(UPDATING) NEWS OPEN THREAD II – Japan’s Tsunami “Fallout”: failing reactors, and the entry of politics

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Read OPEN THREAD I here.


While there is no shortage of heartbreak and disaster to focus on in the wake of Japan’s (now upgraded) 9.1 magnitude earthquake, yesterday morning my thoughts concentrated on what was then a quiet story in the background… the problem with then one of Japan’s many nuclear power facilities that supply about 30% of their needs.

By yesterday eve, the story started gaining traction as rising radiation levels were detected at the adjacent Fukushima #2 facilities. Because the cooling back up generator systems had failed, the pressure was building in the core and plans were made to open valves, releasing some of that pressure. Apparently, the plant’s officials decided to use seawater as a coolant, which would indicate they had written off the 40 yr old plant’s functional future, as it would corrode the metal innards.

Despite efforts, in the US’s west coast mid-night hours, the Fukushima #1 facility exploded, blowing the roof off one building and destroying exterior walls where the troubled reactor was housed.

Only the skeletal frame remains of the boxlike housing of the No. 1 reactor at
Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear station after an explosion. KYODO PHOTO

While some media (such as the NYTs above) quoted officials that said with the explosion came an abatement of some of the radiation levels, it also led to others, expressing increasing concern about an imminent “meltdown”.

First, to put some perspective on the extreme event of a meltdown, we non-nuclear engineers need a better handle on how these facilities are constructed and what fail safe measures are in place by design. The BBC article today provides a basic working visual for we non-nuclear engineers, plus a diagram of a boiling water reactor system. It explains how the pressure could build as a result of a failed cooling system, and also explains that if the actual metal containment vessel that actually houses the cores were intact, that radiation should be contained.

And the big fear within the anti-nuclear movement, as used in the film The China Syndrome, is that the multiple containment of a molten core might not work either, allowing highly radioactive and toxic metals to burrow into the ground, with serious and long-lasting environmental impacts – total meltdown.

However, the counter-argument from nuclear proponents is that the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island did not cause any serious effects.

Yes, the core melted, but the containment systems held.

And at Chernobyl – a reactor design regarded in the West as inherently unsafe, and which would not have been sanctioned in any non-Soviet bloc nation – the environmental impacts occurred through explosive release of material into the air, not from a melting reactor core.

According to Chief cabinet secretary Chief Yukio Edano, the reactor’s containment vessel was not damaged by the explosion and remains intact.

But the world is getting some mixed messages INRE the reactor status. The facility’s owner, Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), insists that ther reactor is in “subcritical” mode, while Ryohei Shiomi, an official at Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission, is quoted as having said a meltdown was possible. The latter possibility is heightened when Japanese authorities steadily widen the evacuation area, and prepare to distribute iodine as a protection against radiation exposure. As of today, some media have been reporting the same news, but with a more hysterical tabloid headline, “3000 flee Japan’s nuclear RED ALERT”.

Granted the last thing Japanese officials need is to pile on mass panic over the reactors. I would say that headlines like UK’s tabloid, “The Sun”, uses above doesn’t help… but then, I doubt the Japanese are busy reading The Sun these days. Japan is a nation already stressed to maximum in resources, grief, and facing possibly decades of rebuilding. There are cities and agricultural areas that were virtually wiped clean by the tsunami. And now with a large portion of their power in the state of emergency, the rescue and recovery effort is nothing short of a precipitous climb.

The BBC is more concerned it’s a TEPCO “cover up”, noting that thus far, “…the whole incident so far contains more questions than answers.” Even the NYTs above noted what they find to be inconsistencies, and suggest that TEPCO’s facilities are fraught with a past filled with safety violations.

Yes, folks… while the body count still rises, search and rescue commences for the thousands missing, all amidst high magnitude aftershocks, politics and energy agenda has begun to enter the picture. And they are going to use TEPCO’s plant as their poster child.

I suggest that this story is not dissimilar to the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf. It’s dangerous to allow catastrophic events to dictate energy policy and direction. US oil and shale reserves are plentiful, and provide inexpensive energy for consumers. Nuclear power is clean, also affordable, and if Japan can demonstrate containment and success – even in such an earthquake volatile region of the world – then abandoning this type of energy using fear tactics is simply despicable.

For me? I’m following this story not because of the politics I knew would be interjected along the line, but because it is one more heinous event on top of what they are already having to deal with. Like the Deepwater Horizon, I’m going to leave aside the smearing of companies, and cheer on successful containment, solutions and possibly new design ideas for future safeguards. Japan doesn’t need to lose any more if it’s citizens to radiation exposure.


UPDATE 3-15-11 10:28AM: From Reuters live blog updates:

Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told a news conference that there was a “possibility of core damage” at unit 2. “The damage is estimated to be less than 5 pct.”

UPDATE 3-15-11 8:13am PAC Time: A Japan Times 3-15-11 article, is putting out some radiation levels.

But fears were heightened Tuesday over whether a containment vessel might be compromised, after the suppression chamber of the No. 2 reactor’s containment vessel failed.

A small explosion took place at the No. 2 reactor, causing partial damage to the chamber. Attached below the vessel, the suppression chamber’s function is to cool the steam flowing from the vessel and thus relieve its internal pressure.

At 10:22 a.m., a radioactivity monitoring post near the No. 3 reactor showed 400 millisieverts per hour, 400 times the amount an ordinary person is exposed to in a year.

The figure was 100 millisieverts per hour near the No. 4 reactor and 30 millisieverts per hour between the No. 2 and No. 3 reactors.

The radiation leak prompted the government to order residents between a radius of 20 km to 30 km to stay indoors to prevent exposure. People living within a 20 km radius have already been ordered to evacuate.

“There is no doubt it is an amount that would have (a harmful) effect on the human body,” Edano said. “But that is the amount right near the leak. The farther away, it drops.”

Radiation exposure of 7,000 to 10,000 millisieverts per hour is considered a lethal dose, said an official at the Institute of Applied Energy. A millisievert is 1,000 microsieverts.

UPDATE 3-15-11 8:05A PAC Time: Below is the status of the four reactors as TEPCO’s Fukushimi Daiichi site as of 9PM 3-14-11, Pacific Time.

UPDATE 3-14-11 9:21pm PAC Time: Reuters live blog updates say that radiation levels in Saitama near Tokyo are reported to be 40 times normal levels: (Kyodo quoting local government)

UPDATE 3-14/11 7:54PM PAC Time: While I’ve been absent from FA for the past day and a half, taking care of what I would hesitate to call domestic house “emergencies”, the FA community as thrown in interesting tangents and data in my absence. Thank you all.

As of this moment, CNN is reporting of the newest two explosions. Three of the six TEPCO reactors are experiencing different levels of failure, and the Japanese authorities have widened the area to include anyone within 30 kilometers of the power plants should remain inside, as the levels between all the released emissions in the air have reached a level they describe as being enough to “affect human health”. Hard to determine what that means, but it’s obvious that between the damage, and the difficulty of keeping the cores cooled, and maintaining the existing flooding of seawater and release of pressure in each of the reactors.

At this moment, Units 1-3 have different degrees of failures, and all three have experienced explosions. Units 1 and 3 have been overheating. Unit 2 is the latest entry to the mix, and it is uncertain at this update if Unit 2’s latest explosion has damaged the containment vessel. Heretofore, all officials have been adamant that neither Unit 1 or Unit 3’s containment vessel was compromised.

At this moment, I’ve been having a problem accessing TEPCO’s press release site. It is, no doubt, overloaded, and becomes a hit and miss as to when you can get in.

According to a late posting Reuters article, Japan is asking the US for additional equipment to help keep the core cooling process stable.

UPDATE: 3-12-11 9:45PM PAC time: MSNBC reports the Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano says the cooling process for one of the crippled reactors is going well. It should take about 10 days to totally fill the reactors containement vessel with seawater. In the interim, the 2nd reactor with a cooling problem seems to be following the same procedures as the first… release of pressure, then injection of seawater and boric acid.

The Japanese authorities have classified the event at Fukushima Daiichi Unit 1 as a level 4 “accident with local consequences” on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES). The scale is used to consistently communicate the safety significance of events associated with sources of radiation. The scale runs from 0 (deviation — no safety significance) to 7 (major accident).

The 1979 Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania was a level 5 (“accident with wider consequences”). The 1986 Chernobyl disaster was a level 7 (“major accident).

UPDATE: 3-12-11 9:35PM: Ah yes… Never let it be said a Democrat Congress member with an agenda to pursue allows even someone else’s crisis to go to waste. Already MA Rep Edward Markey, the senior Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, warns that the US is vunerable to the same “…nuclear accident that has sent waves of fear through northeast Japan.” Waves of terror? Over the reactor? The Japanese, quite used to earthquakes, are more wary of the tsunamis. I see no “waves of terror” INRE the power plants, save in the Congressman’s mind.

UPDATE: 3-12-11 9:28PM PAC Time: TEPCO, owner of the crippled reactors in the news, has their own press release site. Per their news, all six units of their Daiichi Nuclear Power Stations have been shut down. Three are due to regular inspections.

UPDATE: 3-12-11 3:23pm PAC Time: Personal comment… Wolf Blitzer is an ass! The Japanese Ambassador is *not* an enemy of his people, or a war criminal. Blitzer, in his quest for some breaking catastrophic news, demonstrates he knows nothing about Japanese culture, their approach to crisis, and emphasizes he’s simply a news whore.

UPDATE: 3-12-11 3:04PM PAC Time: CNN’s Wolf Blitzer is blazing headlines that a “possible meltdown is in progress”, and trying to get the Japanese Ambassador to “admit” that it’s happening. Ambassador reiterates that the container vessel is, indeed still in place…. Mata Musing: do your best, guys. Get it under control, and forget the pundits trying for disaster headlines!

UPDATE: 3-12-11: Three tested positively for radiation exposure. Levels not mentioned. From CNN live blog news:

[1:20 p.m. ET, 3:20 a.m. Tokyo] Authorities have begun radiation exposure testing around Fukushima prefecture where three people – randomly selected out of a group of 90 – have tested positive for radiation poisoning, according to Japan’s government broadcaster, NHK.

UPDATE: 3-12-11 11:38AM: A CNN report ID’s the 2nd plant with cooling trouble as Fukushima Daini , located in a different town in the same prefecture.

Most of the concern initially had centered around the first Daiichi plant, which Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters on Friday “remains at a high temperature” because it “cannot cool down.”

That plant and three others were shut down after the quake hit around 2:46 p.m. Friday local time, prompting authorities in Tokyo to declare a state of atomic power emergency.

Three of the Daiichi reactor’s six units shut down because of the earthquake, while operations at the other three were out due to “regular inspection,” the Tokyo Electric Power Co. said in a news release Saturday.


The trouble the Daiichi plant happened after its once operating reactors had been successfully shut down, Edano said.

UPDATE 3-12-11, 11:29A PAC time: The French Nuclear Safety Authority says current winds make it likely any radioactive fall out would drift out over the Pacific.

“Apparently the situation is serious,” Mr Lacoste said, adding that his team was receiving incomplete information from Japan because of the number of people tied up with managing the crisis.


Again, as on the last thread, I so appreciate all news updates you all add. This is a fast moving story that requires the latest updates that you will run across. And it’s much easier to have the sequence of events in one or two posts, as opposed to several outdated posts over time. Besides, I can’t do it all without you!

Vietnam era Navy wife, indy/conservative, and an official California escapee now residing as a red speck in the sea of Oregon blue.

123 Responses to “(UPDATING) NEWS OPEN THREAD II – Japan’s Tsunami “Fallout”: failing reactors, and the entry of politics”

  1. 52


    @ John Cooper:

    70 died, and many thousands were exposed to radioactive elements that statistics have shown have lead to cancers and other illnesses. 336,000 people had to be permanently relocated and a huge area of agricultural land was made unusable.

  2. 53


    COMPARE to their long time without any life threatening, the NUCLEAR POWER PLANT STILL have a good name as life beneficial compare to life killers, if you consider EARTHQUAKE or TSUMANI ecetera

  3. 54


    @ilovebeeswarzone: not sure your point. if you are comparing natural risks vs. man made ones, we choose to build reactors. (so we can choose how safe to make them, where to place them etc). We do not control earthquakes or tsunamis… of course Japan has the strongest regulations for construction… and it looks like that paid off for Tokyo, but not for the areas were the tsunami hit. no doubt they will look for solutions for protecting populations from that as well.

  4. 55


    ONE area that puzle me is that we havent master the dependance we are under of ELECTRICITY,
    we have evolve the technology, but with the need of the connect to, even as we use batterys they need to be connected to recharge or wont do the work for long

  5. 56


    @John Cooper:

    I’ll answer your question when you answer mine.

    Fair enough. To date, we’ve had no U.S. fatalities in the United States owing to the catastrophic failure of a nuclear reactor. So far as I know, Three Mile Island is as close as we’ve come. An earthquake affecting nuclear power stations in Illinois could change that picture very quickly. Any number of unforeseen events might. Any high-technology device will eventually fail.

    Chernobyl utilized a nuclear reactor technology that many experts consider inherently unsafe. That technology might compare with currently used U.S. reactor technology as currently used U.S. technology would compare with thorium reactors. You’ve got inherently hazardous on one end of the continuum and safe on the other. Safe is definitely better.

    Only 50 deaths are officially attributed to the Chernobyl accident. Some of those people essentially sacrificed themselves knowingly and died fairly soon as a result of their efforts to bring the reactor accident under control. The longer-term, unofficial death count includes from 50,000 to 100, 000 radiation-exposed clean-up workers who had died as of 2006. Some have projected up to a million may eventually die prematurely, with radiation-induced cancers as a primary cause. Large surrounding areas were rendered uninhabitable for years due to lingering environmental radiation. People have moved back in spite of the warnings.


  6. 57

    John Cooper


    I read that “30 lives were lost during the accident or within a few months after it. Figures from the Ukraine Radiological Institute suggest that over 2,500 deaths were caused by the Chernobyl accident.” I read where the land around Chernobyl is still contaminated with Cesium. Whether it was 30 lives or 70 lives, it shouldn’t have happened, but put it in perspective, please.

    Having worked in the industry, I know that a lot of safety improvements could be made here in the U.S., but consider the number of lives which would be lost every year without nuclear electricity. By all means, live off the land for a year and see how you like it.

    Chernobyl was a horrible disaster, but to compare Soviet-style nuclear technology with plants designed by free people is like comparing apples and prunes.

  7. 58

    John Cooper


    That was a worthy reply until you started quoting from some commie youth organization.

    Yes, there are risks associated with nuclear power, just like there are with everything else in life. Many people are killed in oil/coal/gas fired power plants, but it doesn’t make the news. It’s certainly possible that bad things can happen at nuclear plants as are happening to nuclear plants in Japan at the moment. The response of a rational person would be to mitigate the risks and press on.

    The risks of nuclear power are no reason to commit suicide as a society, which seems to be the goal of the left these days. No coal – no oil – no nuclear – no electricity – back to the dark ages.

  8. 59


    That was a worthy reply until you started quoting from some commie youth organization.

    Seems appropriate. It was a commie nuclear power plant. They also built crap automobiles and toasters. *S*

  9. 60



    Greg, before I make any other comment in this topic, let me tell you a little about myself. I joined the Navy in 1989, and spent 10.5 years in the Navy Nuclear field as a Machinist’s Mate. After the Navy, I worked at a company that did service work at some Illinois nuclear power plants.

    I cannot agree with this statement you made:

    The current Japanese accident should give us pause concerning expansion of the prevailing uranium-based nuclear power industry.

    Uranium is used in currently operating plants, including those within the Navy, for many reasons, but not because, as you said, “we wanted the hot by-productions of uranium fission for nuclear weapons.”
    The truth is that Uranium was used because that is what was being researched at the time at the University of Chicago first, and then elsewhere. As to it’s use, there are several types of reactors out there, still in use in the US, and differing fuels are used based on desired results and the type of reactor the fuel is loaded into. The Navy uses pressurized-water reactors, loaded with Highly Enriched Uranium, or U-235 which occurs in roughly .7% of all naturally occurring Uranium.

    Other reactors use naturally occurring Uranium, which is composed mainly of U-238. Still others use Plutonium, and there are a couple more that are more experimental than anything.

    Your Thorium reactor quote is as follows:

    The nuclear reactor problems we’re watching in Japan wouldn’t be happening with a thorium fuel cycle reactor. You simply don’t have the possibility of a core meltdown. Nor do you wind up with any high-level nuclear waste to dispose of.

    Do you know, or understand why Thorium would be used? Probably not, so I’ll explain. Thorium is naturally occurring, mainly as TH232, and in pretty large quantities, as you say. Unfortunately, this is as right as you get in your post.

    Th232 is loaded into “slow” reactors, typically with a graphite moderator, in order to ‘breed’ U233. This U233 is then moved into a conventional style pressurized water reactor, or a boiling water reactor, and as such, would have the same inherent risks associated with any other reactor using Uranium as fuel.

    Your statement that a Thorium core cannot melt down is incorrect. A loss of the moderator, such as happened in Japan in their Uranium based reactors, removes the cooling aspect of the reactor, and thus the high temps from left-over fission builds heat until the material itself reaches it’s melting point. Thorium reactors are typically loaded with a thorium-oxide, which has a melting point of about 3300F. However, depending on the “age” of the material, much of it may already be converted to Uranium, which generally has a melting point of just over 2000F. In short, depending on the fuel makeup at the time, it can still meltdown.

    Nor do you wind up with any high-level nuclear waste to dispose of.

    Oh, but you do! The by-products of the fission of Uranium, which comes from the Thorium, is highly radioactive, with a very long half-life. Fortunately, it is not a large quantity of mass, and indeed, the by-products themselves can be reworked into other product uses, and the left over amount of Uranium can be reprocessed into new fuel pellets, rods and such. France currently does this instead of sending the spent fuel straight to long-term holding facilities.

    As for the Japan nuclear incident, the main issue was the failing of the cooling pumps, causing a large spike in pressure to the point the vapor released violently. Remember, their reactors are the boiling water type reactor, which produces steam straight from the coolant, sent to turbines to make electricity, condensed and sent back into the reactor to make more steam. While this style reactor is more efficient than a pressurized-water reactor, it is not safer.
    Here is a link to see simplified diagrams of each:

    Now, in the US, about 2/3 of the civilian power plants are of the PWR(pressurized water reactor) type. In a PWR, while a loss of coolant pumps can occur, the likelihood of a Japan type incident is much smaller, mainly due to the pressure vessel controlling pressure inside of the primary system, and the steam generators(a heat exchanger between primary and steam systems) continually taking away heat from the primary coolant.

    You said:

    We shouldn’t let it be used to put us off nuclear energy in general, however. Nuclear power is an essential component of America’s energy future.

    I completely agree with both of those statements. Nuclear power is a very good way supplying the necessary electrical power to the country, both at present and in the future. The problem is that it takes so long to build a plant from start to finish, mainly due to the lawsuits by environmentalist types. A true commitment to nuclear energy would help streamline the process, making the plants cheaper to build. At present, Nuclear plants cost many, many times more than your typical coal plant, even while the operating costs are much, much lower.

    Thorium might be an answer to future fuel possibilities in nuclear plants, but your assertion that it’s safer than what is here already is simply not true.

    BTW, Three Mile Island’s nuclear “accident” ended in a miniscule release of radiation which was entirely contained within the containment building. One safety system failed to perform as designed, but others did, rendering the whole “accident” to be nothing of real note.

  10. 61


    @johngalt, #60:

    I’m glad we agree on those two points, at least.

    Thorium might be an answer to future fuel possibilities in nuclear plants, but your assertion that it’s safer than what is here already is simply not true.

    I’ll defer to your opinion on that, since it’s obviously based on expertise that comes from considerable training and work in the field. I’ve mainly read articles of the popularized science variety, which are admittedly prone to err on the side of wild-eyed enthusiasm. Still, it seems to me there’s something genuinely promising there, and within a lot closer reach than the holy grail of nuclear fusion.

    The diagrams you linked of the two existing types of U.S. commercial reactors are informative. (Mr. Happy Atom’s smiling face might seem a little bit too reassuring to be entirely trusted by someone such as myself. I live within 100 miles of each of 10 separate operating nuclear power stations, several of which are much closer.) I’ve gathered that a thorium reactor design would be different from both. Here’s a diagram of one such design, in case anyone wants to have a look to make comparisons. As I understand it, the thorium and uranium fuel mixture would be dissolved in a liquid floride medium, which could be quickly gravity-drained out of the reactor to provide for a very rapid shut down if needed.

  11. 63

    Nan G

    The Pentagon was expected to announce that the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan, which is sailing in the Pacific, passed through a radioactive cloud from stricken nuclear reactors in Japan, causing crew members on deck to receive a month’s worth of radiation in about an hour, government officials said Sunday.

    My dad was in the US Navy during tests in the Pacific Ocean.
    Some of his crewmates later died of leukemia.

    This group of sailors will bear watching.

  12. 64

    John Cooper

    johngalt: Your #60 was really excellent. Thanks.

    Wordsmith: Your link was interesting but I think Oehmen was mistaken on a couple of points. I could be wrong, but I’ve never heard of water dissociating into Hydrogen and Oxygen at high temperatures. The Hydrogen comes from the reaction between water and the Zircaloy fuel rod cladding at temperatures above 1500C.

    Secondly, I disagree that simply flooding the core with water is sufficient to carry away the decay heat. There needs to be some kind of circulation. Also, if a substantial portion of the core has already melted into a puddle, the puddle doesn’t have enough surface area to facilitate heat removal. (The China Syndrome)

    I’m still unclear on how the primary containment vessel can still be intact after those hydrogen explosions. Perhaps they were venting the hydrogen into the reactor building and the H2 accumulated up near the ceiling. But what would have set it off? It’s a mystery to me.

    Edit: One more thing. I call BS on Oehmen’s statement that the “plugs didn’t fit” on the portable generators they brought in to power the RHR pumps. If the plugs didn’t mate up, they would have just spliced the wires. More likely they couldn’t find portable generators big enough (they would have to be maybe 1,000HP) or they didn’t have a long enough “extension cord”.

    The RHR pumps where I used to work were 400HP, 480V 3-phase, IIRC. The output of the diesel generators was 12KV. So they would have had to splice directly into the motor control center for the RHR pump(s). Who knows where those were located and if it was even possible to get there.

  13. 65


    @Nan G:

    causing crew members on deck to receive a month’s worth of radiation in about an hour,

    Depending on their definition of a “month’s worth of radiation”, it can be dangerous, or it can be simply nothing at all. Are they talking about an average person’s radiation exposure? Are they talking about a nuclear power plant worker’s exposure? Are they specifically talking about a Navy sailor, who works on a nuclear powered vessel, and his/her radiation exposure? Are they simply talking about the allowable exposure, per US regulations, or Japan regulations?

    All of those are quite different levels of exposure, and as such, depending on how they define that “month’s worth of radiation”, the levels of exposure the sailors were subjected to can be quite different.

    In my opinion though, it is nothing to worry about for the sailors themselves. Many of the service personnel maintaining US civilian reactors receive their annual allowable radiation exposure in days while working maintenance on a plant. The “plume” or cloud traveling across the ocean now will likely disperse enough that any radiation that is measureable will not register above known background levels.

  14. 66

    Mr. Irons

    Just pray for the safety of the People of Japan, including the US Military attempting search and rescue actions, and hope for those plants to be shut down safely.

    I’m not getting into this debate, I’m just too damn upset and beside myself over this nightmare. I’m still trying to get communications connections up to friends who are over there before the disaster.

  15. 67


    @John Cooper:

    but I’ve never heard of water dissociating into Hydrogen and Oxygen at high temperatures.

    It is termed thermolysis, as opposed to electrolysis for the conventional way to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.

    In thermolysis, temperatures of 2500F or more require no electrical input for the splitting to occur.

    You are correct in that simply flooding a core will not be sufficient. It must be a continual flood, keeping the level of the water above the core continually until the decay heat has diminished, and even then, a borated water solution must be injected in order to “kill” any remaining fission.

    Your right about the electrical plugs. It simply isn’t that hard for electricians to splice the power cabling in order to supply the power necessary for at least one of the coolant pumps to run.

  16. 68


    Mr. Irons, so sorry that it touches so close to you, and I guess so many who are worryed about loved one, I hope they are safe and unabled to reach you, like some mentionned prayer is the must on theses days, take care

  17. 70


    @John Cooper:

    John Cooper: Chernobyl was a horrible disaster, but to compare Soviet-style nuclear technology with plants designed by free people is like comparing apples and prunes.

    John, I am taking it in to consideration, however human beings cannot claim that we are perfect nor that we can foresee every potential problem in advance. We may plan, we may design, but we cannot see the future. Mata used the Deepwater Horizon disaster here… well, just look at that as example. A company did not properly follow procedures, human failures, poor oversight, along with engineering failures and you have a major incident (even though it was considered state of the art). The same could take place within a nuclear power plant. Malfunctioning computers, bad valves, and human error could result in an accident. If a core became totally uncovered and melted down… potentially could breech the containment vessel. Major disaster.

    I am in favor of nuclear energy use. However…. IT MUST BE DONE RIGHT. And that would include using the best materials and locating the generators in places that would not put major population centers at risk, prime farmland etc.

    I guess you feel 30, or 70 or whatever is a necessary risk… but of course it does not take into account the costs to society and families. Hundreds of thousands had to be relocated… businesses, shops and devastation to an economy. How about the thousands (many of them children at the time of exposure) ended up with thyroid cancer.

    From IAEA report

    The projections indicate that, among the most exposed populations (liquidators, evacuees and residents of the so-called ‘strict control zones’), total cancer mortality might increase by up to a few per cent owing to Chernobyl related radiation exposure. Such an increase could mean eventually up to several thousand fatal cancers…

    among the more than 4000 thyroid cancer cases diagnosed in 1992–2002 in persons who were children or adolescents at the time of the accident, fifteen deaths related to the progression of the disease had been documented by 2002.

    A total of 784 320 hectares of agricultural land was removed from service in the three countries, and timber production was halted for a total of 694 200 hectares of forest

    Nuclear power use should never be approached cavalierly… it is serious business. We should never cheerlead for such a process. The industry needs to make its case. Keep in mind when it comes to money people will do and say anything to get their way. As much as I want to use this form of power… I think it is prudent to be an advocate and skeptic at the same time.

    John, you obviously knew a number of deaths before asking me… I can see your perspective, hey only 30, 70, 100, whatever died. Things happen. Planes crash etc. But you are minimizing the over all danger. This would be worse than a Katrina… hundreds of thousands would be permanently effected. Although the “Soviet era” engineering was less secure… does not mean anything when we see the downside to using such energy and a major accident.

    Only in a few days will we know what will happen in Japan.

  18. 72

    John Cooper

    johngalt: Thanks for the info on thermolysis of water. I didn’t know about that. Wikipedia states:

    “Water spontaneously dissociates at around 2500 C, but this thermolysis occurs at temperatures too high for usual process piping and equipment. Catalysts are required to reduce the dissociation temperature.”

    Yikes! 2,500C is 4,532F! I have my Steam Tables right here and they only go up to 2,400F. So I’m wondering just how one would heat water to a temperature of 4,532F.

  19. 73

    Nan G

    Apparently the US had depended on Japan to buy $100 million in our debt every year.
    This is about to stop.
    There is no hint as to whether Japan will sell what paper it does hold of US debt, but just not buying more can be very bad for us here, interest rate-wise and inflation-wise.
    I saw a so-called expert on TV saying that every thing and every one on the USS Ronald Reagan’s deck was presumed exposed and washed down as if they and the stuff were ”hot.”


  20. 74

    John Cooper

    Let’s talk about the radiation released from the Fukushima nuclear plant for a moment. In the first place, it’s NOT “fallout”, like the idiots in the media are screaming. Fallout is the radioactive particles of dirt which were blasted into the atmosphere by a nuclear weapon. Those settle on things and get breathed in by unprotected people.

    Nobody has any idea what was actually released from Fukushima and therefore how dangerous it is and what kind of precautions should be taken. Chances are, it was mostly noble gassed Xe and Kr. Being “noble” they aren’t absorbed by the body even if they happen to be inhaled. So the “victim” gets a slight dose while the gas dwells in the lungs, but that’s it.

    Other stuff like Iodine and Cesium are a different matter. If they’re inhaled, they stay in the body and radiate it from the inside, eventually causing cancer. The Iodine seeks the Thyroid, and the Cesium seeks the bones since it’s chemically similar to Calcium. But if one is wearing the proper breathing protection mask, those are not a concern either.

    There are even worse things (fission fragments), but one would think a nuclear carrier would have plenty of skilled rad-protection people on board with state of the art monitoring equipment and protective gear. Also, one hopes that “someone” has been keeping track of the radioactive plume from the Japanese plants and the Captain didn’t just sail through it unprepared.

  21. 75


    John Cooper, hi, how can we be sure of the adequate preparness done to protect our MILITARYS,
    AS NORMALY the PRESIDENT would publickly reassure the NATION of what has been done to make sure the CREW has been received all the attention required to protect them, by doing two actions, one was turn away theCARRIER and delay or cancel the original mission, and the number 2 is not having react promptly as soon as the JAPAN tragedy occur, therefor being totaly responsable for the CREW’s IRRADIATION and follow out of having been too close to it as they pass through the cloud,
    which either it is should be told to the public truthfully, as we have to keep in mind that our military are not EXPANDEBLE but most needed and appreciated from the world over for their contribution
    to OUR FREEDOM; and everyone should know that without our militarys we would fall into a COMMUNIST, MARXIST DICTATORIAL total NEFARIOUS POWER, TO BE DELT AND DESTROYED BY NONE OTHER THAN OUR MILITARY.

  22. 77

    John Cooper

    Mizz Beez:

    I think it is pretty much up to the Captain of the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan to assure his crew is protected. From the Captain’s Facebook page:

    Friends and Family of USS Ronald Reagan:

    I want to take this opportunity to personally assure you that first and foremost all personnel aboard the USS Ronald Reagan are safe and healthy.

    During our mission to assist our close allies of Japan, we were operating near the radioactive plume from Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Power Plant. As you may have already heard, radioactivity was detected on 17 personnel from our ship, however, we promptly took the proper precautions and the radioactivity was easily removed by using soap and water. The levels that were detected were very low levels. To put this into perspective, the maximum radiation dose received was equal to the amount of natural background radiation one would receive in one month from sources such as rocks, soil and the sun.

    Ronald Reagan has since repositioned away from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Power Plant.

    As a nuclear-powered aircraft carrrier, we have extensive technical expertise onboard to properly monitor such types of risks, and if necessary, rapidly resolve the situation.

    We have taken all the necessary precautions to ensure that everyone is safe. We have closely monitored spaces, evaluated everyone who has flown or worked on the flight deck and cleaned the aircraft.

    I have not seen any levels of radiation or contamination that would cause me to have any significant concerns at all.

    As we continue to assist Japan in this terrible catastrophe, our Sailor’s–and your loved ones’– safety will remain at the top of my priority list.

    Capt. Thom Burke

    I’m somewhat concerned that if the sailors had particulate matter on their bodies, then they might have inhaled some of whatever it was.

  23. 78



    from Murphy’s law…

    “If anything can go wrong, it will.”

    It’s amazing that some people don’t take that to heart. That is why, speaking of nuclear power, that Navy ships have levels upon levels of redundancy built into the systems. Apparently, the law doesn’t translate so well into other languages.

  24. 79


    @John Cooper:

    To put this into perspective, the maximum radiation dose received was equal to the amount of natural background radiation one would receive in one month from sources such as rocks, soil and the sun.

    And my questions from my response to Nan G in #65 are answered. That radiation amount is negligible, all things considered. As I stated, some workers gain much more radiation exposure than that in a shorter period of time. I am not worried about those sailors. Indeed, airline pilots receive many times more than the amount those sailors received simply by a cross-country flight.

  25. 80



    That is why, speaking of nuclear power, that Navy ships have levels upon levels of redundancy built into the systems

    Unless they travel through a plume of radioactive materials… I for one would not want to breathing in any radioactive steam or be exposed to it.

    The reality johngalt is we are not immune from mistakes, accidents and unforeseen reactions, including the US Navy.

  26. 81


    John Cooper, It’s very responsable from the CAPTAIN in command of the CARRIER TO
    RESPOND in such a detailed way to our concern, and we are confident of the safety of the AMERICAN militarys as his CREW well taken care of, thank you
    with respect to the CAPTAIN’S RANK, MAY GOD PROTECT YOU ALL

  27. 82


    John Cooper, they would have to be XRAY,as soon as possible if your concern is right,
    but then, are the XRAY would become a dangerous actions because of their own
    projection of radiation even minimal, could it be that they would create a worse irradiation if in fact they have swallowed some minute particuls,like some kind of confrontation between two of the same element could increase the amount of already in place of the radiation,?

  28. 83

    John Cooper

    johngalt: I was always fascinated by how difficult it actually is to identify the type of radiation and the nuclides which were the source. I think the common perception from watching too much TV is that you just hold up a Geiger Counter and that will tell you everything you need to know. It’s really more like a mystery novel.

    The plant where I worked had these suitcase-sized boxes in various areas which sucked ambient air through a HEPA filter. From time to time, the filter paper was removed and any particles trapped on it were identified. For routine surveys, they used “Rad-Owl” Ion Chambers which were sensitive to beta and gamma. For alpha they had some kind of pancake probes with an extremely thin window.

    I think the problem is that in a nuke plant, you know what kind of radiation to expect where. Nobody knows what belched out of the Japanese plants. Anybody remember those RB-57F’s that used to fly though clouds of Russian fallout and take samples? I used to correspond with a guy who flew those back in the sixties. He died of cancer.

  29. 85



    I didn’t comment about the carrier traveling through the plume/cloud and being protected by redundant systems. My comment was in regards to the accident itself.

    The reality johngalt is we are not immune from mistakes, accidents and unforeseen reactions, including the US Navy.

    This is a true statement, however, one can do much to protect themselves and others from them.

    @John Cooper:

    True, on the radiation sources. The sources present in everyday rocks, minerals and the general background that one can receive will vary depending on where you spend your time, but it isn’t a large amount. The fact that the sailors were exposed to a month’s worth in an hour would be troubling if that month’s worth was what nuclear plant workers are exposed to. Given that the Captain stated it’s a month’s worth of normal background radiation, there are many people who work around nuke plants, weapons, medical equip., etc. that receive more.

  30. 86



    well, the land based power plant has many redundant systems. NHK is reporting one of the reactors have high radiation leaking out. this probably will be the beginning of something much much worse.

    Tokyo Electric Power Company says radiation levels reached 8,217 microsieverts per hour near the front gate of the Fukushima No.1 nuclear power station at 8:31 AM Tuesday.

    Anyone in this kind of environment would be exposed to more than 3 years’ worth of naturally occurring radiation within a single hour.

  31. 87

    John Cooper

    johngalt: I’m not arguing with you, because you probably know more than I do about this stuff. All I’m saying is that the “amount” of radiation is pretty much a meaningless concept. I’m sure you’re familiar with RADs and REMS and all that. Comparing the dose of gamma one receives on an airliner to the same dose received by inhaling some alpha emitter is really not a valid comparison. My old Radiation Protection Manual states:

    The product of the absorbed dose (in RADS) and the quality factor is called the Dose Equivalent (in REMS). The significance of the Dose Equivalent is that it is a quantity which is directly related to biological effect)

    So when the good Captain Thom claims that his sailors received the same dose as cumulative background radiation for a month, that’s essentially meaningless to anyone who knows about this stuff as you do. I guess we just have to take him at his word…

    Oh, for the non-techies on this thread, RAD is “Radiation Absorbed Dose” – a measure of the number of ionizations produced in one gram of your body mass. REM is “Radiation Equivalent Man” – RADS x the quality factor (how biologically dangerous each type of radiation is).

  32. 88

    John Cooper

    Mizz Bees:

    There’s really no good test for ingested or inhaled radioactive particles. X-rays won’t detect them. All they can do is a urinalysis or (in some cases) a whole body scan. Once it’s in there, it’s hard to get it out.

  33. 89


    John Cooper, hi, they must feel terrible if they have doubt about ingesting those particuls,
    I can imagine their family’s thoughts on this, spechialy if it can’t come out of their body,
    thank you, for your info as usual

  34. 92



    I’ve caught up in reading the comments by all of you. Civil and interesting debate, BTW… There’s a few I wanted to make a quick response to.

    @blast: What is the half life of an oil spill? Are there any cesium eating microbes out there? We need not act as the apologists to the nuclear energy community (even those who want to see the use of nuclear power). It should be up to them to make their case with us being very sharp at looking at what they represent as facts. A good case of cynicism never hurts when the downside is so big.

    blast, you are expanding the context of events further than was my original intent. But my gist of your comments is that where there is risk to build (nuke plants or otherwise), you shouldn’t build. Now I don’t know of a place on earth that is safe from Mother Nature, so where would that be?

    On the other hand, I would agree it’s foolhardy to build homes, power plants or anything else on a faultline. Then again, faultlines exist everywhere, and in places you wouldn’t expect. So where do we go with that? Is that stopping the US providing aid and funding to rebuild New Orleans, a city that is below sea level? How selective shall we get in what is worthy of the risk?

    INRE the comparison between radiation long lasting effects, and your casual write off of an extensive oil spill that the Deepwater Horizon did not become (much to the chagrin of many enviro wackos…). I suggest you are short sighted in your scope of analysis. What you see as the risk of radiation half life is obvious. What is less obvious to you is the health of the oceans, the current and it’s effect on our most base lifeform, plankton.

    Truthfully, the supertankers that must make their way around Cape Horn in the world’s most treacherous and unpredictable waters, can have the same devasting effect with a single sinking of a tanker and the right circumstances of an oil spill. Those waters would lead to the currents in Antartica, when then feed the rest of the ocean’s plankton life. If you want to talk “half life”, what do you think would happen with the slow destruction of plankton? Read up on it.

    That said, should the supertankers not make that trip? Is that a reason to quit utilizing one of earth’s natural resources? No. But it is another reason why advancements to limit the impact of accidents are always on the move.

    If you want to live in a world where there are no risks, buy yourself a bubble. Otherwise, it doesn’t exist except in your dreams.

    @John Cooper: Let’s talk about the radiation released from the Fukushima nuclear plant for a moment. In the first place, it’s NOT “fallout”, like the idiots in the media are screaming. Fallout is the radioactive particles of dirt which were blasted into the atmosphere by a nuclear weapon.

    Yes, John Cooper. I did actually know that, but if you were thinking I was suggesting that in my post title, I assure you it was the definition of “fallout” related to residual and or ensuing events, and not radiation.

    @johngalt: That radiation amount is negligible, all things considered.

    And I certainly hope it stays that way, johngalt. They have their hands full in all kinds of ways. Considering the magnitude of this quake, which as I mentioned was upgraded late Saturday, it’s amazing the reactors have not been damaged more than they were. When going up against Mother Nature’s power to this extent, hard to believe man can construct anything that can withstand it.

    I would think that the latest warning for those within 30 kilometers to stay indoors may be judicially prudent, but certainly falls short of the radioactive Armaggedon that is blasted on the news 24/7 at the moment. Serious, yes. But I’m not convinced that this cannot be gotten under control.

    But the lastest Unit 2 blast, and uncertainty about the integrity of the containtment structure, does present one ugly scenario.

  35. 94


    This doesn’t sound good.

    “The situation at Japan’s quake-stricken power plant is deteriorating markedly, with a fire burning in a fourth reactor and radiation readings rising.”

    “The French embassy in the capital warned in an advisory that a low level of radioactive wind could reach Tokyo within 10 hours.”

  36. 95



    Greg, just to clarify, there is little about this entire event that *is* good. Your update is the same as the latest I added to the original post above. However that “low level of radioactive wind” has been discussed on TV and via authorities as akin to the levels we’re exposed to when receiving a “chest x-ray”. We don’t know numbers for sure, but still no Armaggedon here. And we’re not hoping for one.

    “Affecting human health” is also a phrase used by the EPA. But again, it depends on many factors, and perhaps the sensitivity of the one exposed.

    How does Radiation Affect Human Health

    High doses of radiation can be harmful or even fatal. The damage caused by exposure to radiation is determined by the type of radiation, the duration of exposure, and the part of the body that is exposed. The effects of a radiation dose are either prompt or delayed. Prompt effects occur within the first several months after exposure. Delayed effects occur over many years. The delayed effects can include cancer or other diseases in exposed persons and harmful effects on unborn children.

    It is important to note that an average of one in four people develops some form of cancer. Excess lifetime cancer risks resulting from exposure to radiation are calculated in addition to this number. Risk estimates assume that even small amounts of radiation pose some risk.

    Radiation from Southeast Idaho Slag

    The total number of observed cancers in Southeast Idaho is low by national standards. Healthy lifestyles, rural living, and a low incidence of smoking and drinking likely contribute to the lower overall incidence of cancer in this area. Despite low cancer rates in the region, however, EPA remains concerned about possible increases in cancer risk that may be associated with slag. For that reason, EPA, Monsanto, and FMC are hopeful that area residents will sign up to participate in the southeast Idaho phosphorus slag program.

    What level of radiation is safe?
    No one knows for sure. This question is of ongoing interest to scientists and researchers.

    How is radiation dose measured?
    Radiation dose is the amount of radiation that is absorbed by the body. The human body’s absorption of ionizing radiation is measured in units called “rems.” Low levels of radiation are measured in thousandths of a rem, or “millirems”.

  37. 96



    …and your casual write off of an extensive oil spill that the Deepwater Horizon did not become (much to the chagrin of many enviro wackos…). I suggest you are short sighted in your scope of analysis. What you see as the risk of radiation half life is obvious. What is less obvious to you is the health of the oceans, the current and it’s effect on our most base lifeform, plankton.
    That said, should the supertankers not make that trip? Is that a reason to quit utilizing one of earth’s natural resources?

    I wonder if we should consider oil as a natural resource… it cannot really be put in your car as crude oil. And I see you have become a nature lover… actually I think drilling in areas where one cannot control the outcome is STUPID. As you have pointed out plankton is our base life form. So why risk the outcome given our present capabilities? Oh, yeah… drill baby drill. Bumper sticker energy plans.

    I hope that we should leave our planet in better condition (than we received it)… you go after the budget deficit, how about an environmental deficit? I love reading how democrat and liberals leave junk behind at rallies and that conservatives clean up after themselves. A few plastic cups vs wanton damage (through lack of regulation, poor regulation or anti regulation). I love Teddy Roosevelt, the greatest Republican President of the 20th century. He could see the damage being done and wanted to preserve our true natural resources.

    We not only want to use the last drop of our national oil supply, but we are leaving our future Americans with a huge debt (this was my same complaint when Bush was President). Do we deserve to use everything today? Yes, lets just be gluttons and use every last drop and screw future generations. Lets not look at alternatives, and not INVEST in those as well.

    Back to the question at hand Mata. I pray that the problems in Japan are solved without many more problems. It is sad to see one of our greatest allies suffer so.

    Is that stopping the US providing aid and funding to rebuild New Orleans, a city that is below sea level? How selective shall we get in what is worthy of the risk?

    That was your buddy George’s idea. I personally think folks that live by rivers and below sea level… well, you made your bed now sleep in it. Oh, how about the current Republican budget that cuts support to earth quake and tsunami detection??? Penny wise and dollar f00lish?

  38. 97




    I wonder if we should consider oil as a natural resource… it cannot really be put in your car as crude oil. actually I think drilling in areas where one cannot control the outcome is STUPID.

    Gee.. you can’t wear a cotton puff either. It’s not grown as a dollar bill. I guess, by your standards, it’s not a natural resource either? And all endeavors can have unexpected turns of events. There is very little in life where you can “control the outcome”. Thus far, we have not hit an issue where we don’t control the outcome… stopping the flow, clean up, for oil slicks etc. I suggest, blast, that you don’t leave your house. You may get mugged at the ATM, someone may hit your car, or heaven forbid you can slip on your urban sidewalk. Those nasty concrete things outta be outlawed… LOL

    The rest of your oil diatribe is pure bunk. Man couldn’t possibly tap all the oil that is beneath the earth’s crust. What we can reach (today, at least) is only a small segment of what’s there, and it’s continually creating more. What hyperbole. But let’s say we skip your expansion of what was a casual reference by me to note the dangers of deciding policy on catastrophes and skip your AWG horse manure on this thread, eh? Nor will I encourage your diversion into budget issues either. This is a thread focused on Japan, the power plant problems, and any politics that surround nuclear power – especially when used as “a crises that simply can’t go to waste”.

    And to respond to the sarcastic sentence you edited out (showed up in my email box…), I have always been “a nature lover”. I am merely amused you concrete warriors think you know so much about it with your weekend trips once a year to get your Nike’s a bit dirty. LOL

  39. 98


    MATA, thank you for such good work regarding your follow up comments,
    of your POST, could it be better for a NATION to miniaturize the building of such powerplants in the future? I know might be more costly but easyer to pinpoint the coumponent tiredness and
    also easyer to change any other pieces of this so complicated building,
    you also put your finger on the so very important factor, which is the FAULT LINE,
    that probably exist in every COUNTRYS OF THE WORLD, and should be avoid for those construction,
    I found it all very interesting, bye

  40. 99


    @MataHarley, #96:

    Hope that’s correct. There was a third explosion around 7 hours ago (6 AM Tuesday, Tokyo time) followed by increased radiation levels, with speculation that containment in one of the reactors might be compromised. I see now that I missed your reference to that in the last line of #93. It’s hard to sort real times out the way info comes up online. Repeated reports of previously reported events, etc…

  41. 100


    GREG I just now observe with horror that I was one shot before the 100 comment,
    well that leave me one option, that is to congratulate you,

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