119 Comments

  1. The media coverage of this incident is interesting. I was just watching some German public TV-channels reporting about the Fukushima incident. In their reporting they rely on “nuclear experts” from organisations such as Greenpeace and Oeko-Institut (Eco-Institute). It seems to be very difficult to find the real experts, with nuclear engineering and reactor physics backgrounds, to offer their expert advice.

    1. @camiel: “It seems to be very difficult to find the real experts, with nuclear engineering and reactor physics backgrounds, to offer their expert advice.”
      I would suppose that there are not a lot of such experts, and many of them are probably too busy running reactors, consulting with governments, etc. to make appearances on the news.

    1. No, Charles, it was not a reactor building that exploded. It was a structure outside the containment. If it is not inside the containment, it does not include a reactor, no matter what some translators might call the building.

    2. Here is a quote from the World Nuclear News story:
      Television cameras trained on the plant caputured a dramatic explosion surrounding unit 1 at around 6pm. Amid a visible pressure release and a cloud of dust it was not possible to know the extent of the damage. The external building structure does not act as the containment, which is an airtight engineered boundary within.

  2. Fox’s expert was from some nonproliferation organization. He was very colorful in his worst case scenario.

  3. thanks very much for posting this. here in tokyo a lot of people are freaking out about it, even though the plant is 240 kms. feel reassured after reading this.

  4. HA! He thinks a “certain dome” will be cover the power station by the “automated security system.” What an idiot. He could at least babel about a “safety” system…

  5. Can someone explain to me, if the reactor pressure vessel is still intact, how radioactive material migrated out of the vessel into the containment buildings at the reactors where radioactivity is being found in the containment buildings, and even at the front gate? I’m confused by how that is possible?
    Also, I want to ask about the hydrogen explosion that was reported in one of the links that Rod included in his article: I think I understand what’s happening, but just want to double check.
    Water is two hydrogen, bound to an oxygen. Normally, the electric attractions between the atomic nuclei and the shared electrons keep the molecule together, but when water is superheated to several hundred degrees (not sure what the ‘threshold temperature’ is?), the forces of momentum of the molecules as they spin and vibrate violently from the thermal energy, will begin to tear some of the molecules apart, forming free hydrogen and oxygen. That hydrogen and oxygen can now, once it accumulates to sufficient quantities, and cools off slightly (so that it is no longer beyond the threshold energy level where it can’t bind), combust to form back into water, but will release a lot of energy when it combusts, causing an explosion.
    So, since we use water to cool the reactor, and that water is coming into contact with a *very* hot reactor, some portion of the water is thus becoming free hydrogen and oxygen, as described above, then exploding?
    Do I have all that right?

    1. Jeff – There are ways for the vessel to remain completely intact and yet radioactive material can escape from the primary loop. For example, in the TMI accident 32 years ago, coolant flowed out of the primary circuit through an open relief valve in the pressurizer. This reactor is a boiling water reactor (unlike TMI-2 which was a pressurized water reactor), which means that the primary coolant goes directly to the steam turbines. So it is quite possible that some of this coolant is leaving the loop, and this coolant usually contains very small amounts of fission products that have either migrated through the cladding or have been released through small fuel failures.
      The explosion that was observed was almost certainly a hydrogen explosion. The hydrogen is generated from a reaction that occurs when the zircalloy fuel cladding comes in contact with high-temperature steam. Thus, hydrogen buildup is a strong sign that part of the fuel rods are no longer covered by water, but that was already expected in this case.

      1. @Brian: Followup question: I believe, from some of the coverage I’ve seen, that part of the problem at these reactors is that, with the reactors shutdown, and the grid in ruins from the earthquake/tsunami, there’s no power to run the cooling pumps, which is sort of the ‘primary’ cause of these problems – lack of cooling after the reactor shutdown?
        I believe I’ve read in the past, that some newer reactor designs have some sort of automatic, passive cooling systems, to deal with just this type of situation? Can you (or any of the experts out there), explain how that works, how long it can keep the reactor cool before it runs out of water, and which reactor designs incorporate such automatic, passive emergency. cooling?
        I think, in the wake of this incident, it might be smart to consider mandating such emergency cooling systems be part of all new reactors? Is that the case, or is such emergency cooling ‘optional’ in new plants?

        1. Jeff – Good questions. Let’s see if I can tackle them.
          Normally, if there is a shutdown at a reactor, the plant relies on grid power to operate the pumps and valves that form the cooling systems (and why not if it’s there?). Nevertheless, there are redundant backups for situations in which grid power is not available, such as after a massive earthquake.
          In this case, it appears that there were two backups: a set of batteries and the emergency diesel generators. From what I’ve read, the diesel generators kicked in after the accident, but failed after an hour, probably because of damage caused by the earthquake. The batteries were then used, but they can last only so long.
          In a modern boiling water reactor (BWR), passive systems are used instead, meaning that no electrical input is required. The volume of water in containment is sufficiently large that natural convection loops form, which transfers the heat away from the still-hot core without needing any pumps to move the fluid.
          Don’t worry about new rectors. There is no need for mandates. The Japanese reactor experiencing the problem is almost 40 years old. Nobody is going to build a new reactor like that one. Any new BWR’s that are built anywhere in the world will include at least some of these passive safety features. The ABWR has some of these features. The more advanced ESBWR (being marketed by GE-Hitachi) has pretty much completely passive safety features.

          1. The diesel generators stopped after 1 hour because of the tsunami wave that overran the plant. The tsunami was so powerful that houses from the nearby town were washed away.

        2. No one knows the full details about what happened but from reports their Emergency Diesel Gens started and ran for a time. Than they failed due to the Tsunami. There are several potential causes that come to mind such as flooding of the diesels, loss of the service water pumps which cool the diesels due to flooding or a combination of clogging of pumps and cooling lines due to mud, sand and debris.
          I’m not an expert on the latest designs, much more familiar with GE BWR Mk I-III and Westinghouse PWR, but all of the currently commissioned plants would require power to remove decay heat.
          In the case of Fukushima, without containment cooling for a period of 24 hrs the containment would begin to reach pressures approximating its design pressure (65 psig?) and would require venting to the plant stack to maintain its integrity. It appears that the venting process may have caused the issue.

    2. Though I have no real information, my guess is that the source of the hydrogen in the discussed explosion was the cooling gas used in the electrical generator and not any dissociated hydrogen from water.
      I have only heard a few reports, but they sound very similar to an event that happened in Tampa, Florida at the Big Bend power station when I was living in that area in the 1990s. Very large electrical generators are often cooled with hydrogen gas, a system that works well. However, when the gas leaks into a building, it can build up to an explosive level. As I recall, the turbine building suffered a very large explosion that blew off the steel panels.
      Through the wonders of Google, I found a link – the event I was thinking about happened on April 8, 1999. At least three workers were killed and more than 50 injured.
      http://business.highbeam.com/417434/article-1G1-54995002/tampa-tragedy
      Any takers on $50 that says that the hydrogen was not from reactor coolant but from the electrical generator cooling system?

      1. If the hydrogen was from the electrical generator, then the turbine building would have suffered the explosion. All reports say it was the secondary reactor containment that was damaged.

        1. @Pete51 – I saw a video of the explosion. It sure did not look to me like it affected the containment building, but that it did affect a building that looked an awful lot like a typical turbine building.

  6. I’ve been amazed by the confusion of the news reports, which I think is typical of the “fog of war” that happens in emergency situations. Hillary Clinton reported that U.S. airplanes were delivering “coolant” to the reactor, which makes little sense since the coolant is water, something that they’ve got plenty of right at the site. It’s more believable that they’d get an airlift of diesel generators and diesel fuel.
    Much like in the three mile island case, every hour of reporting brings more claims — real things are happening there, as a video of an explosion at the plant has been seen. An Australian TV station reports that the confinement building blew up, while others are reporting that it was an outbuilding.
    It’s pretty clear that it’s going to take time for the story to be understood.

    1. The USAF plane might also be an air sampling aircraft deployed to make measurements of radioactive noble gases coming from the plant.

  7. I worked at TMI-II during the incident. I watched as a TV reporter interviewed an employee. That evening his ramblings were on every network broadcast as “facts from a plant expert.” Yes he was an employee – his job was sweeping the floor – literally!. His only nuclear training was the required radiation worker training, about 6 hours back then.

  8. OK Genius soothsayer.. another inculcated “expert” who is dealing in completely hypothetical understanding of the real world… Now the containment dome has blown OFF! Likely due to Hydrogen created by exposed and melting fuel rods.
    What now? Enlighten us.. please.

    1. The containment dome has not blown off.
      The building around the containment structure has blown apart due to hydrogen buildup. It is a serious issue, four workers have been injured and there will be many questions to answer about how that happened.
      However, the reactor structure is sound as of the time of this writing.
      And no one died.
      Tthe safety of the public has not been impaired depsite the fact that the operators are working in conditions never seen before due to the 5th largest earthquake recorded in modern history.

    2. @Knucklehead – (I am not being insulting, you were the one who picked the handle.)
      I have updated the post with my best guess for what caused the explosion. In short, I am betting that the hydrogen was part of the electrical generator cooling system and that the building that was damaged was the steel framed turbine building, not the thick walled concrete containment that houses the nuclear reactor heat source.

  9. Unfortunately what is going on is very, very serious. They are very deeply into the Severe Accident Guidelines (SAGs), assuming that they use the same processes as we do here at VY. Appears that the explosion at the plant was due to a hydrogen excursion (certainly some sort of chemical reaction) but, of course, unclear as to the why.
    Last night they noted that pressure was about 600 KPa and assume that is the drywell/torus. Not unexpected if they lost containment cooling. The hydrogen would obviously be generated from Zr clad once exposed.
    They were venting the containment but it is also unclear how. The pressure, as reported, would have required that, if containment cooling were not restored.
    Plant appears to have lost the siding from the Reactor Building due to the explosion and they are going to flood the containment – pretty much the last resort when containment cooling cannot be restored.

  10. Rod, I am disappointed in you. You are sounding like an industry shill and I know you are not. The event is very serious. People are not worrying about “low consequence details”. In the midst of a natural disaster, people within an ever-growing radius are being evacuated, which is compunding the problems there immensely. And it is because of failures that should never have occurred. Anyone familiar with the industry can tell you, as Jim did, the fact that the operators are reduced to pumping in seawater to maintain core cooling is a sign of their desperation.
    You are also off-base about TMI-2. Noting that the molten core didn’t penetrate the thick vessel isn’t particularly convincing–the more important point is that fission products escaped through the stuck open relief valve, so two of the three fission product barriers were breached. The event also involved a partial bypass of the containment, the third barrier.

    1. @botmosa – Sorry to disappoint you, but part of the job of people who understand technology is to do their best to explain that technology, especially when others are trying to use fear, uncertainty and doubt to further long standing agendas.
      I am not a shill; I do not get paid to sell anything. I am a technologist. I get paid to think through many possible scenarios. In previous assignments, I was trained and paid to use judgement to respond to unplanned events.
      Light water reactors have many barriers to releasing fission products to the environment. Even if some of those barriers get breached, they still LIMIT the amount of material that gets out. As I described, the plant may very well be destroyed beyond repair, but the important facts will remain that no one will get hurt and no one in the general public will be exposed to any dangerous radiation doses.
      Your attempt to spread FUD based on TMI falls on deaf ears. I have read the reports and know what happened. There was never any serious risk of injury. The ordered evacuations were reactions based on ignorance, no facts and not understanding. It is WRONG to order people to leave safe places because of fear of something that will never happen.
      I would bet a considerable sum of money that everyone who is being evacuated would be far better off if they stayed at home.
      Please read the article from the 20 September 2002 issue of Science that I linked to in my original post. It tells you the facts in a concise way and it was coauthored by 11 of the most technically qualified people on the planet at the time of its publication.
      https://atomicinsights.com/pdf_files/SciencePaper-9.02.pdf

  11. Great article Rod and at the right time. Congratulations on how popular this article is on twitter. That is a testament to both your non-stop efforts in this world of new media as well as people’s willingness to rely on people such as you.
    Things need to be put into perspective and your article does that. This is the 7th largest earthquake ever to be recorded in modern history.
    The death toll is constantly rising. I see 1,700 confirmed dead and 9,500 missing from one perfecture at the time I am writing this post. Only ONE death out of thousands occurred at a nuclear plant and that tragic death amoungst all the others occurred due to an industrial type issue not anything associated with nuclear power. His death occurred due to a crane failure because of the massive earthquake.
    Yes it appears the reactor will be lost but every effort has been made to save it while maintaining public safety.
    Perspective is needed!
    7th largest earthquake in modern recorded history and approximately 48 hours after TEPCO is having to kill one reactor out of 55 in the entire country. But the safety of the public has been maintained. NO ONE HAS DIED BECAUSE OF THIS PROBLEM!!
    It appears the anti-nukes are now trying to spin this issue as one that the entire industry is suspect since the one reactor has to be filled with borated seawater. It appears that since the reactor will not turn into a Chernobyl event as they have been spouting for years, they are now shifting to argue that nuclear power is still dangerous since the plant will have to be “killed” by borated water even though the emergency plans have worked as required including the human operators who have been working in a very challenging situation not ever seen before.
    What about the refineries that are still burning? Do we kill the entire fossil fuel industry because the 7th largest earthquake in modern history resulted in explosions that actually killed people? NO we don’t!
    Do we kiil the entire hydro industry because one dam failed as a result of the 7th largest earthquake in modern history? NO we don’t!
    The anti’s can’t be allowed to reframe this debate to say that because TEPCO is using borated water in one reactor which will “kill” the reactor as the last step of their multi-step safety plan that the entire nuclear industry should be shut down.
    NO ONE HAS DIED FROM THIS PROBLEM!!!
    Many lessons will be learned and implemented as they should. The nuclear industry has the most active feedback system in place of any industrial activity. But it is critical that the nuclear industry not go into hunker down mode ala TMI. They have to be out there pounding the message home that the safety systems worked for the most part and that NO ONE DIED.
    I consider it a postive developlment that CNN web headline at the time of this writing is about the 9,500 missing, not the explosion of the outer building at the nuclear plant. That is perspective and congrats is due.

    1. Correction to my post.
      This is the 5th biggest earthquake in modern history, not the 7th.

  12. Saw reports this AM that the containment had increased, before venting, to 840 Kpa about 122 psig. Seems very extreme and late for venting, but of course, I’m not familiar with all their systems or the problems they are experiencing. If there is any comfort here and there certainly is very little, this event is probably as extreme a condition as could ever occur at a well designed Nuclear Plant. The only thing that I haven’t heard in combination with SSE, LOOP and Flooding is a pipe break approximating a LOCA. But lets face it in the end failure to keep the core covered has similar if less dramatic effects.
    Fukushimi Daiini, apologize if spelling is off, is having similar problems with containment heatup and loss of fill systems. Hopefully they will not need to resort to containment flooding since that would be an even greater economic disaster.

    1. Jim,
      They’re talking about flooding containment with seawater (and perhaps adding boric acid). I was wondering what the impact on the reactor would be. Do you know? I really hope it doen’t mean that the plant will be un-repairable.

      1. “I was wondering what the impact on the reactor would be [to flooding the reactor with seawater].”
        Jim, my guess is the salt would be so corrosive that the core would have to be replaced. However, the rest of the plant could probably be salvaged. At least, for a $1B asset like that, they’d try pretty hard to scrub it clean.

    1. @Guest
      I would be happy to help. Once far more important efforts are underway, I will gladly volunteer my services.
      By the way, you might be new here, we do not call each other names in the comment threads at Atomic Insights. Consider yourself warned. The next time I will simply block your IP address.

    2. For some strange reason, most people are more afraid of what they cannot see – radioactivity -, than what they CAN see: washed away houses, infernos as refineries burn, a trillon dollar property damage, a devastated economy, one of the largest natural disasters in recorded history in of one of the most industrialized societies the world has ever known.
      But to these people, a single death as a result of radiation or cancer “possibly” caused by radioactivity means more than thousands of deaths by drowning, burning, suffocation. It reminds of the invention of the steam engine locomotive: there were people who were more afraid of the effects of locomotives than of a Colt revolver.

      1. @Jerry, I think that saying, “But to these people, a single death as a result of radiation or cancer “possibly” caused by radioactivity means more than thousands of deaths by drowning, burning, suffocation,” is probably a bit unfair – you’re putting words into their mouth. I don’t like it when other people do it to me, I don’t like it when people do it to other people – even when it’s people I basically agree with putting words into the mouths of people I basically disagree with. It’s not helpful, and it’s not conducive to civil discussion.
        Did it ever occur to you that people accept that there’s nothing we can do to really prevent all earthquake-related death’s – that’s an “act of God” – but that they might feel we should try to take responsibility for deaths caused because of our decisions as humans, and try to prevent them? Now, I still think the people who are very fearful are perhaps overestimating the real threat here, speaking from fear, not from facts. But I wouldn’t dare to accuse them of not caring about thousands of deaths from other causes.

        1. @Jeff: I appreciate your attempt to stand up for people who may have had “words put in their mouths,” and I agree that most people watching this tragedy care about “thousands of deaths from other causes.” (However, I’m not sure that the original post was suggesting otherwise.)
          But at the same time, I hope you recognize the inadequacy of your “force majeur” analogy. Did you not grasp the comparison implicit in the original post? Do you not appreciate the disproportion of worry that is being expended over an energy source that so far has not resulted in a single casualty in this devastating tragedy, which has reportedly claimed over 10,000 innocent lives by OTHER MEANS? (And yes, I have heard the report that one nuke plant worker was tragically killed in the blast.)
          In giving us the “deus ex machina” theme, you have lumped all of the MAN-MADE contributors to this disaster — with the revealing exception of nuclear power — under the ethically cowardly category of “act of God.” God may have “caused” the earthquake and tsunami, if that’s your view (bearing in mind that there’s a scientific/mechanistic explanation as well). But He did not build the fossil fuel and chemical plants and myriad other man-made elements of our environment (yes, including buildings and automobiles) that have since been transformed into INSTRUMENTS OF DEATH by the natural forces unleashed by “God.”
          The question then becomes: What fossil fuel or chemical product blogs have you visited to voice your opinion that “we should try to take responsibility for deaths caused because of our decisions as humans”? What other familiar feature of our human-constructed world, turned by natural disaster into an instrument of death, have you applied this ethical assertion to? And how many other anti-nuke bloggers in here, I wonder, have used an argument similar to yours but have done precisely NOTHING in terms of protesting the use of a potentially dangerous technology or energy source OTHER THAN nuclear energy?
          In all due respect, that’s where your argument, a familiar one in nuke circles, falls down every time. But what is so glaringly ironic in this case stems from the simultaneity of the disaster: Here we have pictures of refineries and natural gas plants and chemical installations violently aflame. As one blogger in here has pointed out, it’s almost a certainty that these fires are spewing dangerous chemicals into the environment, along every exposure pathway (inhalation, consumption, absorption). At the same time, we have breathless reporting on nuke plants that to this point have only had negligible releases, if the official agencies are to be believed, and these media reports are often misleadingly presented against the background of… the VERY FUEL AND CHEMICAL PLANTS THAT DESERVE THE BREATHLESS REPORTING BUT WHOSE NEAR-CERTAIN ENVIRONMENTAL AND HEALTH IMPACTS ARE BEING IGNORED.
          It’s tantamount to broadcasting a story about an increased potential for bear attacks while simultaneously showing a live feed of a man being MAULED BY A TIGER.
          And as for the original post about people initially being more afraid of the effects of locomotives than of Colt revolvers, recall the Lumiere brothers’ famous experiment in early cinema entitled Le train en la gare du Ciotat (or something to that effect). To these early cinema audiences, who knew nothing of the medium yet, the sight of a train that only exists on film, coming at them head on, was enough to make some audience members jump out of their seats and run for the exits.

  13. I am quite willing to eat crow if it turns out I am wrong.
    Not good eough. You should be willing to parachute into the nuke to turn it off, you right wing hack.

    1. I’m pretty sure that what is going on at Fukushima has nothing to do with Rod or yourself. The final story is yet to be written on this and everyone should calm down and be respectful. The operators are obviously struggling with what amounts to end of the world conditions and up to this point the environmental effects have been minimal (considering the vast devastation that is seen throughout the affected area of Japan), albeit very dramatized. After containment flood-up they should be able to establish effective decay heat removal than we will know what the ultimate impact will be.

    2. @Guest – what good would it do for me to parachute in. First of all, the affected plants are all shut down. The issue is the fact that it takes electricity to power the pumps that supply cooling water after shutdown. When nuclear plants first shutdown, radioactive decay of fission products continues. At the instant of shutdown, the thermal energy is about 7% of the pre shutdown power level and that drops off to about 1.5% within the first hour.
      By the end of 24 hours, decay heat has decayed to about 0.4% of the initial value. Within a week it will be down to about 0.2%.
      It is amusing to be accused of being a “right wing hack” when I voted for our current president, support union activities in Wisconsin, was the son of a union school teacher and the nephew of several others, and when my brother in law is a shop steward. I have often been accused of a rather significant liberal bias – and I happily accept that accusation as being true.
      I also happen believe that nuclear energy is one of the technologies that will enable human society to survive and flourish. In my opinion, most of the strength of the opposition to nuclear energy comes from rich capitalists who are heavily invested in keeping us addicted to coal, oil and natural gas.

      1. I am pretty certain that there will be people who have made outrageous claims who will be incredibly embarrassed when it becomes obvious that there never was any danger to the public.
        Well, let’s see about that. You’ve got officials in Japan saying that a meltdown is a possibility. You have tens of thousands evacuated. You have mass distribution of iodine. You have seawater being pumped onto one reactor, which will make it inoperable forever.
        Outrageous, you say. So tell me, mister “liberal” who’s done his best to sound like Rush Limbaugh here, when do you apologize for your misinformed, complacent, arrogant, regurgitated crapola here? Please tell me why anyone should have confidence right now. I hope things don’t totally melt down, so to speak, but I sure as hell wouldn’t put my money on it.
        And the outright dismissal of legitimate worry? That’s what is outrageous on your part. We’re all supposed to sit here sucking our thumbs, confident that the experts will handle it. Give me a break.

        1. @Guest – please tell me where I sound like Rush Limbaugh. It is impossible for me to tell since I have not heard that man speak for more than the few seconds that it takes me to change the station in at least 15 years. When I did hear more than that, it was because someone else controlled the dial.
          I am not dismissing legitimate worry. I am trying to help people perform mental triage and focus on the fact that a beautiful country with lovely inhabitants has suffered an incredible amount of damage and loss of life. There are many very hard working and well trained nuclear professionals who are doing exactly what they have been trained to do and working to bring their reactors to a stable condition after successfully shutting them down many hours ago. They have plenty on their hands without lots of people who do not know what the heck they are talking about trying to second guess their actions.
          The evacuations were silly. The iodine is unnecessary. The seawater may make the plant impossible to restart, but it has already served its purpose for about 40 years and avoided the burning of a lot of oil and natural gas.
          What is outrageous is that you think you are being constructive by visiting my blog and calling me names. Give me a break!

          1. I know an engineer who thinks he’s God when I meet one. No point in continuing with this. Among other things, I don’t want to build some sort of weird emotional investment in there being a catastrophe.
            Sorry for ever worrying about this to begin with. I should have known that your kind has never made any horrible errors, and never will. That’s not an underground toxic plume drifting from Hanford, Washington toward the Columbia River, that’s next week’s salad dressing. We can each store an old cooling rod in the garage, too. Whatever!
            Let’s agree on this much: We both wish for the best possible outcome in Japan. Past that, you’ve got zero respect for my intellect, and I’ve got zero trust in your integrity. Bye-bye.

            1. @Guest – I do not think I am god, but in common with many engineers, I think that humans are made in god’s image. We love to create things of beauty and function and we seek to improve rather than to tear down.
              I do have zero respect for critics who have nothing constructive to contribute. Go find another conversation.
              By the way, I am a graduate of the US Naval Academy, a former ethics instructor, and retired Commander in the US Navy. I could not care less what you think of my integrity, but I can give you a long list of references that will disagree with your characterization of my personality.

    1. Anti nuclear pressure-groups such as Greenpeace have been waiting for a “new Chernobyl” for 25 years, like vultures they’ve been circling over the nuclear industry, maximizing fear with every little incident. Nuclear power was blocked at every turn, and we became more and more dependent on oil and natural gas, but they didn’t care. Now they believe they have what they always wanted, an event to destroy cheap energy once and for all, and box us into their new green age of energy conservation and depopulation.

      1. @Jerry – I am collecting some of the most strident propaganda for use. I am pretty certain that there will be people who have made outrageous claims who will be incredibly embarrassed when it becomes obvious that there never was any danger to the public.

  14. The coverage (especially on CNN) has been disgraceful. They’re are real problems/tragedies occurring all over the country; major events and issues that are having real impacts on people lives. Over a thousand are probably dead, whole towns destroyed, countless are homeless, etc.. And yet, the media chooses to spend at least half of its time covering one issue that actually doesn’t have any potential for significant harm. Imagine if those resources and attention were put towards helping with the real problems. No, it’s all about fearmongering and pursuit of viewership.
    Even more egregious is the fact that there are scores of oil refineries and chemical plants throughout Japan have experienced at least as much damage (some of them are literally burning). I’ve watched while they literally had a picture of a burning oil refinery in the background while continuing to talk (endlessly) about the nuclear plant situation (implying, I’m sure, to the really stupid viewers that the nuclear plant is in flames). Those pictures of burning refineries (that they refuse to actually talk about) show deep black smoke that is almost certainly laced with carcinogens (e.g., benzine).
    Have people been evacuated around any of these sites? What’s being released, and what are the potential consequences? Don’t know. They all refuse to talk about it. They apparently don’t consider it newsworthy. Only nuclear-related problems are. They’re busy talking about how in the very unlikely event that the very worst happened, there could be (theoretically) some health consequences around the nuclear facility, but there is no word at all about the health impacts of all the pollution that IS being released from all these facilities all around the country. Rod mentioned the impacts of all those washed away vehicles. I would add the effects of stricken refineries and chemical plants to that. The fact that they beat the nuclear issue to death while refusing to even talk about much more serious events and impacts elsewhere really does make one think that the (very rich and powerful) fossil fuel industry wields large, hidden influence with the news media.
    Even if the very worst happened (i.e., a Three Mile Island like event), the amount of pollution released from this nuclear plant, and it’s resulting health effects (if any), would be orders of magnitude smaller than the health effects that ARE/WILL occur as a result of all the (chemical) pollution that IS being released, right now, as we speak from facilities and vehicles, etc… all over the country. The media’s silence on these other pollution issues, while they relentlessly hype the issue at the nuclear plant, borders on criminal. The biggest focus, however, should be on the “mundane” stuff that is actually, by far, the most important. That is, the effects on structures, the flooding, the people who died, ongoing rescue efforts, etc….

  15. Hello. This is not a post regarding the technical aspects, nor the media treatment surrounding the Japanese earth quake and tsunami. I just wish to post that a Canadian friend that was holidaying in Onagawa is missing. Considering it is the site of three nuclear reactors, i thought that perhaps somebody on this message board might have some direct information or know of any contacts in the area that could help locate my friend.
    The family has set up a google person-finder profile: http://japan.person-finder.appspot.com/view?first_name&id=japan.person-finder.appspot.com/person.2576069&last_name&query=Michael+Luzia&role=seek
    Any information directly concerning Michael, or indeed, the general situation in Onagawa would be much appreciated.
    Thanks a lot!
    -Joel (jja667@uow.edu.au)

  16. how are randomly tested people being exposed to radiation? I’m not asking to poke holes in your post, just wondering…

  17. The media hysteria is unbelievable! Only the outrageously incorrect rumors get reported, creating more hysteria. It reminds me of a shark feeding frenzy! Since this reactor is in Japan shouldn’t this be called “The USA Syndrome?”

  18. Rod,
    Great post. My initial thought on the explosion was hydrogen associated with generator cooling. It will take some time for reality to come out.
    It is amazing how much bad reporting there is out there.

  19. The media hysteria is unbelievable! Only the outrageously incorrect rumors get reported, creating more hysteria. It reminds me of a shark feeding frenzy! Since this reactor is in Japan shouldn’t this be called “The USA Syndrome?”
    Yeah, no one’s supposed to worry. TEPCO hasn’t lied to anyone; Japan’s government hasn’t lied to anyone; corporations around the world are kind and benevolent; radiation is our best friend. Oh, yeah, and they expand the evacuation circle three times within a day; the plant has a gigantic explosion; and they start handing out iodine pills. What, me worry?
    What planet are you living on?

    1. How honest is the media showing burning LNG plants/tanks and calling them Nuclear Power Plants? I trust TEPCO more than CNN!!! How many people in Japan have died from gas fires? Many times more than have or will from nuclear power plants!

  20. Hmm. Last-ditch flooding of one reactor with seawater, which will destroy it. And now a report that a second reactor is overheating, with authorities worried about a possible second explosion and release of significant amounts of cesium, which sticks around for a couple hundred years. I’ll be hoping the industry servant who writes this blog will be willing to sit down to a dinner of radioactive crow if he’s wrong.

    1. @Guest – I am no servant of any industry, though I did serve for 33 years as a public servant wearing a uniform.
      I would be happy to eat radioactive crow at the levels that have been discharged from the plant and into the common environment.
      The half life of cesium is about 30 years. After 150 years, the dose rate is pretty darned close to zero.
      Authorities worry about a lot of things. Are the people that you are listening to trained in reactor operations and the health effects of radiation?
      Yes, filling a reactor containment building with sea water will probably stop it from ever operating again. I acknowledged in my initial post that there might be a few reactors that never operate again. The point is that the reactors are not causing any harm to the public that is not a result of the stress imposed by those who love to spread FUD about nuclear energy. (FUD = Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt.)
      By the way, the only reactor so far that appears likely to never operate again was put on line in 1971, so it has been operating for 40 years. There are plenty of people in Vermont who are working hard to force a reactor of almost identical vintage to shut down and there is a group in New Jersey that has already forced the owner of a similar reactor to shut down by 2019, long before it reaches its natural end of life.
      What is the real difference in economic loss between a reactor that never operates again because it has been filled with seawater to keep it cool and a reactor that has been forced to shutdown because some people spread their ignorance about the way that the plant has been maintained?

      1. Yeah, I know that the half-life of cesium is 30 years, and that after a couple hundred years it’s no higher than background. We can divert ourselves by talking about that minutae, but that’ll be a one-man diversion. The point is that there has been a partial meltdown of one reactor. Both the explosion and the presence of cesium confirm it, and there as many as four more on the bubble at latest count. It’s more than just another bad day at the office.
        As for the flooding with seawater, I wasn’t commenting on the economic loss. The fact that they’re doing that shows some desperation. It shows that the situation is very serious. It’s not the “What? Me Worry” scenario that you’ve been peddling here. As for the reactors “not causing any harm,” I’d say that this remains to be seen.
        What we do know already is that the “triple redundant system” in Japan has failed. You act as if that’s no big deal. I used to work with engineers. Liked ’em a lot, but their overconfidence was irritating as hell.

        1. Guilty as charged. Like many nuclear professionals, I have a “superiority complex” that was earned as a result of a lot of long hours studying and even more long hours actually operating and maintaining a nuclear power plant.
          What qualifications do you have for the drivel you are spouting?
          Once again, there is no “desperation” associated with using sea water as another option for keeping the plant cool. It is in the procedures and often discussed when operators are engaged in the required training and “what if” scenarios.
          Once again, reread my post. I acknowledge the fact that nuclear reactor cores can melt and cause damage to the plant. What I refuse to acknowledge is the claim that such an event at a reactor that has been licensed to operate in the ‘western world’ will result in any hazard to the general public. Check out that link to the 20 September 2002 article in Science and look at the list of authors and the voluminous list of references and studies.
          Nuclear energy is something to be studied, understood and used as the servant of mankind. It is extremely reliable and competitive with burning coal, natural gas and fuel oil. I maintain that much of the FUD that has been spread about nuclear energy has been supported by the fossil fuel industry and its associated hangers on in the media, the transportation industry, and the government.

          1. A typical engineer filters out whatever he doesn’t agree with. He calls it “drivel,” etc. A really good engineer (they like really good anythings, are in short supply) accommodates opposing views, because sometimes they’re right.

  21. Rod,
    Time to turn “Guest” off, he is not helping the discussion. No one doubts the challenges the nuclear operators have. As with TMI, the owner may get a big haircut and have some modest releases of radioactive material. Pales in comparison to all the other trauma (death and destruction) unfolding in Japan.

  22. Well said, Rod. What nuclear power needs most is an understanding that “exposed to radiation” does not automatically top all other problems that might strike humanity. An LNG explosion would put a little radioactivity into perspective. And it would be illuminating if we could get data on some of those other nasty substances that are leaking into the Japanese environment.
    For the technically minded, what do you think the following means: “Radiation level reached X times the permissible level?” If you replied “it is meaningless,” get your gold star. A similar statement about temperature is equally meaningless, for the same reason. A SatEvePost story, years ago, titled “Twice as cold as zero” indicates why. On the other hand, you CAN say that about pressure.
    The international RadProt brotherhood leads the charge in insisting that reducing harmless levels of radiation still further should be Priority One on all nuclear tasks. This results in cash bonuses being paid and company safety ratings increased if American nuclear operators lower their collective dose for the month. This is easy to do; you just keep your people away from the radioactive plant equipment. I’d rather have them minding the equipment; boric acid may be eating through the reactor vessel head.

    1. @Ted – thank you for stopping by. For anyone reviewing this thread, I highly recommend that you Google Theodore Rockwell to find out that this man literally “wrote the book” on protecting people from radiation when he developed the first ever manual for reactor shielding for the Atomic Energy Commission in the early 1950s. He was Rickover’s technical director during the time when Naval Reactors developed the Nautilus and the Shippingport. He was the lead author of that article in the 20 September 2002 issue of Science that described the consequences to the public (none) of the worst case accident at a nuclear plant. He has a whole list of honors given to people who accomplish much in very technical fields.
      He knows what he is talking about.

  23. Rod, I see that you responded to my earlier comment. I appreciate that. I do not want to waste your time (or mine) engaging in a lot of back-and-forth or a bunch of snark. Based on what you write overall, I actually have a lot of respect for you. So I will try to state clearly why I do not agree with you on this issue, and then be done with it. (Sorry, I had to break this post in two.)
    You wrote:

  24. (continued)
    So let me emphasize the crucial point. The interactions between equipment, systems, and humans have turned out to be a lot more complicated that originally envisioned. And we have learned the hard way that when a crisis hits, you can be assured there will be failures (or malfunctions or errors). The problem, of course, is that we do not know in advance where these failures will occur or how they will stack up and, as a result, we don

    1. @botmosa:
      I guess there is a reason why I did not choose to leave the Navy after the five year point to join “the industry” even though they were still in the hiring mode in 1986. By then, it was pretty obvious to me that the industry had moved so far into the alphabet soup that you mention as to be unattractive and uncompetitive. Based on the knowledge that I had gained by then, I was pretty sure that the ‘soup’ of programs that were sold as measures to enhance safety were really just job justification for a raft of engineers and for companies that had not received a new order in ten years. They were milking the existing projects for all of the dollars they could find – partially by encouraging continuing regulatory changes that required additional work that could be billed out.
      As a submariner, I was trained to always expect the unexpected. A major part of our training program was to hold small group discussions to brainstorm what we would do if something failed or malfunctioned in unexpected ways. We often talked about strange combinations of mechanical failures with fires, flooding, and ship control problems that made it hard to move from one place to another. Our program was led by a group of realists who new that there was simply no more room on the ships or in the budgets for additional layers of ‘stuff’ to protect already robust designs operated by carefully selected and trained people.
      Our program did not look for the brainiest or the highest grade point averages, we looked for people who could think on their feet and who would respond with integrity when faced with challenges.
      I agree that the media coverage is not necessarily the fault of the journalists, but I do not agree that ignorant anti-nuclear professionals or government decision makers can avoid blame. There should be little to no doubt that people like Wasserman, Lyman, Bradford, and Markey have been poised for years to attempt to take advantage of any crisis to gain face time on the tube so they can sell their anti-nuclear message. In this time of massive hardship and dislocation, they are working as hard as they can to make people even more afraid and worried than they should be.
      And yes, I maintain that you are spreading FUD when you emphasize that a stuck open relief valve counts as breaching the reactor coolant pressure barrier and “allowing the release of fission products” without adding numbers and perspective. We are not uncertain about the fact that a very detailed post accident analysis showed that essentially ALL of the fission products remained within the containment barrier and that there were no injuries or excessive exposures to the general public. We do not have any reason to fear the potential effects of a reasonably well contained core melt in a plant licensed to the standards that were in place by the end of the 1950s – all of the layers of “protection” that have been added since then have been excessive redundancies that could have saved far more lives if the dollars spent on adding them had been applied almost anywhere else.
      I hope that people recognize that I am not defending an “industry” and certainly not defending the profits of any corporation. I am defending a technology and a physical phenomenon (fission) that offers hope for humanity. In fact, it is a darned good thing for me personally that I understand fission; if I did not, I would probably be hopelessly depressed about the prospects for human society as we burn up all of the accessible hydrocarbons as fast as possible.

    2. botmosa – Thanks for wasting a lot of words to tell us that only nuclear power has to be perfect.
      Those of us who prefer to live in the real world rather than impossible fantasies that we create for ourselves have a different take on this issue. So when we see an extremely rare event, such as a devastating earthquake and tsunami that has laid waste the surrounding countryside and has killed hundreds or thousands of people, and this one-two punch leads to a 40-year-old nuclear reactor becoming broken to the point that it will never restart, we are not disappointed.
      Unlike children and the mentally incompetent, we understand that things will break if stressed enough, and the stress imposed by this event was a severe. The only important point to consider now is whether the robustness of the safety systems is sufficient to avoid any serious health consequences. It’s too early to say for sure what will happen, but from everything that I’ve seen and from everything that I have read about this event, it appears that there is not much to be concerned about.
      Feel free, however, to return to your fantasies and visions of a perfect world. Just please don’t complain when the rest of us focus on the practical.

      1. I guess this is some of that reasoned, calm educating of those trying to learn about nuclear power Rod Adams talked about. Dale Carnegie would slap you silly. Being snide and childish does not endear you to others, or your argument.

    3. Botmosa — Thanks for the balanced perspective. The credibility of the industry is at stake if we are not realistically recognizing the facts. We all hope that the ultimate consequences will end up as another event without significant public safety consequences. However, minimizing the potential consequences or singing the “don’t worry, be happy” song at this stage does not help “our” cause. Thanks for the deliberate and well thought out comments.

      1. @John Caves – I am not singing the Bobby Darrin ditty. The people inside the fences at the nuclear plants are doing all of the worrying and responding that is required. Everyone else should be worrying about far more important issues – like providing clean drinking water, shelter, finding missing persons, stopping refinery fires, finding gas leaks before they become explosions, figuring out sewage treatment system challenges, and about a dozen more items I think think of off the top of my head.
        I do not speak for an industry – I speak for a technology that is safe, reliable, affordable, clean and FAR better than the alternatives. It is not something to fear, but something to understand. It is also something where it is okay for people to leave the details to the professionals.

  25. I really appreciate your article. I am living near Tokyo with my wife, who is Japanese. Even though we are a far distance (over 225 km to the south) from Fukushima, many people including my in-laws are freaking out based on the news converage and the overload of information. I wanted to ask, Rod, is there any possibility of dangerous radiation reaching Tokyo even in the worst case scenario? I appreciate your time in answering my question because it would help to calm my in-laws who are trying to say we should escape to the southern regions of Japan.

    1. @American in Tokyo – I hope that you and your family remain safe and calm in the face of what must be an unbelievably difficult situation.
      If you make a list of all of the things that should concern you at this point, the very last should be whether or not you might be exposed to dangerous radiation from any of the nuclear power plants that were affected by the accident.

      1. Thank you very much for the reply. The media is being quite irresponsible in this case, and even the French embassy has jumped on the fear mongering by saying a radioactive cloud could come over Tokyo, so people should stay away from Tokyo for a few days.
        My friend’s parents are even demanding he come home on a plane ASAP.
        Thanks for being a voice of reason.

        1. A radioactive “cloud” or fallout seems to be the most cited threat from anti-nuclear groups such as Greenpeace. The reference for that possibility is always and always has been Chernobyl. But Chernobyl was special in that it was a reactor consisting of large amounts of graphite, which can burn and DID burn, causing the black smoke and “cloud” and fallout over Europe. But modern reactors are no longer using graphite, so when there is a building made of concrete, steel and cooled with large amounts of water, what can happen? Even with a meltdown, not much.

  26. “Anyone who has ever watched as welder employs a torch to cut through a thick steel wall will understand just how much concentrated power it takes to melt several inches of steel. ” Alright, alright, but what if the steel layer is cracked by the force of the earthquake?

    1. “Alright, alright, but what if the steel layer is cracked by the force of the earthquake?”
      Heh … I think that we should stick to plausible scenarios.
      Given the geometry that we’re talking about, the properties of the steel, and the forces involved, “cracked by the force of the earthquake” simply isn’t going to happen.

  27. I strongly believe that posts like these have the potential to destroy the credibility of nuclear professionals. Any attempt to minimize the seriousness of the situation regarding nuclear safety in Japan are counter productive, insensitive, and ethically wrong. It is valid to provide facts regarding design, training, etc., but failing to acknowledge the seriousness of the issue or the potential consequences is inappropriate. Recall that many aspects of the defense in depth that we frequently cite have already failed to prevent core damage. The current situation is already at least the third worst nuclear incident in terms of public health and safety, is the first condition where multiple reactors have experienced core damage as the result of an event, and most of all, the conditions have not yet stabilized. The last line in the article states “I am quite willing to eat crow if it turns out I am wrong”. I believe it is time for the author to follow through on his commitment.

    1. @John Caves – you are free to express your opinion. It should come as no surprise that I think you are dead wrong.
      It is irresponsible to add unjustified stress and fear. Both of those are known killers and were the source of a major portion of the health effects of the Chernobyl disaster. It is also irresponsible to advise people to “evacuate” safe homes in a nation where there are already so many newly homeless people looking for shelter.
      No sane and knowledgable nuclear technologist would ever try to claim that “defense in depth” means that there will be no core damage. That philosophy of engineering is all about picking the things that you want to protect and being willing to sacrifice other things in order to make that protection work. The thing that we strive to protect with nuclear plant safety systems is the health of the general public. I am not backing down from my assertion that there will not be a single member of the public exposed to a radiation dose high enough to cause any negative health effects.
      I have no idea what your background is or what you know about nuclear engineering or plant operations. I can tell from your post, however, that it is highly unlikely that you have ever been in charge of a damage control team or a disaster recovery effort. Your inability to prioritize is quite apparent.

    2. As Rod has already pointed out, if you think that defense in depth equals preventing core damage, then you don’t understand defense in depth at all.
      The only credibility that is suffering here is yours. You’re talking like a fool.

    3. @John: I agree, obviously, with Rod and Brian on this one. In reading most of these posts, I have not detected ANY attempt on the part of the pro-nuke side to “minimize the seriousness” of the situation in Japan’s nuke plants. If anything, there has been a very robust discussion of what could potentially happen in any number of scenarios.
      So, with all due respect, I don’t see where you come off suggesting that “posts like these have the potential to destroy the credibility of nuclear professionals.” Moreover, you have CLEARLY misunderstood the very theme of the original post and therefore appear to stand guilty of your own accusations: “counter productive, insensitive, and ethically wrong.”
      It is, for example, “ethically wrong” to equate an argument based on “the least of their worries” with an attempt to minimize the seriousness of a potential nuclear accident. No one has suggested, as far as I can tell, that the situation in Japan is anything less than very serious in the context of nuclear power, nuclear plant operation, and possible effects on human health and the environment. As you suggest, we are dealing here with perhaps the first event to simultaneously damage multiple reactors, with core damage a possibility in more than one reactor.
      But the IMMEDIATE context we are in RIGHT NOW involves a natural disaster that, working its ruin on the built environment, may have already claimed up to 10,000 lives totally apart from the nuclear plant crisis.
      No one is suggesting that we SHOULD NOT worry about the damaged nuclear plants. All that has been suggested — principally because of the expertise and dedication of nuclear workers, the robustness of the plant designs, the stringent regulatory requirements, and the careful analysis that has been devoted to these scenarios — is that these nuclear plants are the LEAST of Japan’s worries at the moment, which seems so stunningly obvious in the face of the video coverage of the earthquake, that I’m amazed that Rod even had to write this article!
      Simply put, while the crisis in Japan’s nuclear fleet may be a bona fide and even potentially watershed event in the context of nuclear power, it is indeed the least worrisome aspect in the context of the overall disaster.
      And you should be careful, when raising the specter of “ethically wrong,” of appearing to endorse the opposite extreme (which is not how I read your post, by the way). Rod points out one of the lesser-known “fallouts” from Cherobyl — that is, the stress and fear inflicted on the population, which had a devastating effect in terms of unnecessary abortions, divorces, suicides, etc. (The famous environmentalist Stewart Brand has recently discussed this in his book about eco-pragmatism.)
      I ask you: In a situation already fraught with almost unimaginable stress and fear, such as the citizens of Japan now find themselves in, would you not consider it “ethically wrong” to add to that fear and stress unnecessarily?
      In one of my earlier posts, I mentioned an incident from the early days of cinema that has become something of a legend. It was a short film by the Lumiere brothers that depicted a train entering a station. This film, to an audience that was almost entirely ignorant of the new technology of cinema, induced a kind of panic. Seeing a locomotive apparently rushing toward them, some audience members jumped out of their seats and stampeded from the theater. I believe there were some injuries as a result.
      So fear and ignorance do have obvious health consequences.
      That is the argument being made here, and it is deeply ethical: It is simply the assertion that, knowing what we know at the moment, and given the history and nature of nuclear power, there are more important things to worry about right now, without adding more stress and fear on top of circumstances that obviously and immediately merit them.

  28. A list of un-professional media reporting should be made, e.g. this in Economic Times “Japan nuclear blast: Japan warns of 2nd explosion at N-plant; toll cross 10,000” http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics/nation/japan-nuclear-blast-japan-warns-of-2nd-explosion-at-n-plant-toll-cross-10000/articleshow/7692970.cms or Times of India “Explosion at Japan nuke plant, toll could rise to over 1,300” http://rss.feedsportal.com/c/33039/f/555218/p/1/s/2043a4be/l/0Ltimesofindia0Bindiatimes0N0Cworld0Crest0Eof0Eworld0CExplosion0Eat0EJapan0Enuke0Eplant0Etoll0Ecould0Erise0Eto0Eover0E130A0A0Carticleshow0C76873250Bcms/story01.htm

  29. I just want to say, for the record, that this blog, like so many others I have seen that involve nuclear power, once again demonstrates a fundamental disconnect in how we think and talk about this subject, and that’s a shame.
    The essential, operative concept here involves something like “relative risk,” familiar enough inside pro-nuke circles, but not always evident in anti-nuke arguments. Do pro-nukers rely too heavily on the concept of relative risk, or take it for granted, or abuse the concept? Are we too comfortable with it? I don’t know. But I don’t doubt that we could broaden our outlook or refine our use of this conceptual tool.
    I think it can be fairly argued, however, that the “other side” spends a lot of time avoiding this concept, and their habit of doing so makes productive dialogue difficult.
    It seems intellectually flimsy to fixate on the risks of nuclear power in a context as lividly tragic and gut-wrenching as the Japan quake. According to the logic being directed here against nuclear power, this unspeakable disaster should have us questioning almost the entire panoply of human endeavor: where and how we build our cities, how much of our public resources we devote to disaster mitigation and safety, the consequences of energy and chemical production of all kinds, and the restrictions we are willing to impose on that production in the interest of public safety, and on and on and on.
    I’m starting to wonder, given the vehemence of the fear and nuclear hysteria expressed in some of these posts, if nuclear technology itself has become a kind of alibi or receptacle for everything that scares us about modern technological life. We may end up having to face, in the aftermath of this disaster, the loss of 10,000 lives. And yet, in this blog, one poster at least has already expressed a willingness to consign this loss to an “act of God” — with one notable exception: nuclear power, which somehow falls comfortably into the realm of “things we can do something about.”
    As my nickname suggests, I once worked on the Yucca Mountain Project, which was to be the U.S.’s first deep geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel produced by civilian nuclear power production. My perspective, and my bias, have obviously been influenced by that fact, but I do make an effort to study and understand the arguments against the repository.
    Which brings me back to the issue of relative risk, and an event that made a big impression on me.
    Two events, actually. One was the broadcast of a Discovery Channel episode that dealt with so-called “glow trains.” This was a fanciful rendition of the proposed trains that would have transported containers of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste to Yucca Mountain. The image, a variation on the 55-gallon drum with glowing green liquid sloshing around inside it, was of a train roaring through a vulnerable landscape emitting deadly doses of radiation. Picture your typical freight train bathed in light from the Cerenkov effect, or something along those lines.
    Naturally, to the local population, which has been encouraged for decades to fear the Yucca Mountain Project, this image was close enough to their own notion of things to prompt an outpouring of angry letters to the editor and local commentary.
    Not too long before, however, an actual train tanker carrying chlorine had broken loose from its locomotive and careened through central Las Vegas at around 35 mph. By some miracle, this thin-walled tanker was safely brought to a halt. But no one was worried about such shipments, which occur every day in significant number, even after it was revealed that the University had done a disaster study years before in which the “worst-case scenario” involving a chlorine spill near an actual intersection in Vegas resulted in a potential death toll of around 70,000 people.
    To date, I have not heard a single call to end shipments of dangerous chemicals through the city, nor have I heard even a call for added safety measures. There wasn’t even really a public call for an investigation, though the railroad and NTSB did one as a matter of course.
    I think the same dynamic is at work here in this discussion about the Japan nuclear plant crisis. It has that same lack of perspective, of any sense of proportion, and it’s profoundly counter-productive. I may be as guilty in my pro-nuke bias as your typical anti-nuke person is in his or her own, but we all of us really have to get beyond lack of proportion.

    1. @YMP Refugee – When you say “this blog” are you referring to the comment thread or the original post that started the thread? If the former, I think I understand your point, if the latter, I am not so sure. I thought I made it quite clear that I agree wholeheartedly with your point about the fact that on the scale of the natural disaster, any possible issues at the country’s nuclear plants are a very low priority and are being well handled by the professional crews at the facilities. No one outside of the fences really needs to worry about being harmed – the people inside the fences have their hands full.
      As an aside – I am pretty sure I understand why there has been a 5 decade long, well funded, and reasonably well coordinated FUD campaign to scare the heck out of people out of people with regard to the use of nuclear energy. It is the only real threat to the wealth and power of the fossil fuel pushers. They simply cannot imagine a world where reliable, clean energy is abundant and where their customers can “take or leave” their product at will because they have readily available alternatives that can perform the same task.
      I have nothing against coal, oil and gas – if they are used in properly designed and operated machines, they can be quite useful and reasonably harmless, especially if their original extraction is also handled with appropriate care. On the other hand, in half-assed machines that do not fully process, filter and dispose of the waste products, burning any of them can cause a great deal of harm to many people who did not benefit from the use. There are plenty of extraction processes where it is also easy for the companies involved to take short-cuts that shift their costs and negative effects onto a large group of people who do not gain from the sale – think, for example about the extreme poverty of the people who live in the Niger Delta compared to the wealth that the extractors have accumulated.
      I was never a fan of the YMP. I have always considered that it was, at best, the right answer to the wrong question.
      It may have been a fun project to work on, but why bother? Reduce, reuse, and recycle should be as encouraged for the byproducts of nuclear fission as for all other industrial by-products.

  30. Rod, a question from one who knows little about nuclear power, but knows a little about engineering. It seems the Japanese are struggeling due to not being able to power their electric cooling pumps. In this type of situation, wouldn’t it be prudent to have the ability to run steam driven cooling pumps with manual control valves? Sometimes the more primitive, old technology is more reliable as long as you have the person turning the valves with a head on their shoulders.

    1. Henry,
      The reason you can’t run manual pumps is Heat, Radiation, Nuclear Contamination and Hydrogen exposure in unhealthy levels. In a normal stable reactor I suppose this is a plausible possibility. But during a catastrophe such as this, the Containment buildings temperatures, radiation levels, and Hydrogen levels are way to high for any human to survive. Essentially, manual ANYTHING with a Nuclear Reactor in an emergency situation such as this is a bad idea.

      1. Sure, I would agree you wouldn’t want your manual control valves to be operated within harm’s way. That is where you could rely on an engineer to devise a system where the operation of the manual control valves are operated safely from outside the containment building. The valve handle to open a steam main for steam driven coolant pumps could easily be located outside the containment building. This proposed primitive safety feature would be gold when total electrical power loss renders the multi-million dollar electrical controls useless as in the current situation. Sole reliance on electrical/electronic controls in an emergency situation such as this has proven to be a bad idea.

  31. (2/2)
    You also said “In the Gannon Station case, the hydrogen for the explosion came from the cooling system for the very large electrical generator. Maintenance workers apparently did not ensure that the system was properly purged before opening it for maintenance. My guess is that a similar generator cooling system was in use at Fukushima Daiichi. Considering the devastation that has occurred as a result of the earthquake and the tsunami, it would not be terribly surprising if the electrical generator cooling system developed some hydrogen leaks. From what I have read about the actions taken to cool down the nuclear fuel inside the reactor, which is inside a robust containment building, not a steel frame building, I am guessing that the explosion had nothing to do with the heat source that normally supplies the the steam to turn the turbines that turn that electrical generator.”
    Completely incorrect, they have no power to start their cooling systems, and if it was leaking it would have combusted much earlier then it did at a completely different area of the buildings. This is a direct result of the fuel rods over heating. the clad tubing contains Zirconium which strips water of oxygen at around 2200*F, therefore creating a build up of Hydrogen, alas why you have Hydrogen explosions. This is the most reliable sign to the operators that the fuel rods are over heating, when instrumentation has failed. As a result and response to this, they switched to sea water as a coolant because that explosion proved the fuel rods where exposed.
    You also said “During the course of events, there will almost certainly be a need for at least some of the the plant operators to carefully release non-condensible gases from their containment building. Some of those gases will be chemically inert “noble” gases that contain radioactive isotopes. No one will receive a high enough dose of radiation to cause any negative health effects.”
    This is obvious, but about 160 people already have attained a notable amount of radiation. This hints directly towards possible core damage and It will get progressively worse, so your other statement also saying “No one outside of the fences really needs to worry about being harmed – the people inside the fences have their hands full.” Is an extremely naive one by an “Expert”, knowing the possibilities. Your credibility is getting trashed with every little thing that continues to go wrong. Your right about all of these things being highly unlikely, but guess what buddy. YOU DO NOT HANDLE NUCLEAR ENERGY WITH PROBABILITY AND STATISTICS. If there is a problem (no matter how small), you FIX IT IMMEDIATELY end of story. Nuclear Energy is already on shaky grounds, so if you don’t want to look at it from a safety stand point, then look at it from a ENERGY stand point. Without Nuclear energy we will never be able to satisfy our planet’s energy needs and you know it. This event is already going to make the production of more Nuclear Plants unbelievably hard, after our 3 mile island incident we stopped making them here for over 30 YEARS! We don’t have another 30 years to rely on our current set up and I can only imagine what that number would jump to if they melted down. You better hope for your career and credibilities sake, that NONE of these reactors meltdown. Because if they do, the death, damage, environmental, Industrial (Energy wise) and economical catastrophe will fall onto your shoulders. People who know nothing about Nuclear Physics and engineering are relying on people like yourself to help guide them in the right direction (if they wanted to help with money, or resources). I respect your input and concern for the entirety of the situation, but I’m extremely disappointed in your priorities and approach towards it as a scientist.
    With the upmost respect,
    #NAME?

    1. Physicist,
      A couple of questions…
      1. How much total energy is given off during decay?
      2. Let’s assume the cooling water flow cannot be reestablished. Therefore, we can assume the reactor vessel is a closed system. Once all the water has been turned to steam and the reactor vessel failsl what will the pressure in the containment vessel be? I see this as a pressure, temperature, volume problem…
      3. How much specific heat*mass capacity is in the reactor vessel and in the containment structure? Is is sufficient to handle the decay energy without failing?
      The way I see it is that the two scary failure modes here are a over pressurization failure of the containment structure or a melt through of the containment structure. If these can’t happen even if the core fully melts what is the big deal?

      1. David,
        The pressure will continue to rise, it’s impossible to tell what it would be. It’s not the pressure that is the issue INITIALLY. It is fuel. Essentially the “Corium”. The pressure will become an issue if venting can’t be completed. They have had multiple instances already of the valve failing to open, a sign it is not functioning correctly. At this point, the total pressure will depend on how much life is left in the decay process, as well as what compounds are able to form based upon the internal conditions. The pressure will decide if the containment vessel holds the material if breaching occurs, or if we see release.
        Why is the pressure dangerous? The reactor vessel has 2 probabilities. 1.) If adequate cooling is present the Corium can harden and it will be contained within the reactors vessel. But if ENOUGH pressure is present upon the breach it can melt right through the containment vessel. If this occurs ejection of the corium mass can happen pretty readily.
        Zirconium for example. Which is present because of the cladding tubes – can combine with other metals at high temperatures. This when combined with water (what they are doing) will form Zirc Dioxide and Hydrogen. This exothermic reaction produces enough heat ALONE to sustain itself, even if you factor in decay. Why is this bad? HYDROGEN EMBRITTLEMENT
        You can also go into the fact that the concrete of the containment vessel when decomposed thermally creates water vapor and co2. the water vapor fuels the Hydrogen embrittlement etc. There is quite honestly a lot of things that COULD happen. A LOW risk no doubt, but it is not worth finding out.
        You may have saw Brians post below where he mentions Uranium melting point being pointless. When you mix Zirconium, Corium, and Uranium (Liquid Form) you get what is known as Zirconium – Uranium – Oxide. This creates and holds temperatures of over 2600*C, that’s just over 4700*F. MANY TIMES hotter then the steel pressure vessel. This has been known to form with as little as 30% of the core materials (They know this because it happened at Chernobyl) and it took only several seconds to melt entirely through. If we allow the Uranium to melt (by lack of cooling), we will risk massive core damage in which further supplies Corium (Zirconium and other metals) combined with pressure, we have the ingredients to make this.
        And to finish up your question. Yes the reactor vessel is sufficient enough to handle the decay energy. But this relies so heavily on many other factors it is hard to judge based on the information being released to the public. Basically without coolant and efficient venting, we risk the worst.
        – Physicist

    2. Gee, Rod – You’ve now been told off by an “astrophysics major at the University of Colorado.” Don’t you feel special?
      Dear “Physicist” (or rather “physicist in training;” you should thank god that you never had me as a professor):
      I suggest that you go back to your studies, since it is clear from what you have written that you have no clue what you are talking about. I further suggest that you look in the index of your textbooks for heat capacity, density, and particularly for the chapters on heat transfer by convection. Then, when you are finished with your textbook studies you can go to the library and research “probabilistic risk assessment” (PRA), since that is exactly how nuclear energy is “handled” these days — i.e., with probability and statistics.
      In fact, taking a couple of probability and statistics classes wouldn’t hurt you either. You should look into it.
      Sorry, but I have no “upmost respect” for you, kiddo,
      Brian

      1. Brian,
        Good for you :), apparently I am grateful to not have you as a professor.
        Heat Capacity, Density, and Heat transfer by convection when talking about what components of the problem. I’d be more then happy to help you understand :D. I’m assuming you mean the vessel material or the fuel involved?
        PRA – Yep I know this and yes I know this is how we deal with Nuclear Energy. And it has worked great for us the past few days huh? Your gullible enough to listen to private companies that have already falsified information in the past regarding REAL reactor conditions. Why do they do this? in fear of the Nuclear Program being shut down COMPLETELY. The reason we are in this situation (Nuclear situation) already is because you have forgotten the ramifications of working with Nuclear Energy in the first place.
        That’s ok, I still have respect for you Mr. Mature πŸ™‚
        -Physicist

        1. Mr. “Physicist”:
          You are entertaining, if nothing else. First you presume to lecture Rod on … well … the melting point of metallic uranium or something else that is not important at the moment, then you presume to lecture me on maturity and gullibility. Get back to me when you have something “REAL,” kid.
          Thanks and stay funny,
          Brian

          1. Brian,
            Your avoiding my question entirely. I’ll repeat it.
            Heat Capacity, Density, and Heat transfer by Convection when talking about what components of the problem. I’d be more then happy to help you understand :D. I’m assuming you mean the vessel material or the fuel involved?
            The melting point of Uranium isn’t important at the moment…? Are you kidding me…well…ok…
            Look you can sit here and flame all you want. Or we can talk some science and bring some justice to the issue at hand. I refuse to hold your hand while you avoid the conversation. I do appreciate your post though.
            – Physicist

  32. Dear Rod,
    I really hope you are never allowed near nuclear energy ever again. I respect your expertise, and your experience towards the subject but you know VERY LITTLE about the Nuclear and Particle physics it seems. I’m a Astrophysics major at the University of Colorado @ Boulder, and have done my fair share of work and study involving Nuclear Facility design and Nuclear and Particle Physics especially.
    First, the majority of your post revolves around the Engineering of the reactor’s containment defenses basically making this situation a fail safe. In an ideal situation, I agree they are designed to contain these issues. BUT, there are a few CRUCIAL things happening that make this situation very different.
    power
    Instrumentation
    -Noticeable Pump & Valve failures
    Quantity of Coolant
    and possible structural damage (via earthquake, tsunami, and hydrogen explosions)
    You said “The almost certain scenario at all of the nuclear plants in Japan is that all of the hazardous material will be contained within the carefully engineered and constructed reactor pressure vessels and the surrounding containment building that were installed before the plants were ever started.” you also said “However, the fact that even moderately well trained nuclear specialists may not fully grasp is that the melted fuel is only generating enough heat to melt itself; it is not generating sufficient heat to melt through the thick steel pressure vessel where it resides.”
    There are MULTIPLE issues with these statements. First, IF the Nuclear fuel melts into the pressure vessel, given the issues they are already facing, it is almost certain for the vessel to fail. Uraniums melting point is around 2100*F, the melting point of steel is around 2500*F given what alloy it is. You said “…it is not generating sufficient heat to melt through the thick steel pressure vessel where it resides.” This couldn’t be ANYMORE WRONG, this alone proves you are ignorant to how the contents of a Fuel Rod react with one another when left un-cooled, there very design is to produce MASSIVE amounts of heat. Along with the other Nuclear by products, elements and contaminants it will raise the temperatures WELL over the melting point of steel if left uncooled, combining this with the INSANE amounts of pressure build up will pretty much seal the deal. They have no power to run any sort of systems therefore they will not be able to attend to this if it reaches this point. To go ahead and add to the situation, as these fuels combust the explosion risk will also rise DRASTICALLY.
    You also mentioned the containment building acting as the “Safety Blanket” in this situation. Being the last fail safe available essentially. Again another example of you factoring out WAY to many integers and variables. I’ll explain. These containment buildings (1970’s specs) are rated at a most of 200-220 PSI. The pressure vessel is ALREADY facing pressures of 117 PSI, and that’s WITH venting and SOME cooling. Not to mention that the Uranium hasn’t fully become a liquid yet, therefore the gas production and temperature isn’t even close to its prime. IF it gets through the pressure vessel into the containment building it’s time to evacuate entirely. Venting will not be possible at the level required to keep it stable.

  33. Rod or other knowledgeable person…
    Rod states, “Avoiding the China Syndrome was not a matter of luck – the scenario is imaginary and only works in fiction. Physics and material science make it impossible.”
    He doesn’t say specifically but are nuclear plants capable of containing all of the decay energy by allowing the reactor vessel and containment structure to heat up but not melt through? Said another way, is there sufficient energy absorption capacity (mass time specific heat) of entire containment facility to handle the energy given off during decay?
    His comments makes me believe that is the case, thanks for the feedback!
    -David

    1. @David – good question. Yes, the materials in the pressure vessel, the primary coolant, the coolant that the operator add, the structures inside the primary system, the foundations on which the structures reside, and the containment that surrounds all of that has enough specific energy absorption capacity to handle the energy given off by radioactive decay.
      That statement is the basis on which I have been able to confidently (some call it arrogantly) state that there is no danger to the public. That Science article that I keep referring to started with an assumption that the core was melted and that there was a deliberate attempt by attackers to breach the containers. The final conclusion is clear and should provide comfort to those who have plenty of other things to worry about.
      https://atomicinsights.com/pdf_files/SciencePaper-9.02.pdf

  34. I used to agee with you, and this should not severely effect the state of nuclear power in the world, but BY GOD, didn’t they include earthquake and following tsunami in the contingency plan?! My smug insight is stuck in my throat with recent development

    1. Yes, they included earthquake and tsunami in the contingency plans. That is why the pressure vessel remain intact, the plant piping remains intact, and the fuel pools remain full of water that is slowly evaporating off.
      The designers, however, could not build a wall of infinite height, so they had to choose a height based on the record of wave heights along with some conservatism. They were not expecting a 7 meter wave because that had never happened before anywhere near the facility.
      Now, what about all of the rest of the infrastructure that was washed away by the wave? Do they get a pass. What about the refinery that remained on fire as of late yesterday, the last time I looked?

  35. For what it’s worth I thank Rod as a source of valuable information, analysis and thank him for helping anybody who wants to learn about nuclear energy. This horrible disaster has a positive side. It’s allowing more people including myself to more fully understand what has been and will continue to be the one source of energy that prevents us from totally ruining the planet and also learning about the people who care very little about the planets future. If you’ve gotten this far you need to know that coal, natural gas and oil are the main contributors to climate change. Pronuclear people accept the idea that renewable energy is not a practical way to replace the fossil fuels. The future depends on the success of nuclear energy.

  36. Several observations of the events in Japan so far:
    1. The plants survived and shutdown from power a magnitude 9.0 earthquake (12.5 times the design basis)
    2. No mention has been made concerning the mitigating actions at the japanese reactor sites to deal with an Station Blackout (SBO) event. Did the plant have an alternate alternating current SBO feed, e.g alternate and procedures to deal with SBO? It may be that the SBO feeds were also lost due to the tsunami, but I have heard no mention of this in the press or from any other source. The accident at fukushimi is entirely due to SBO.
    3. Did the fukushima plants have a hardened wetwell vent installed equivalent to that mandated in the US by NRC Generic letter GL 89-16? I think not. if this vent was installed, then as the accident progressed and reached further into a severe accident, venting of the primary containment would have gone to the plant stack and not into the secondary containment/reactor building. A hydrogen detonation would then have caused an interesting fireball from the plant stack, but not destruction of the refuel floor. Note containment venting is the correct action to prevent possible containment failure upon sustained loss of containment cooling.
    4. The primary containment integrity has been maintained on all units. This is in spite of overpressurization to 2-time or more the containment design pressure. If Tepco was following US emergency operating procedures (EOPs) and severe accident guidelines (SAMGs0, they would have vented the primary containment once the pressure reached 60 psig.
    5. It does not appear to me that the japanese had systematic training or use of EOPs and SAMGs. Although they have taken SAMG actions such as flooding the containment with borated water, their actions appear to me as uncoordinated, e.g. not via immediate action through the systematic procedures (sorry if I sound harsh here)
    6. There is a significant radiological hazard from the fuel pool on unit 4. There are dose rates of several Rem/hr or milliseiverts/hr (sorry I have trouble with international units of radiation). This can only be true if there has been a significant loss of water shielding in the spent fuel. My observation of the fire damage pictures of unit 4 indicates that there is significant structural damage to the reactor building below the elevation of the refuel floor. This was caused by an extremely hot fire. How the fire started is speculation. However, the plant was in an outage and during an outage there are actually a lot more combustibles in the reactor building than during normal operation. Plants normally mitigate these fire hazards with fire watches. These fire watches would have evacuated the building after the earthquake.
    BTW: if anyone is interested with my professional qualifications for the above statements: i have 31 years in the nuclear industry as startup engineer, design engineer, project manager for plant uprates and engineering manager, ex-navy nuke submarine officer with engineer qualification and formally certified senior reactor operator at 3 BWR sites

    1. @someoneonyahoo – Very useful contribution. I have struggled a bit with the actual condition of the used fuel pool (sorry, I just cannot call it ‘spent’ thought I know that is the official term).
      My best analysis – with the help of some friends – is that there is indeed a significantly lower than normal water level combined with the loss of a significant portion of the shielding normally provided by the thick concrete walls of the pool on what appears to be one side of the pool. The indications that I have seen, however, support my contention that the pool liner is intact and not leaking.
      The level in pool cannot be explained by mere evaporation, but if you remember that the accident sequence in this case started with a rather large earthquake that probably lasted a significant period of time. It is likely that a fair amount of water would have sloshed out of the pools at the very beginning of the sequence. That was one of the few reported events at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plants that experienced a large earthquake in 2007 – the fuel pools sloshed out a meter or two of water during the quake. There were people at that time that worried about the radiological impact of spilling a bit of water from a used fuel pool – but that was a ridiculous concern. There just is not much activity in the water of a used fuel pool, certainly not enough to cause any worries.
      If the pool starts with a substantially lower water level and then does not get any make up for 5 days and has one side where the only barrier left is the (rather thick) steel liner, there is sufficient explanation for an elevated radiation level and the need to add water via a well aimed fire hose from a shielded location on the ground.
      Dropping water from a helicopter, while providing interesting video and an opportunity to claim you are doing something is not at all useful. A fully loaded CH-47 will take off with less than 9,000 liters of water. It will lose some of that water during the flight. When it tries to release that water from a few hundred feet, it will create a large cloud of water that will be sprayed around from the downdraft. Little to none of that water will hit the top of a fuel pool in a building whose roof is still intact.
      While not as professionally qualified from a nuclear point of view, I did qualify and serve as the engineer officer of a submarine. In that position, I led a fair number of damage control teams – both in practice drills and in real life casualties that required actual use of a fire hose.

      1. I agree entirely with your assessment that there was probably significant loss of inventory in the fuel pool storage pool due to sloshing caused by the earthquake. Whether there was a loss of structural integrity of the pool (ok, a crack) and that has caused further loss of inventory is frankly immaterial at this time for correcting the problem and gets directly to my point concerning the presence and implementation of symptomatic emergency operating procedures (EOPs). EOPs have simple control goals: ensure power/reactivity control, ensure core cooling, ensure containment integrity, and minimize the release of radioactive material. Also part of the premise (and training) in the EOPs is that, if there are multiple indications for ensuring the before-stated controls then the worst case indication is used (assume that the “good/happy” indication is erroneous). These EOP premises have first priority for the fuel in the reactor, however, control of all radioactive material is necessary. For unit 4 at Fukushima, my understanding is that the reactor was shutdown, the reactor core was empty and the primary containment was open. Therefore, the primary control goal shifts to the fuel in the spent fuel pool. This long-winded statement is nothing more to further explain my premise that the japanese plants ARE NOT necessarily the same as the plants in other countries that use BWR MK-1 containment technology. What is available to the operators is a combination of the original plant design, implementations of modifications to the original design, procedural controls and training.

      2. This hyperlink shows an interesting picture of the F4 reactor building.
        http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/japan/8389009/Japan-earthquake-Fukushima-Fifty-risking-their-lives-to-avert-nuclear-disaster.html
        The green object in the picture is the refueling bridge. The lighter green object that is above the refueling bridge appears to be the reactor building crane. It is hard to discern if the bridge is parked over the spent fuel pool or over the reactor dryer/separator pit, but during an outage, it would most likely be over the fuel pool. Only speculation on my part, but appears the green reflection below the refueling bridge is water, which would indicate that there is indeed water in the pool.

  37. However, the predictions in this post have so far been born out. Even with the worst that nature can throw, and without perfection in response efforts, and without any off site power for a week, there is still no indication that anyone outside the fence of the plant will be exposed to any radiation doses high enough to cause a negative health effect – even over the long term (Rod Adams).
    Rod

    1. @EL – one of the indications of a weak argument is when it begins by accusing your opponent of being in denial.
      I have not denied much at all here. From the very beginning, I have accepted the fact that machinery is not perfect, that it is going to take a long time and a lot of human effort to minimize damage to the plants. I have acknowledged that some plants might very well have been damaged beyond repair.
      What I continue to assert is that there is 40 + years worth of science and engineering with a lot of conservative assumptions laid in to establish enough layers of defense that no radiation levels that are hazardous to the public will be released.
      Are the radiation levels that you quote sustained, or are they peaks that pass rather quickly? I am pretty certain they are the latter, caused by the inevitable release of radioactive noble gases. (See my description of what I expected would happen. Those releases are a known part of the accident effect and they have little impact on human health. They are roughly the equivalent of stepping out into the hot sun for a brief period of time. You will feel hot, the suns rays will feel intense, but if you go back inside, you will not have received a sun burn.
      Radiation is not something to fear, but something to understand and use for the betterment of human beings.

      1. @Rod. They are measuring at remote locations twice a day. The readings at Namie are two day consecutive readings at +/- 140 microsieverts. Measurements in contaminated milk and spinach at 90 miles (containing iodine-131 and cesium-137) are not “peak levels” from noble gases. Units 1, 2, 3, and most likely 4 are damaged beyond repair (with extensive seawater, earthquake, tsunami, building integrity, fuel damage, and vessel containment damage in many of the units). Radiation levels today at the site measured 313 microsieverts at the West Gate, and 2972 microsieverts north of Service Building (with respect to environmental damage). It’s certainly clear to me that so much water is currently being sprayed over the site that radiation contamination will be widespread, and Fukushima Daiichi will never again be operated as a working power plant!

        1. EL: “It’s certainly clear to me that so much water is currently being sprayed over the site that radiation contamination will be widespread, and Fukushima Daiichi will never again be operated as a working power plant!”
          Oh, I seriously doubt that. Even the Chernobyl plant continued operating for years after the 1986 accident.

          1. @Brian. Oh, I seriously doubt that. (Brian Mays).
            Authorities in Japan say once the emergency is over “the entire complex will be scrapped.” I would hope in Japan and the US we have a little bit more tougher standards for decommissioning and site clean-up than they do in post-soviet Ukraine? It took 14 years and $1 billion to complete clean-up at Three Mile Island, and the same amount of time to fully shut down the remaining power plants at Chernobyl (in the midst of a very challenging contaminated environment, subsequent reactor fires, a great deal of international concern and public pressure, and more). They are working towards a replacement containment structure at Reactor #4 at a cost of $1.4 billion, and regular decommissioning of remaining equipment by 2020 at the earliest.

            1. EL – Wow, I figured you’d be the last person who would rely on Fox News for your information.
              The decision will be made by the Japanese. They might ultimately choose scrap the entire site, but I think it’s premature to know today what they eventually will do. They’re still in the middle of a huge humanitarian crisis, so I’d take any “official” announcements with a healthy grain of salt. I don’t think that they are in any position to evaluate exactly how damaged the site is right now.
              They still have two perfectly good reactors at the Fukushima-1 site (units 5 and 6), which are physically located some distance from the four reactors that recently experienced the well-publicized difficulties.
              It’s funny that you bring up Three Mile Island. Don’t you know that the Three Mile Island complex is still producing electricity today?

              1. Don’t you know that the Three Mile Island complex is still producing electricity today? (Brian Mays).
                I do know that. Perhaps another good indication of the “defense in depth” advantages of a stronger and larger containment structure, and keeping water under pressure to maximize heat transfer and minimize steam production: a smaller hydrogen explosion did not release radioactive elements to the environment, and there was no spent fuel storage issue at TMI. Although “operator error” was a concern at TMI. Fox News was the only network to keep their previously scheduled interview with Chu (I probably wouldn’t have watched otherwise). All the others cancelled their invitations to cover evolving situation in Libya.

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