a partially melted core and an intact containment vessel took 12 years and around a billion dollars at 1980 prices (say $1.7bn adjusted for inflation). In this case we have several badly damaged buildings and reactors with the likely hood that at least one or two have suffered some damage to the containment vessel. The use of seawater will not help either as it is corrosive and will introduce a lot of other contaminants (the reactor was designed for de-ionised water). Then there is the issue of the spent fuel storage pools, some of which appear to have been damaged and where the normal lifting gear will have been badly damaged by the explosions.

          In all, this is going to be a very long drawn out and expensive exercise. Unlike Chernobyl (where they had no choice), then I can't imagine the whole reactor area being encased in a giant concrete sarcophagus, but they most certainly are going to have to put some form of enclosure round all the damaged reactors to at least keep the weather out and limit the spreading of any contamination within the current buildings. I suspect that it will be at least 15 or 20 years before this set of damaged reactors can be fully dismantled.

          I'm sure all of this could have been avoided if the risk assessment had taken proper account of the danger of a tsunami overwhelming the emergency power for the secondary cooling system. The defence that it could have not been forseen does not, to use an appropriate phrase, hold water - especially in the light of the 2004 events.

  73. Paul Smith

    "I have never been so ashamed to call myself a journalist."

    "slightly heightened radiation - occasionally reported in scaremongering fashion as "10x normal"'

    I am not surpised you are ashamed, you should be!

    To a physicist, 10x Normal radiation level is slightly heightened (for a given Normal on a given scale) but instead of dealing with the physics or the facts, you prefer to use "scaremongering". In what way do you think you are any better then the Red Top brigade who also bend the truth to sell copy.

    1. teacake

      @Paul Smith

      "To a physicist, 10x Normal radiation level is slightly heightened (for a given Normal on a given scale) but instead of dealing with the physics or the facts, you prefer to use "scaremongering". In what way do you think you are any better then the Red Top brigade who also bend the truth to sell copy."

      That's not at all what he was saying. Go back and read the article again.

      .

  74. Anonymous Coward
    Alert

    Other plants...

    "Other Japanese nuclear powerplants in the quake-stricken area, in fact, are sheltering homeless refugees in their buildings – which are some of the few in the region left standing at all, let alone with heating, water and other amenities."

    Now that's the best news I've ever heard about a Nuclear Power Plant, either if you agree with Mr. Lewis or not. Having a several-feet thick, over-engineered, twice (5 times!) the safety-regulations-compliant concrete building was never so useful before.

  75. Jonathan White

    Nuclear power vs Panic

    Mayor of Minamisoma, the town 20km north of Fukushima, speaking earlier today is quoted on the BBC as follows

    "They cannot deliver relief goods because of high radiation? No! The level of radiation here is only a few micro sieverts per hour. We do not blame lorry drivers. We blame media and journalists. They are crying out "dangerous! dangerous!" but we live here. They are cutting off the supply of food and goods to us and let us starve to death."

    The people complaining about how many people the radiation might have killed by some indeterminate point in the future, will they also be compiling a total of the number of people killed or permanently harmed by some of the press posting utterly spurious sensationalist rubbish?

    1. Highlander

      ::applause::

      Thank you for posting this, a perfect illustration of the health dangers caused by a media driven panic.

  76. Zippy the Pinhead
    Go

    Personal Bootnote

    "As one who earns his living in the media these days, I can only apologise on behalf of my profession for the unbelievable levels of fear and misinformation purveyed this week. I have never been so ashamed to call myself a journalist."

    It seems all we here is the US hear anymore is scaremongering from the various news outlets just to increase ratings. Its actually refreshing to see a Journalist not trying to scare us for a change and reporting the facts! Thank you!

  77. PsychicMonkey
    Pint

    'Nuclear Ninja' Suicide Mission To Save Japan

    seriously, thats the title of a sky news peice on their website. They claim that 5 people have died and 20 more are critical. They also claim that the 180 people their are going to their certain death.

    To all you doom mongers posting against Lewis' articles, read this crap and tell me that the main stream media isn't hyping up the danger.

    On the radio news they are still reporting the raise in incident level as if it means the situation is getting worse.

    Beer, the cause of, and solution to all of my problems.

  78. SteveMD

    Blimey!

    What a refreshing change to see a journalist not jumping on the Armageddon bandwagon, though the idea that 10's of thousands my have lost their lives to other infrastructure failures is somewhat speculative.

    At least we have a rational assessment to read, whether we fully agree or not. I grow tired of opening my newspaper or switching on the radio/T.V. news and being told "The sky is falling!", every single day. Then when it turns out not to have fallen we don't get a retraction we get; "No, but this time the sky really is falling!".

  79. Raving
    Dead Vulture

    IAEA calls it as it is

    (Reuters) - The U.N. atomic agency said on Friday conditions at a damaged Japanese nuclear power plant were grave but not deteriorating badly.

    1. Raving
      Coat

      (housekeeping) IAEA tweets ...

      Vacancy: Senior translator (P-4), Russian Translation Section, Division of Conference and Document Services. http://bit.ly/gsn1SG

      http://twitter.com/#!/iaeaorg

    2. tsedge

      The latest report...

      ...the IAEA reported today that the Fukushima incident has been upgraded from a 4 to a 5 on the INES (international news epidemic scale).  The most recent reports indicate the efforts by the Japanese authorities to cool the situation with air drops of scientific knowledge and real data are starting to reduce the temperature of the journalistic corps to a safer level.  Levels of panic in the immediate vicinity of the blogosphere have now dropped to 0.2 milliscares/hour, considered only a few times the normal background dose.  While some may have been exposed to higher doses for brief periods, levels reduce dramatically with distance from news outlets and long-term effects should be small...

  80. Floyd Bock
    Go

    the attention economy works both ways, but FAIL is FAIL

    Lewis,

    you're right in your anger about people without deep knowledge about the situation (radiation levels / damage / etc) talking apocalypse. On the other side you seem to know for yourself how to work the attention economy well. (...)

    But if you know nothing about the facts or you have to assume that the facts are not the full truth you have to assume the worst. This is the only sane behavior. You see four reactors burn/explode/steam, you run. You evacuate.

    About 'the triumph':

    This accident is far from a triumph: You build your reactor to withstand a wave of n meters, here comes one with n+1 meters, you have FAILED. You build your reactor to withstand either a quake or a tsumami, here you have them both, you have FAILED. Your reactor is 40 years old, and one month before shutdown a modern design would deal better with a devastating desaster, you have FAILED. A big quake hits your country, many dead, you have to shutdown your nuclear facilities and you do not have sufficient backup generators, shielded firetrucks, any plan at all, you have FAILED.

    Well, you don't have these things in the UK nor do we have them here in germany. So if a big fuckup hits us, WE WILL FAIL, too.

    Will you write an article about that ?

    stefan

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  81. Stefing
    Grenade

    All this week - on El Reg

    Black is white!

    Unsafe is safe!

    Critical is also safe!

    Level 6 nuclear emergency? Safe!

    The Register is looking increasingly Clarksonesque - it's frankly embarrassing.

    1. Poor Coco
      Thumb Down

      Critical *IS* safe at an operating nuclear plant!

      "It is better to keep your mouth shut and look like an idiot, than it is to open your mouth and remove all doubt."

      Criticality is the normal state of an operating nuclear reactor: http://mitnse.com/2011/03/18/what-is-criticality/

      In other words, criticality by itself has nothing to do with danger. However, if the fuel stored at #3 loses its boronated water then perhaps the stockpiled fuel will regain criticality and THAT would be a problem. But it does not look at this time like that will happen.

    2. Highlander

      Check your facts, they're wrong.

      Only the *French* nuclear agency who are *not* in Japan have assigned a level 6 classification to the events at Fukushima. Apparently you're so keen to draw a Clarksonesque conclusion that you failed to check your facts. How Clarksonesque of you.

      And on that bombshell, we'll end.

  82. squilookle

    Keep up the good work, Lewis

    It is refreshing given the hype and generally poor reporting seen elsewhere.

    Oddly enough, a lot of people I know are commenting on the poor quality of reporting on the incident from the mainstream media, and they seem to be able to see through it. Hopefully, this also holds true outside my circle of friends and we will soon see a backlash against the media that forces them to do a better job. Not holding my breath though.

  83. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Interesting?

    6 reactors in close proximity with another bunch just along the coast.

    6 (?) waste rod storage pools with another bunch just up the road.

    Hmmm, ... maybe there should be an emergency station somewhere in-between? Stocked with stuff in case the worst happens?

    As an aside it is interesting to view rt cctv and others to get a different spin on the story.

    Too much rt might have some people jumping off a cliff for sure but there again I suppose the human capacity to panic (and to be fair the people in Japan seem to have every right to fear nuclear consequences) has to be factored in.

    In which case going all schoolma'am is not going to help any one at all at all?

  84. Tallytwhacker

    Reactors or no reactors

    Journalist Lewis Page blasts the recent media coverage of the Fukushima Nuclear meltdown in an attempt to identify how misinformation and misunderstanding have fueled panic over the consequences of the reactor misadventure. To a large degree his comments are entirely authentic and pervasive regarding the event however, he makes a key point worthy of closer scrutiny.

    Certainly, I can empathize with sentiments that suggest we continue to access nuclear power in the future, however, the proximity of these power plants to populations is unacceptable. Why? Because there is no eliminating the forces within once they are beyond control. Simply put, we remain at the hands of nature in a fashion not unlike trying to predict or out-design the forces of any natural disaster. As Mr. Page so eloquently suggests, “the reactor withstood an Earthquake five times stronger than what the reactor was designed for.” That statement in itself should serve to bring some degree of clarity to the human ability to withstand, design for, or otherwise outdo the forces of nature.

    Furthermore, choosing to suggest the Fukushima reactors withstood the disaster is a matter of opinion and context. At present, many may feel they did not, after all, if they did, we would not be having any discussion about the reactors at all. Now Mr. Page might say that this is simply an unrealistic perspective, is it? Is it unrealistic to presume human engineering can protect and insulate humanity against any and all potential threats? Then, why is it ok to presume since this is not possible, that these plants performed well in light of the circumstances?

    Make no mistake this author is entirely sympathetic to the idea of using nuclear power, the extent to which our perspectives differ is only in matter of degree. Nuclear reactors should not be placed in close proximity to populated areas and they should not be on the surface of the Earth. The knee-jerk response to this will doubtlessly entertain that it is cost-prohibitive to entertain such degree of safety and concern. Nevertheless, it is cost prohibitive to design appropriately for the forces of nature. Why not adopt criteria for no less than a fifteen point Earthquake instead of a seven or nine? When we are talking about forces entirely beyond comprehension and control, where do we draw the line? The forces within nuclear reactors are no less daunting than trying to predict adequate design criteria for Earthquakes and Tsunami’s.

    While Page correctly observes structurally, “nothing else in the quake-stricken area has come through anything like as well as the nuclear power stations, or with so little harm to the population.” This is not equivalent to being completely impervious to the forces of nature. Similarly, one may intimate that the consequences of the Fukushima reactor incident are mitigated with little harm or impact to humanity, then again, is this a calculated response designed and engineered or simply a matter of blind luck? How can we even know for sure?

    To suggest that we can know for certain what any outcome may be in the event of a natural catastrophe is the equivalent of stating we can control the consequences of nuclear reactions. This is simply ridiculous…Why? Look in the sky on any clear night and explain exactly what force in the Universe actually can control the power of any one of the twinkling lights. Recognizing that it takes eight minutes for the Sun’s light to travel the 93,000,000.00 miles to Earth and realizing that the energy from this light is still capable of burning the surface of human skin. This should provide some sobering clarity to the extent of power within a nuclear reaction. There is no known force in the Universe that can control a nuclear reaction; we remain at their mercy entirely not the other way around. It is only a human predisposition towards arrogance that would try to suggest otherwise.

    Yes, Mr. Page’s apology for the unbelievable levels of fear and misinformation purveyed this week by journalists who are ill-equipped intellectually and educationally to actually discuss the matter makes sense, nevertheless, these people may be ignorant but they are rarely dumb. The reasons for the extent of their dissatisfaction regarding the events at Fukushima stem from tautological arguments such as the one Mr. Page makes, that is, “how dare you criticize my industries uncontrollable natural consequence when faced with an uncontrollable natural consequence.” If we are to believe that it should be acceptable for people to die and suffer as a result of a reactor failing because it was hit by a bigger Earthquake or Tsunami than that which the plant was designed for, then you Mr. Page should not be disappointed when the population expects you to stop building factories that when out of control are not controllable.

    This is the usual dilemma when discussing these issues. Why try to confuse politics and position with mathematical certainty. Everyone knows with certainty the chain reactions in nuclear reactors when under control are beneficial, they also understand these very same reactions when out of control are left largely to chance and the hands of God. This is no different than saying that because and act of God exceeded anything we could have anticipated we should not be held accountable. Furthermore, I don’t think anyone is being held accountable, they are just saying, “don’t do this in places where it subjects us to unimaginable consequences.”

    In summary, what this means is, do not manage the risk of something that is unmanageable, instead build it outside the area of influence on human populations. Well then the rejoinder is, “that is cost prohibitive.” Simply put, do not weigh the benefits of cost or factor in the returns. Simply make certain that human populations are the priority and build to that criteria…In other words, do what you are expecting the public to do, eat the consequences of the action. The only distinction being, in this case it is a financial cost…Dead people don’t come back.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Stop

      Getting religious, are we?

      "There is no known force in the Universe that can control a nuclear reaction"

      "When we are talking about forces entirely beyond comprehension and control"

      Less hyperbole please. Nuclear energy is not Chtulhu.

      The differential equations and control rods work quite well, thank you.

      1. Tallytwhacker

        Reactor or no reactor

        Apparently, Control rods only work well in ideal circumstance. At all other times we just get to sit back and watch while it unfolds. The point was we think we're controlling the forces when in reality they're just complacent and calmly conforming to the parameters we set for them.

        Otherwise, we would have simply controlled the conditions, Earthquake, tsunami, fusion, fission, whatever they may be...

  85. c_fol
    Thumb Up

    Unashamedly objective

    Possibly one of the only articles on this issue that appears to entirely objective. The comment above by J White, if true, shows the potentially shocking impact of sensational journalism, at such a critical time in the disaster relief work...

  86. Shocked Jock
    Happy

    Credit where it's due

    Many people here are decrying the standards of journalism, and to redress the balance I'd like to point out today's (18 March) front-page article and photos in The Daily Telegraph (a newspaper that I haven't touched since Margaret Thatcher came to power). It is written by a professional reporter who obviously does not claim to be a scientist; it quotes several people who are, and refers to several other reliable sources, clearly stating the situation and the effects, both local and international. It contrasts starkly with El Reg's tabloid pro-nuke reports, which, in turn, seem to be a mirror of dead-tree tabloid anti-nuke journalism. (If there is any complaint with The Daily Telegraph, then it's down to the headline, "....nuclear fuel in meltdown", which is contradicted by the actual report's "..overheating fuel rods are threatening a nuclear meltdown". Well done, The Daily Telegraph!

  87. The Unexpected Bill
    Thumb Up

    Thanks for the reporting...

    Compared to the other reports about the disaster, Lewis, your reporting has been very well worded and thought out. I don't think there is any doubt that the situation is not great, but it doesn't call for the hysterics that some news outlets are engaging in. (One case in point--an article on the Huffington Post--was written so badly, stating that the Fukushima reactors had gone "China Syndrome" already--that I almost wanted to reach through the screen and smack the author for being silly.)

    I don't think you've got anything to be sorry for, although the tone of this article does come across as a bit defensive of your position on the issue.

  88. johnnymotel
    Thumb Down

    breaking news....

    http://www.zerohedge.com/article/tepco-director-weeps-after-disclosing-truth-about-fukushima-disaster

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Troll

      This is exactly the B.S. that Lewis is talking about

      "Pictures emerged showing overheating fuel rods exposed to the elements through a huge hole in the wall of a reactor building at the destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant."

      "Radiation is streaming into the atmosphere from the used uranium rods at reactor number four, after a 45ft-deep storage pool designed to keep them stable boiled dry in a fire."

      "And some of the radioactive material could reach Britain within a fortnight, according to experts."

      "However they say it will not be dangerous when it reaches our shores while low levels of radiation have already hit Southern California."

      "And while we descrbed the worst case scenario, i.e., the Chernobyl Solution, earlier, there is still hope for a last ditch deux ex machina over the weekend."

      Meanwhile, reality of measured radioactivity steadfastedly does not conform and stays at zero:

      http://www.grs.de/sites/default/files/ODL-Werte-Poll_20110319_1245.pdf

  89. cnapan
    Thumb Down

    Can we be sure that gobbing all the fossil fuels back into the air is a bad thing?

    "I'm all for the honesty but are you honestly able to say the greenhouse effect from the waste products of fossil fuels is *sure* to lead to desertification the loss of cities due to sea level rise?

    There seems to have been an awful lot of debate for something that is so ".. so asked Jolyon.

    A bit late to reply but the answer is simply "yes"

    Firstly, when ever did 'an awful lot of debate' ever signify that the answer wasn't clear? There's a lot of debate about whether Christ will really save us all from hell, but if you stick to reason, you quickly find out that there's no evidence for either hell, or the need to believe in a 3-in-one all powerful / non intervening God (delete as required). If he exists, he clearly hates the Japs. I wouldn't pray to a non existent/bastard god. (delete as required).

    Secondly, the question of what happens to the atmosphere when you add more methane and Co2 to it can easily be demonstrated in any laboratory. The temperature goes up in a quite predictable manner. Furthermore, the fossil record clearly marks the relationship between atmospheric makeup and temperature.

    The onus is very much on those arguing to pump yet more carbon into the atmosphere to explain why they should be sure that simple chemistry and history are wrong. What is ironic is that you probably don't agree, yet expect the nuclear industry to dance through hoops to prove that a few people a year can't be killed by nuclear power.

    On to sea level rise. If even *just* the Greenland ice-cap melts, then sea level will rise by 7 metres. That will put an end to the viability of many of the most populous cities on earth. The viability of the greenland ice cap is currently a matter of great concern, because it is showing clear signs of responding to even the small changes in temperature that we have accomplished so far.

    As for desertification... that is already in progress. As temperature rises, the temperate regions move away from the equator. In doing so, two things happen:

    1) The temperate zones move further towards the poles, reducing the potential for food production (because the sun's average inclination drops), and

    2) When the temperate zone moves into what was permafrost or cold bog, vast areas of trapped methane and carbon are released naturally as the permafrost thaws and air starts to reach once waterlogged areas.

    Why would anyone wish to risk playing with such effects?

    The onus should be on YOU to explain why we can be sure that it is safe to release the fossil carbon back into the air without risking any return to conditions that will guarantee the death of billions of people.

    What sort of society do we have that we are happy to foam with fear at a technology which only really kills in any significant way when you go out of your way to drop a nuclear bomb on a city, whilst happily pumping out the fossil fuels into the air which all our science predicts will lead to hell on earth in just hundreds of years?

    The answer is that we have a society which is still struggling hopelessly with the ideals of the enlightenment.

  90. I am replete.

    Peter Melia

    "All other forms of infrastructure – transport, housing, industries – have failed the people in and around them comprehensively, leading to deaths most probably in the tens of thousands."

    There must by now be hundreds of photos of ships and boats of all kinds washed ashore. Take a close look at them. The vessels are shown in their final resting places (at this time) in the most extraordinary positions and angles, yet the vast majority of them appear to be completely intact. Ships and boats live in a 24/24, 7/7, etc earthquake environment, from initial entry into the water until final dismantling. Their design and construction caters for this. Perhaps something can be learnt here.

  91. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Flame

    So things look like they are stabilizing.....

    But it will probably be weeks or months before the incident is truly over, and some experts say real, final solution might involve sealing some or all of units 1 to 4 in a Chernobyl style sarcophagus and maintaining a long-term exclusion zone for some distance out from the fukushima plant.

    1. mmiied

      title

      "some "experts"" I think I could find some experst to say almost anything espicley if I degrade my defination of expert

  92. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    An excellent week's work - thanks Lewis and El Reg

    I've been reading Lewis's articles on this topic this week in preference to most other news outlets because it contained well-researched facts and attempted to draw intelligent conclusions from them. No-one else even came close. I think it's fair to say that at the start Lewis was drawing conclusions that flew in the face of what everyone else was saying. But it's greatly to his credit that he stuck to the same line and backed it up with new facts which continued to lead to the same conclusion.

    In contrast, I've noted a marked change in the tone of the discussion from Reg commentards this week. Initially there was outright derision and hostility to Lewis's view. As the situation in Japan has apparently stabilised, however (or at least nothing has exploded for a while), Lewis's view seems to be gaining more hearts and minds. But that hardly inspires confidence that the mass hysteria (that spilled partially into the Reg comment columns) was in any way justified.

    I hope things continue to stabilise. But even if they don't, I'd like to congratulate Lewis (and El Reg) for having the cojones to follow the line indicated by the evidence and not the hype. A lot of the stuff I read from The Register is utter bollocks, of course, but I keep coming back because some of it isn't. And Lewis's work this week most definitely isn't. In fact, it's some of the best journalism I can recall and the apology on behalf of fellow "journalists" is more than justified. I'm embarrassed for them too - just for being in the same species.

    I should also declare a financial interest. There have been some excellent bargains on the stock exchange this week. Not listening to idiots has its advantages...

  93. Stephen Sherry
    Coat

    Best news I've read in a very long time.

    This is the first article that has informed me, and not subtly called me stupid for being misinformed at the same time... anywhere outside of comedy fake news outlets.

    The apology for the fellow news individuals was technically not needed, it did make me feel a lot better, so thank you Lewis.

    The media is virtually consistent at insulting "civilian" intelligence without apology. Especially when we need their work the most. Then insult us for giving in to conspiracy theories. We're smart enough to know when the media are inaccurate, but not informed enough to know what to do about it to inform ourselves. This leaves us open to misinformation that sounds more honest than the ones who are supposed to inform us, throwing us into fits of anxiety from the complete lack of assurance in our lives.

    With some of the articles about the safety of nuclear power on this site (and others), doing everything but calling those who disagree stupid, I was ready to respond with a scathing remark. But as they say, the truth will set you free.

    I wish the BBC had some reporters writing articles that are as objective as this one, the ones they do tend to be very hard to find again... the one explaining the stigma of the Hibakusha was very informative about why nuclear threats are very unnerving to the Japanese, but now all you find are articles more or less stating, "told you everything was going to be safe, stupid." Which has been how the U.S. media has handled the "civilian" populace since at least Bush 2 was first "elected" to office. Hind-site being 20-20 does not apply to the time when things are actually happening. And the argument "I told you so" is not a sign of intelligent reporting. Telling people they shouldn't worry, without a reason why, doesn't help anyone except people who have brains that don't work right, or people who don't like making their brains work.

    This article is of the quality that it should be reprinted by all of the major news outlets, and should be at the top of the headline section, as an example to other media leaders of how news is done.

    While not giving me my faith back on the media as a whole, I'm not agitated by the prospect of getting it from The Register any more.

    Thank you for that, Lewis Page!

  94. Mike 125

    pompous fool

    if you don't understand the fear, you're barely human.

    1. Munchausen's proxy
      Pint

      Well, on the other side of the coin

      If you deliberately ignore contrary facts in developing a theory, you're stupid.

  95. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    bachelor

    Shame on you! If it is not dangerous and your a real man, go help the people over there.

    Besides, your "team" lost. It is completetely out of control and no one can change it.

    Will you never learn? Grow up and stop playing god. There are good alternatives, but it is all about money and weapons

  96. JimC Silver badge

    Logarithmic Scales - should they be junked?

    Be it for earthquake intensity, nuclear events or anything else, its clear that approaching 98% of the public and journalists completely fail to understand them, so would it be better if their use for anything publicly facing were terminated since they actually reduce understanding rather than add to it.

    The trouble is for those of use who d have an eductaion they are so damn useful...

  97. JonHendry

    Lewis knows all about nuclear power

    After all, he's ex-Royal Navy.

    He's a master of Rubber Dinghy Rapids. That makes him an expert on nukes. Somehow.

  98. JonHendry

    Funny

    The Register gives more skeptical scrutiny to a meaningless minor discrepancy between performance of Mobile Safari and 3rd party web apps, than it gives to what the nuclear industry says. Apparently butthurt 3rd party developers are more of a problem than future cases of leukemia and birth defects.

    Actually, that's not funny. It's sad.

    1. David Pollard

      Future cases of leukaemia and birth defects?

      This sounds much like echoes of the orchestrated scaremongering which was being promoted last year in relation to Fallujah, Iraq. The increase in illnesses and birth defects there was being blamed on depleted uranium from weapons. DU weapons were unlikely to have been used in the battle to recapture the city, horrendous though this was, and a major cause in all probability was and still is pollution from the nearby chemical factories.

      Nevertheless, 'worse than Hiroshima' headlines and the uranium scare-story flooded a section of the western press. The result may well have been that attention has been diverted from the real problem that seems to be affecting residents and possibly a number of veterans.

      http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/toxic-legacy-of-us-assault-on-fallujah-worse-than-hiroshima-2034065.html

      Given that there have been only very minor leaks from the reactors in Fukushima, that evacuation proceeded swiftly, that potassium iodide tablets will be available for everyone if required ... the risk from radioactivity has been minimised. The Japanese authorities and people seem to have put into action, generally most creditably, emergency plans which could cater for much more severe outcomes.

      As others have noted, the main risks in this disaster now arise from chemical pollution, disease, the cold weather, disruption and scaremongering.

      With respect to leukaemia, it has been known for decades that a major cumulative causative factor is exposure to benzene and similar chemicals. Google scholar may provide an appropriate starting point.

      http://scholar.google.co.uk/scholar?start=10&q=leukaemia+benzene

      With respect to birth defects I would venture that there could be a somewhat greater risk than radioactivity from dioxins produced in fires as damage is cleared away, if waste is simply burned. Again Google scholar provides plenty of references.

      http://scholar.google.co.uk/scholar?hl=en&q=birth-defect+dioxin

      It would be useful to know if anyone is able to evaluate the effects of volatile organic compounds released from new buildings and repairs to damaged ones. This would be more use than bleating and scare stories about a radiation risk that has fortunately turned out to be effectively negligible. Yes, we do need to examine risks. But we need to examine risks together with the concurrent benefits across the whole spectrum of life. And we need to keep them in perspective.

  99. HRH Martin
    Thumb Up

    Love to el reg

    The Reg's serious attempt to cut through the shite have been much appreciated here. Where I live, yesterday some fucksocket editor headlined a daily national paper with '"It's time to pray - Nuke Expert". Truly insulting, denigrating and disgusting.

    I remain convinced that the only devil here is the Japanese winter. You could get hysterical, or you can do the best thing possible and kick some cash to a relief agency feeding and clothing the hundred of thousands of people who have lost their homes and possessions.

  100. HMB

    Thanks Lewis

    Thanks again Lewis!

    I like the figures, the explanations and the general reporting.

  101. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    engineering triumph -- greatest fail EVER

    If the argument is that nuclear power is safe because the buildings are still standing, while other infrastructure is down, note should be make of the following

    1. Two reactor buildings have been destroyed by hydrogen explosions, and look similar to the shattered buildings elsewhere in the affected areas.

    2. None of the six reactors at fukushima are producing electricity, nor is there any prospect that units 1, 2, and 3 ever will again. They have failed as much as the surrounding infrastructure.

    3. None of the other, non-nuclear infrastructure did more than fail or burn. None threatened to release highly radioactive material into the environment. None required death-defying bravery from 180 workers over a week's period to contain a crisis that would surely have unfolded if they had not stayed at their posts.

    Roads will be open in a month. Trains will run. And fukushim will still be shut down. Five years from now, buildings will be repaired, poeple will have gone back to their lives, but reactors 1, 2, and 3 will still be in process of dissassembly and remediation.

    There is nothing of success or safety in this news. There was a nuclear disaster. It was contained, like the "successful failure" of Apollo 13. But we will learn nothing if we don't regard it as a dangerous failure of imagination, design, and engineering that was saved from catastrophe by luck, time, and bravery of individual men.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Poor Coco

      Oh, FFS, at least have the courage to post with a username!

      1. The blown-up reactor buildings have only a superficial resemblance to other buildings that are ACTUALLY destroyed. The upper sections were only intended to keep weather out.

      2. They're not producing power because THERE WAS A HUGE EARTHQUAKE AND TSUNAMI which rendered them dangerous. Maybe you missed that point. Failure to produce power after that disaster is a trivial point.

      3. None of the other sites CONTAINED highly radioactive material. Except for ALL THE OTHER NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS IN JAPAN THAT DID JUST FINE despite being also totally overwhelmed by the natural disaster.

      There is plenty to celebrate in this. Get your head out of the sand.

      1. Highlander

        The tops of the reactor buildngs at BWR plants are designed to blow off...

        These buildings performed exactly as designed. If there is a hydrogen build up and subsequent explosion, they are designed to blow off (both the roof and walls, to prevent extensive damage to the equipment in the building below. If the walls and roof were not so designed then t hydrogen blast would direct it's force against the other structures and equipment - aka the reactor and cooling systems. Yes, they look horrible and spectacular blowing up, but you know, if they hadn't, tehre would be little is any chance of regaining control of the situation there. This is part of the defense in depth strategy of the design of these reactors and their containment.

        The earthquake was the 4th largest ever recorder, a strong 9.0 quake and was relatively shallow and close to Fukushima. The Tsunami was assessed at the Fukushima locations at between 10 and 12 meters. That's 33-40 feet of water moving at 50+ miles per hour hitting the power stations. Does anyone here have any idea how much energy and force are involved in a wave event of that magnitude? That the plats contained the reactors at all after that is amazing, but let's not let truth and logic interfere with....well...fear.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @ greatest fail

      there is only so much you can plan for, with the power of hynd sight you can say almost anything you like but before the fact its impossible

      forinstance, whats to say in two days time a small metorite hits sizewell B plant

      has that been taken in to account? should all plants be protected against anything falling out of the sky? or what about a aircraft, dropping a 747 on one of the things probably isnt going to do it much good, who would have thought one could take down the trade center?

      my point is, moving forward they will make it more redundant, more safe, that there is no doubt, like the did with the apollo missions you mentioned, but there is only so far they can plan.

  102. Carlitos911
    Pirate

    5 times stronger?

    Isn't a magnitude 9 quake actually 100 times stronger than a magnitude 7?

    Because, you know, the Richter scale is 10-base logarithmic...

  103. AlAl
    Boffin

    Radioactivity Measurement in Japan

    See http://www.dailyack.com/2011/03/radioactivity-measurement-in-japan.html for a visualisation of the environmental radioactivity measurements in all prefectures across Japan. Levels look pretty stable and within normal ranges for most of the country, levels around Sendai are still only about double normal background.

    1. Steven Jones

      Magnitude

      It depends what you mean by magnitude. In terms of the shaking effect, it scales by a factor of 10 per unit magnitude. In terms of energy release, it's a factor of about 32 (2 orders of magnitude releasing about 1,000 x the energy).

      Note that the Richter scale is no longer used, although the magnitude scale for earthquakes is calibrated to give similar numbers.

  104. Joe Cooper
    FAIL

    Journalist

    Twice this week I've seen Associated Press articles about the nuclear disaster slip doom quotes from people who are actually talking about the financial situation.

    My favorite was "The worst-case scenario doesn't bear mentioning and the best-case scenario keeps getting worse".

    From Perpetual Investments.

  105. James Stewart

    Thanks.

    I am so very grateful for the Register's real, down to earth, facts-driven, and extremely well researched reporting on this event. I knew I could turn here for technology news, but this most recent coverage has truly shown your journalistic integrity and dedication. I'm proud to be a reader of The Register, especially at a time when every single one of my domestic news outlets (United States) is spewing stories to cultivate fear.

  106. tmtisfree

    Thanks

    Only registered to write: Thank you Mr Lewis for the high level of professionalism when reporting the events, really much appreciated.

  107. Camilla Smythe

    Yeah Well..

    It seems to me that the reactors, and the rest, got bricked and then people had to shit themselves dealing with it. I don't doubt the competence, ingenuity and bravery of those involved but, from my perspective based on nothing, there was no contingency for this and the reaction was made up as the situation unfolded.

    Perhaps Mr Page, as an expert, might wish to correct me regarding such contingency, if it existed, or perhaps Mr Page might like to consider composing a different version of his tale after the event given a scenario where things did not work out so well rather than concentrating on the present, thankful but possibly cobbled together, 'success'.

  108. 10bottlesofbleach
    Alien

    Stop your media bitching, bitches

    The criticisms against the BBC are unfair. Those that have followed their Japan LIVE site will find that they have presented a balanced report of events and opinions. The BCC have shown exact pooling of new and traditional media sources.

    The main reason for so much speculation is the lack of hard information from the infamously evasive Japanese government.

    Personally, as I find myself working for one of the largest newspapers in Japan, the BBC is a beacon of hope compared to 99.9% of media sources.

    Don't even get my started on AP.

    Finally, the writer of this piece is a hack. Claiming shame at others of ones profession, but integrity for oneself is first-year work-experience stuff.

  109. E 2

    Bah

    JP itself raised the classification to 5. See above, or IAEA website for definition.

  110. E 2

    Re: ~ "Lewis' reportage is balanced, non-hysterical, et co, et co"

    So is that of TEPCO and gov't of JP.

    Think about that.

    It ain't over until the fat lady sings, and the fat lady ain't sung yet.

  111. SleepyJohn
    Boffin

    So what do the locals in the front line think?

    I do feel this comment from Jonathan White bears repeating:

    'Mayor of Minamisoma, the town 20km north of Fukushima, speaking earlier today is quoted on the BBC as follows

    "They cannot deliver relief goods because of high radiation? No! The level of radiation here is only a few micro sieverts per hour. We do not blame lorry drivers. We blame media and journalists. They are crying out "dangerous! dangerous!" but we live here. They are cutting off the supply of food and goods to us and let us starve to death."'

    I imagine that neither Lewis Page nor this Japanese Mayor, nor indeed most of us, are fully qualified nuclear reactor experts, but the simple point that both the mayor and the journalist make - that often the fear of a thing is more dangerous than the thing itself - seems eminently justified here. Both men should, I feel, be judged on how well they make that point, not on how well they analyse the technical risks of generating energy with nuclear reactors.

  112. Andydaws

    You've the wrong end of the stick

    Anonymous Coward, I worked on bits of the AGR safety case back in the 1970s/80s.

    It was NEVER the intent (as a rule) that plants would be operable after very extreme shutdown initiating events - merely that they should be capable of safe shutdown.

    To give an example, the tertiary shutdown system on the AGRs was designed to dump a couple of tonnes of boron-glass beads into the circulating coolant gas. There wasn't much chance of restarting the reactor after that. They'd be spread through the core, part melted onto all sorts of stuff, and impossible to extract.

    Very much a "shit or bust" option, but certainly part of the main design.

  113. jt1952

    Probabilities and Consequences?

    If the Bacton gas terminal blows up around here then there might be quite a few people killed in the surrounding area and Britain will have massive disruption to its gas supply. I expect Norfolk will still be inhabitable though. If the Sizewell reactors blow up we lose Suffolk as a minimum and if I was just thinking about myself I hope the wind is to the south that day. Bit rough on all those people in SE England. What really worries me though is everytime I drive west from here I pass the Swaffam Wind Turbine. If one of those blades comes off, just at the wrong time then, I could be in trouble.

    The possible consequences of a real nuclear disaster are so bad and potentially so long lasting that I don't care how unlikely it is to occur. Close it all down now.

    [Just returned from the Titanic exhibition in London. Another example of our technology coming up against the random forces of nature. ]

  114. Moriah
    Thumb Down

    Don't spin facts the opposite way just because of scaremongering.

    I'd rather see some factual instead of opinion journalism, and your articles have still been opinion journalism even if you aren't trying to scare people into higher ratings.

    Take your quote about spikes in radiation. The largest spike measured has been over 1,000 millisieverts/hour -- not 400. No, that wasn't sustained, but they didn't let the workers back in until it had dropped an hour later. The highest it got at the NPS border that day was 3.3 millisieverts/hr. It's just as inaccurate to scaremonger by saying that the spike had been sustained all day, or that the rest of the day they measured 400 millisieverts, as it is to deny the fact that spike was powerful enough to have caused radiation sickness to the workers if they had not been evacuated from the plant for that hour. And your little PDF from the Japanese government was for sites well beyond the evacuation zone, not for the actual border of the zone. You misrepresent the facts to support your agenda just as much as the TV news anchors.

    What irritates me more than this article is your first one, before that unlovely day when that spike happened, where you essentially said that this was a triumph for nuclear power and that we should be building more reactors based on this. First, the statement was premature as the situation did deteriorate beyond what it was then. Second, look at how difficult it has been for a nation that was as well-prepared as Japan to deal with this. We need to learn as much as we can from this because nuclear power *is* here to stay. Like, making sure that residents around a plant can actually hear evacuation sirens!

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. byrresheim

      Understandably so: you see,

      problem here is that hunger or cold hurt much faster than relatively low levels of radiation (as in: not immediately lethal but high enough to damage your health).

      When Mr. Page contended that the Chernobyl desaster only killed 56 people (even the pathologically untruthful soviet communists admitted 59) he also made clear that he knows no fear. At least not of any dose of radiation that does not immediately kill.

      Thus, fear of the thing may indeed -- on the short run -- be more hurtful than the thing itself.

      The only significant knowledge to be gained here is that neither the soviets nor their heirs ever bothered to do an epidemological follow up of the so called liquidators. If the absence of that follow up study does not give you pause to think, then I don't wish to imagine what it will take.

      All together now: "This is not Chernobyl!"

  115. testdept
    Boffin

    Good that the "updated" Reg photo reflects the gravity of the situation, tho..

    http://bit.ly/eQbpJy

    Still wonder who'll catch on to the actual reality of men pouring buckets of water into a leaky tin bath containing melted fuel rods *is not a stable situation* first, Lewi$, or the Reg Graphic Dept?

    As has been noted by many, for those of us undecided on nuclear power beforehand, crayon scribblers like Lewi$ in Happy Land here certainly help make your mind up who one can trust.

    And who, most assuredly, not.

  116. flibbertigibbet
    FAIL

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

    I guess today's headline is par for the course. After seeing Lewis declare"Fukushima is a triumph" on Monday, painting the current crisis as a "Shameful media panic" could almost be considered sober reporting.

    Fortunately, I can get real journalism from my local dead tree rag. The Japanese now have got power delivered to the site, as in mega watts of it, and they have used the week to design some custom unmanned vehicles that can get close to the buildings. The combination means they can deliver some 2000 tons of water per hour where it is needed. I am guessing this will finally bring the situation under control. With the spent fuel pools boiling away 37 tons of water per hour, pointing a 4 inch fire hose at a hole in the wall was a best a delaying tactic.

    Clearly that didn't worry Lewis. I presume that is because he didn't have a clue what was going on. First he told us the reactors were safe. Then he acknowledged they may have been breached, but assured us a breach isn't serious. Then belatedly he realised the real danger was a spent fuel rod fire. That the only way they had of fighting it for 4 days was a daisy chain of local fire trucks pointing hoses at the building from a distance didn't seem to faze him. If he realised far more than that would be required, he didn't mention it in his "expert" commentary.

    Unwarranted media panic indeed, Lewis. If you weren't aware of the emergency response the Japanese engineers were cooking up, and weren't looking on at the developing situation with increasing angst, you were either not paying attention or a fool.

    For all that Lewis was probably right. It is likely nobody outside of evacuation zone was ever in much danger. Even if the worst happened a fuel rod fire dumped radioactive waste into the atmosphere, I the Japanese would of moved people out of the harms way. And because clear headed thinking saved the day, no doubt Lewis would still be proclaiming today it as a nuclear triumph.

    If Lewis isn't just an industry shill and genuinely believes Fukushima is a triumph that should lead us into building more of the current nuclear plan designs, he is a moron. The current plant designs are barely cost effective now. Because of the huge up front capital costs the primary running cost is interest. To be viable the current designs have to be massive, they have to work continuously as designed for decades, and the cleanup must be as budgeted. Accidents like this blow all those assumptions out of the water. The effect of that extra is to push that primary cost, interest, over the top. So when Obama asked the nuclear industry replace the coal they asked him for $100 billion in loan guarantees, to negate that risk. And that was before this happened. This has even managed to undermine "only nuclear can supply reliable base load". If Japan's current load shedding goes on for a year, no one will believe these massive nuclear plants can reliably supply base load either.

    Before nuclear can succeed we need to prove one of those radical new designs. The current one, which requires massive plants that burn only a tiny portion of the fuel and leaving the rest for us to either blow ourselves up with or look after for millennia is a disaster. But we have known that for decades. If Fukushima is a triumph, it is because it has made that point so clear it can't be ignored. Hopefully it will push into funding the development something that is viable, and can replace it.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      [Insert photo of cute puppy being tested for radiation]

      I would _really_ like to hear a rational explanation of how the "spent fuel rods" are supposed to actually, like, you know, burn and transform Japan in a holiday resort for Zone Aficionados?

      They are URANIUM OXIDE (and if MOX, Plutonium Oxide). Getting the zircalloy to burn, good luck with that. The pool should contain neutron absorbers and no water, thus no fission and heat should stay reasonable. Will they even melt or will air cooling suffice?

      Anyone?

    2. Steven Jones

      Well said

      Well said - the real impact of this is not health, it's the enormous cost and the extra safety features that will be demanded are going to put up the price. After Three Mile Island it wasn't primarily the safety issues that put US companies off building more nuclear facilities, it was the financial risk involved.

      It doesn't really matter what Lewis says - this was an engineering failure on a massive scale as it's clear that the low probability/high impact scenario was not planned in. That's not a matter of hindsight - it has long been known that tsunamis can be devastating (especially after 2004) and you can't help but think that the costs of protecting secondary power supplies against such an eventuality will be a much lower than the costs involved.

      However, even if costs do go up for new nuclear facilities, the upward trend in energy prices (which I think inevitable) are still going to work in favour of nuclear power in the long term.

      It's Lewis's trumpeting of this as a triumph which is so irritating. More balanced and informed experts know that it's essentially to be realistic about what went wrong. Also, he may not like this, but the psychology of the persistence of nuclear contamination has to be dealt with. I know some of this is not a rational analysis of relative risks, but you can't ignore human nature or the nature of emotional arguments made by the opposition. For that reason, nuclear power will have to be perceived to have safety as the #1 priority.

  117. siegeld

    You've got to be kidding?

    The earthquake and resulting tsunami were tail events, not expected, and extreme. They caused a horrible chain of events at the reactors that easily could have had a very bad ending. People have a fear of radiation, and rational or not, that is how humans think. Deaths from radiation come over time, not instantly, like with a tsunami. Hopefully the situation is stabilized, but in any case it was total chaos for days, and clearly a close call. The question is not how to protect against this tail event - sure, that's easy now that it happened, in hindsight. The question is what will be the next unexpected situation at a nuclear reactor? The problem with reactor technology is that it is hard to test, very expensive, and not mass produced. It is very hard to make such things robust. Any good technologist should understand this.

  118. siegeld

    Poorly done, Lewis

    Also note that Tepco makes around $1.5 USD profit in a year. The loss on this reactor fiasco will certainly exceed years and years of profit of the utility - perhaps the lifetime profits of the company.

  119. cnapan

    Radiation risk overplayed, nuclear plant design underplayed

    "People have a fear of radiation, and rational or not, that is how humans think. Deaths from radiation come over time, not instantly, like with a tsunami."

    Another way that humans think is that they exaggerate the risks of one form of power generation and ignore the risks of others.

    Fossil fuel is a killer.

    It kills directly - both the people who get the stuff out the ground, and the people who breath its byproducts in the form of atmospheric pollution.

    It kills indirectly - resource wars for control of access to fossil fuel have resulted in a great loss of life in the last 50 years.

    Radiation emissions from coal fired power stations far outstrip radiation released from nuclear facilities. In 1982, coal burning in the US released 155 times more radiation than escaped from 3 mile island.

    None of this is relevant to the hysterical media, but if you've got fingers, a computer and a brain, surely you can do better than just suck on the ignorant teat of disastertainment that masquerades as the news these days.

  120. Highlander

    Actual news update from Daiichi

    Reactors 5 & 6 are now in a cold shutdown mode. The spent fuel pools at reactor 5 & 6 are cool, around 30C down from 60+C earlier in the week. In addition to two diesel generators, a secondary cooling system on reactors 5 & 6 was got going again allowing the heat in the cooling water to be removed properly.

    Reactor buildings for 1 & 2 have power now, and the workers are attempting to restart their equipment piece by piece, and prevent water damage to needed equipment.

    Pressure in reactor 3 is stable - a major improvement because the authorities were concerned that they would have to vent more steam, and have not now had to do so. More water is being pumped into the spent fuel pools at 3 & 4 and surface temperatures are below 100C. Robotic vehicles designed for this kind of work arrived on site a couple of days ago, and more equipment continues to arrive including a special pumping unit that can use a 180 foot boom to pump water where it is needed instead of randomly spraying and praying.

    The levels of radiation discovered in food near the plant are well below danger levels and in fact only exceed the stringent Japanese food regulations. According to several reports consuming either food found to be 'contaminated' with trace amounts of radiation, was not a major hazard, but of course they were taking precautions in the area. Apparently you could consume either food for a year as at the radiation levels found and still receive less radiation than you would during a typical CT scan. We're now about 8 days out from the original events so we are also getting to the point where many of the short lived isotopes that cause the residual 'decay heat' in the reactor, have decayed through 1 or more half lives. This means that their activity is decreasing rapidly. As has been stated by several commenters and Lewis, as these isotopes decay through one or more half lives their ability to generate heat is reduced reducing the pressure on the emergency cooling systems making it easier to bring these reactors to a complete cold shut down.

    Finally, for any other dolt that wants to indulge in 20-20 hindsight saying that they should have built the Tsunami defenses higher, a simple question is how much higher? 1 meter? 2 meters? How about 7 meter? Yes, let's double the size of the walls. Actually, we betetr go a bit further than that really. Here's a quote from TEPCO's preliminary assessment of the Tsunami events at the plants;

    "The Fukushima power plants were required by regulators to withstand a certain height of tsunami. At the Daiichi plant the design basis was 5.7 metres and at Daini this was 5.2 metres.

    Tepco has now released tentative assessments of the scale of the tsunami putting it at over 10 metres at Daiichi and over 12 metres at Dainii.

    The plant sites were inundated, causing the loss of residual heat removal systems at both sites as well as emergency diesel generators at Daiichi."

    So, at Daiichi the Tsunami was 4.3 meters - at least - higher than the planned defenses. For those that don't work in metric that's more or less 14 feet, or the height of a house. How many power stations on the coast of **any** other nation, even those in earthquake prone areas, have defenses even as good as Japan's power plants? How many of them could survive a 33 foot wall of water moving at 50+ miles an hour when it hit's the power station? Yet Daiichi did just that, and Dainii experienced a 40 foot wall of water and still was able to bring the reactors to cold shutdown.

    Now, considering the strength of the earthquake and the completely unprecedented strength and size of the (multiple) Tsunami that struck, I do believe that we need to acknowledge the simple fact that it is a miracle that these places survived relatively intact. Perhaps it's not really too far from the mark to describe the fact that the pants survived in a relatively operational state as a triumph. Certainly the heroic efforts of everyone at Fukushima Daiichi to bring the systems there to a safe state despite a 168+ hour (7 days) long station blackout event. No Nuclear power plant in the world is designed to survive a station blackout (loss of grid power, no local battery or backup generator power and emergency cooling systems disabled) of that duration. Well, apparently the design and implementation of safety systems in japan along with the training of their crews and their creativity and resilience was sufficient to survive a 7 day+ station blackout. In my mind that is a triumph over adversity that cannot be overstated.

  121. bep

    Radiation

    Some sobering news from the New York Times today:

    "Spinach from a farm in Hitachi, about 45 miles (70 kilometers) from the plant, contained 27 times the amount of iodine that is generally considered safe, while cesium levels were about four times higher than what is deemed safe by Japan. Meanwhile, raw milk from a dairy farm in Iitate, about 18 miles (30 kilometers) from the plant, contained iodine levels that were 17 times higher than those considered safe, and milk had iodine levels that were slightly above amounts considered safe. "

    It appears that the radiation has not been as confined as some confidently assert.

  122. Simon Hurr
    Go

    Cost of Cleanup / Rebuilding

    One thing it occurs to me to point out with this - many comments on 'billions to clean up, too expensive to rebuild.'

    Japan doesn't suffer from quite the same amount of bureaucractic slowdown and regulation as somewhere like the US. The cleanup of TMI was likely drawn out a lot longer than required, and almost certainly done extremely inefficiently while many people protested and generally tried to interfere with the process. It would likely be a similar process if done in the UK.

    This would be unlikely to be the case with the cleanup of somewhere like Fukushima, as the Japanese are more likely to simply put their heads down and get on with it.

    It also bears pointing out that cleaning up and rebuilding a hydro dam isn't going to be done out of pocket change either, but I haven't seen people bemoaning the exorbitant costs that this will incur.

    Finally, I should point out that our major local newspaper had another 'Nuclear Crisis update' yesterday. The front-page article quoted Günther Oettinger's 'apocalypse' comment - well after he retracted it. It also noted the 'radiation detected in west coast US' (yes, but...) and 'situation escalated to level 6 on scale' (by the French, who everybody else is ignoring.)

    This amounts to a significant release of misinformation on the topic - well over the public's safe annual dose.

    And that's why I'm happy to read articles like this. I can make my own mind up from facts, but you have to get the facts first, and most news outlets are slow (or unwilling) to report them. Lewis has a quantity of hyperbole in his article and has his own spin on things, but there is reasonably current information in his reports, and for that alone I am grateful.

    1. mmiied

      radiation?

      all I see in your post is chemicles?

      1. David Pollard
        Boffin

        Radiation - actual data

        The people behind this site seem to have done a really good job in providing an English summary of published data from a variety of sources. It's astounding that nothing similar has appeared in mainstream media.

        http://fleep.com/earthquake/

  123. penguin slapper

    The man who worries...

    ...when he sees explosions at a nuclear power plant is not hysterical, stupid, ill-informed or overreacting.

    He is, in fact, a very sensible man.

    There seems to be a game of "ha ha you flinched" going on over the Japanese reactors. It's deeply offensive and childish.

    Face it - we all flinched. Flinching is a defence mechanism, not a sign of weakness.

  124. bugalugs

    Where

    does all this leave Thorium-fired NP ?

  125. Anonymous Coward
    Alert

    "tail events, not expected" - sort of.

    The design specification of these reactors forty years ago called for protection against a 6.5m tsunami. As it turned out, this one was a bit bigger than that; only a little bit though.

    Analysis and events over the following forty years, and in particular in recent years post 2004, showed that the 6.5m was likely to be insufficient.

    This event was entirely predictable, the only question was whether it would happen in the operating lifetime of these reactors.

    Where were the extra precautions needed for defence in depth against the increased-size risks that were predictable? Conveniently ignored because they would have been unprofitable, or bad PR for the industry, or both?

    1. Highlander

      Nice try, but no cigar your Tsunami statement is wrong.

      Fukushima Daiichi and Fukushima Dainii were both designed to withstand Tsunami between 5 and 6 meters. The actual Tsumani that hit at Dainii was approximately 12 meters (40 feet) and at Daiichi it was at least 10 meters (33 feet). In both instances the power stations were hit by an earthquake at least an order of magnitude higher than they were designed to cope with and coped with Tsunami twice the height they were designed to withstand. Considering that there are buildings inland from the shore in some areas that had their first four stories completely submerged, I think it's time to ratchet down the rhetoric claiming that these events could have reasonably been foreseen.

  126. plpl
    FAIL

    Popeye cancels a Japan trip...

    Funny... as the situation seems to get better in Fukushima, we begin to see people explaining that the situation has always been excessively exagerated, and that "the people who really know what thay're talking about" have always known it... (but they kept it a secret)

    So, what did we really see ?

    On the first day of the Fukushima accident, Anne Lauvergeon, Areva boss, went on TV to explain that it was just a minor problem, there was nothing to worry about, nuclear plants are super safe (and especially the brand new Areva's EPR...)

    In the same time Areva brought back 40 german employees from Fukushima to Europe in emergency (people really aware of the situation know that it's because they ran out of beer)

    2 days later, the same Anne Lauvergeon, propably intoxicated by tabloids and pub-chitchat, appeared on TV with a gloomy face to explain that the situation was really bad and you could not rule out a Chernobyl-like accident.

    Same happened on the japanese side : japanese government and Tepco execs first seem confident... Then on monday evening i saw them on TV, with grey faces, explaining that the situation was critical, they did their best but asked for help.

    But once again, those people probably lacked information and proper feedback by el reg's top scientists.

    etc.

    Seriously, who cares about the 4 or 5 or 6 level of the accident ?

    The fact is we were pretty close to a major accident. It looks like it will be avoided (good for japanese people). But :

    - just as i am writing this post, a suspect grey smoke comes from reactor 3. Probably a barbecue problem....

    - aera around the plant is now contaminated (that's what you get when you have to leak radioactive vapor to avoid exessive pressure). Good for me i don't live there so i won't have to deal with Iodine and cesium stuffed milk and spinach in the months or years to come. Same for tap water : ok, maybe the dose won't immediately turn you into dust but the fact is that is simply should not be there and will increase cancer risk.

    - Japan will have to deal with a nice concrete covered contaminated out of order nuclear-plant that will remains there for ages, hoping it never leaks.

    So please, maybe and propably some people overreacted, but try to have a bit of decency...

  127. Alan Firminger

    One problem

    Here is the Fukushima plant on Google maps :

    http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=&aq=&sll=37.301914,141.043854&sspn=0.22667,0.441513&ie=UTF8&ll=37.315499,141.039906&spn=0.028329,0.055189&t=h&z=14

    About last Wednesday the Guardian published a two page spread of a satellite photo of the damaged site. Yesterdays Observer showed a crop of this. I cannot find this image on the web.

    The Google maps reference shows that the site is on a totally open coast.

    The satellite images show no sign of tsunami. There are tidy lawns dotted with small bushes.

    It is reported generally, in particular by the BBC yesterday, that the site was damaged by the tsunami. Where exactly ?

    1. Highlander

      um....

      Did you not notice on the google satellite image the total lack of damage to the site which indicates that image was take some time before both the earthquake and the Tsunami, as well as the subsequent explosions at three of the buildings?

  128. calumg
    FAIL

    You can't measure newsworthiness by death toll

    I'm personally fascinated by this story from a TECHNICAL standpoint. It's really interesting to see the failure modes of a nuclear reactor and how we are coping.

    I don't particularly appreciate the Register telling me what I should and shouldn't find interesting.

    It's hardly news that the tabloid media sensationalise. Wow, what a scoop you've got there. It's plain wrong reporting to suggest that the situation is now under control. The IAEA says that the situation is still very serious, and unless The Register has some kind of insider information that the IAEA does not have, I'll listen to them in future.

  129. Yamal Dodgy Data
    Thumb Up

    Well done Lewis

    You've made the scare mongering journalists (a.k.a the entire MSM) look like right pillocks.

    Today its like the Fukushima Nucleo-Godzilla horror story never happened, whilst yesterday the EnviroMentalists were jizzing their pants in anticipation of Armageddon.

    (now its "look at that !!! a shiny silver thing flying over Tripoli")

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Well done Lewis

      Perhaps he has a mascot you could appropriate and for ever more fawn over?

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