Nuclear reactor: blast impossible, meltdown no sweat

Here are the facts

Andrew Bolt today posted this excellent comment plus the originating article. Some have already blamed this earthquake on global warming, but we shall ignore that nonsense. This objective and expert summary opinion of the real situation is urgently needed because all we’re getting from our green press corps is nuclear fear-mongering (h/t Bob Carter for the link). This is reassuring, but it’s very long — get yourself a coffee, put your feet up…

nuclear explosion

From: The Courier Mail / Herald Sun

Before you give in to the media’s nuclear meltdown…

Andrew Bolt – Monday, March 14, 11 (12:15 pm)

Newspapers

This is an adopted article.

Via our friend Professor Barry Brook, comes this marvellously sane and cool explanation of the emergency at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear reactor by Dr Josef Oehmen, a research scientist at MIT, in Boston.

Read the fascinating and reassuring article in its entirety. But if you have time only for Oehmen’s bottom line, it’s this:

– The plant is safe now and will stay safe.

– Japan is looking at an INES Level 4 Accident: Nuclear accident with local consequences. That is bad for the company that owns the plant, but not for anyone else.

– Some radiation was released when the pressure vessel was vented. All radioactive isotopes from the activated steam have gone (decayed). A very small amount of Cesium was released, as well as Iodine. If you were sitting on top of the plants’ chimney when they were venting, you should probably give up smoking to return to your former life expectancy. The Cesium and Iodine isotopes were carried out to sea and will never be seen again.

– There was some limited damage to the first containment. That means that some amounts of radioactive Cesium and Iodine will also be released into the cooling water, but no Uranium or other nasty stuff (the Uranium oxide does not "dissolve" in the water). There are facilities for treating the cooling water inside the third containment. The radioactive Cesium and Iodine will be removed there and eventually stored as radioactive waste in terminal storage.

– The seawater used as cooling water will be activated to some degree. Because the control rods are fully inserted, the Uranium chain reaction is not happening. That means the "main" nuclear reaction is not happening, thus not contributing to the activation. The intermediate radioactive materials (Cesium and Iodine) are also almost gone at this stage, because the Uranium decay was stopped a long time ago. This further reduces the activation. The bottom line is that there will be some low level of activation of the seawater, which will also be removed by the treatment facilities.

– The seawater will then be replaced over time with the "normal" cooling water

– The reactor core will then be dismantled and transported to a processing facility, just like during a regular fuel change.

– Fuel rods and the entire plant will be checked for potential damage. This will take about 4-5 years.

– The safety systems on all Japanese plants will be upgraded to withstand a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami (or worse).

– I believe the most significant problem will be a prolonged power shortage. About half of Japan’s nuclear reactors will probably have to be inspected, reducing the nation’s power generating capacity by 15%. This will probably be covered by running gas power plants that are usually only used for peak loads to cover some of the base load as well. That will increase the electricity bill, as well as lead to potential power shortages during peak demand, in Japan.

On MTR 13777 this morning, Australian nuclear expert Ziggy Switkowski, former chairman of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, agreed that no one as yet had received a dangerous dose of radiation from the reactor, no explosion was possible and the chances of Australia being affected, on a scale of possibility from one to 1 million, was zero.

From: BraveNewClimate

Fukushima Nuclear Accident – a simple and accurate explanation

Posted on 13 March 2011 by Barry Brook

New 14 March:

Along with reliable sources such as the IAEA and WNN updates, there is an incredible amount of misinformation and hyperbole flying around the internet and media right now about the Fukushima nuclear reactor situation.

In the BNC post Discussion Thread – Japanese nuclear reactors and the 11 March 2011 earthquake (and in the many comments that attend the top post), a lot of technical detail is provided, as well as regular updates. But what about a layman’s summary? How do most people get a grasp on what is happening, why, and what the consequences will be?

Below I reproduce a summary on the situation prepared by Dr Josef Oehmen, a research scientist at MIT, in Boston. He is a PhD Scientist, whose father has extensive experience in Germany’s nuclear industry. This was first posted by Jason Morgan earlier this evening, and he has kindly allowed me to reproduce it here. I think it is very important that this information be widely understood.

Please also take the time to read this:

An informed public is key to acceptance of nuclear energy — it was never more relevant than now.

———————————

I am writing this text (Mar 12) to give you some peace of mind regarding some of the troubles in Japan, that is the safety of Japan’s nuclear reactors. Up front, the situation is serious, but under control. And this text is long! But you will know more about nuclear power plants after reading it than all journalists on this planet put together.

There was and will *not* be any significant release of radioactivity.

By "significant" I mean a level of radiation of more than what you would receive on – say – a long distance flight, or drinking a glass of beer that comes from certain areas with high levels of natural background radiation.

I have been reading every news release on the incident since the earthquake. There has not been one single (!) report that was accurate and free of errors (and part of that problem is also a weakness in the Japanese crisis communication). By "not free of errors" I do not refer to tendentious anti-nuclear journalism – that is quite normal these days. By "not free of errors" I mean blatant errors regarding physics and natural law, as well as gross misinterpretation of facts, due to an obvious lack of fundamental and basic understanding of the way nuclear reactors are build and operated. I have read a 3 page report on CNN where every single paragraph contained an error..

We will have to cover some fundamentals, before we get into what is going on.

Fukushima nuclear power plants

Construction of the Fukushima nuclear power plants

The plants at Fukushima are so-called Boiling Water Reactors, or BWR for short. Boiling Water Reactors are similar to a pressure cooker. The nuclear fuel heats water, the water boils and creates steam, the steam then drives turbines that create the electricity, and the steam is then cooled and condensed back to water, and the water send back to be heated by the nuclear fuel. The pressure cooker operates at about 250 °C.

The nuclear fuel is uranium oxide. Uranium oxide is a ceramic with a very high melting point of about 3000 °C. The fuel is manufactured in pellets (think little cylinders the size of Lego bricks). Those pieces are then put into a long tube made of Zircaloy with a melting point of 2200 °C, and sealed tight. The assembly is called a fuel rod. These fuel rods are then put together to form larger packages, and a number of these packages are then put into the reactor. All these packages together are referred to as "the core".

The Zircaloy casing is the first containment. It separates the radioactive fuel from the rest of the world.

The core is then placed in the "pressure vessels". That is the pressure cooker we talked about before. The pressure vessels is the second containment. This is one sturdy piece of a pot, designed to safely contain the core for temperatures several hundred °C. That covers the scenarios where cooling can be restored at some point.

The entire "hardware" of the nuclear reactor – the pressure vessel and all pipes, pumps, coolant (water) reserves, are then encased in the third containment. The third containment is a hermetically (air tight) sealed, very thick bubble of the strongest steel. The third containment is designed, built and tested for one single purpose: To contain, indefinitely, a complete core meltdown. For that purpose, a large and thick concrete basin is cast under the pressure vessel (the second containment), which is filled with graphite, all inside the third containment. This is the so-called "core catcher". If the core melts and the pressure vessel bursts (and eventually melts), it will catch the molten fuel and everything else. It is built in such a way that the nuclear fuel will be spread out, so it can cool down.

This third containment is then surrounded by the reactor building. The reactor building is an outer shell that is supposed to keep the weather out, but nothing in (this is the part that was damaged in the explosion, but more on that later).

Fundamentals of nuclear reactions

The uranium fuel generates heat by nuclear fission. Big uranium atoms are split into smaller atoms. That generates heat plus neutrons (one of the particles that forms an atom). When the neutron hits another uranium atom, that splits, generating more neutrons, and so on. That is called the nuclear chain reaction.

Now, just packing a lot of fuel rods next to each other would quickly lead to overheating and after about 45 minutes to a melting of the fuel rods. It is worth mentioning at this point that the nuclear fuel in a reactor can *never* cause a nuclear explosion like a nuclear bomb. Building a nuclear bomb is actually quite difficult (ask Iran). In Chernobyl, the explosion was caused by excessive pressure buildup, hydrogen explosion and rupture of all containments, propelling molten core material into the environment (a "dirty bomb"). Why that did not and will not happen in Japan, further below.

In order to control the nuclear chain reaction, the reactor operators use so-called "control rods". The control rods absorb the neutrons and kill the chain reaction instantaneously. A nuclear reactor is built in such a way that, when operating normally, you take out all the control rods. The coolant water then takes away the heat (and converts it into steam and electricity) at the same rate as the core produces it. And you have a lot of leeway around the standard operating point of 250°C.

The challenge is that after inserting the rods and stopping the chain reaction, the core still keeps producing heat. The uranium "stopped" the chain reaction. But a number of intermediate radioactive elements are created by the uranium during its fission process, most notably Cesium and Iodine isotopes, i.e., radioactive versions of these elements that will eventually split up into smaller atoms and not be radioactive any more. Those elements keep decaying and producing heat. Because they are not regenerated any longer from the uranium (the uranium stopped decaying after the control rods were put in), they get less and less, and so the core cools down over a matter of days, until those intermediate radioactive elements are used up.

This residual heat is causing the headaches right now.

So the first "type" of radioactive material is the uranium in the fuel rods, plus the intermediate radioactive elements that the uranium splits into, also inside the fuel rod (Cesium and Iodine).

There is a second type of radioactive material created, outside the fuel rods. The big main difference up front: those radioactive materials have a very short half-life, that means that they decay very fast and split into non-radioactive materials. By fast I mean seconds. So if these radioactive materials are released into the environment, yes, radioactivity was released, but no, it is not dangerous, at all. Why? By the time you spelled "R-A-D-I-O-N-U-C-L-I-D-E", they will be harmless, because they will have split up into non-radioactive elements. Those radioactive elements are N-16, the radioactive isotope (or version) of nitrogen (air). The others are noble gases such as Xenon. But where do they come from? When the uranium splits, it generates a neutron (see above). Most of these neutrons will hit other uranium atoms and keep the nuclear chain reaction going. But some will leave the fuel rod and hit the water molecules, or the air that is in the water. Then, a non-radioactive element can "capture" the neutron. It becomes radioactive. As described above, it will quickly (seconds) get rid again of the neutron to return to its former beautiful self.

This second "type" of radiation is very important when we talk about the radioactivity being released into the environment later on.

What happened at Fukushima

I will try to summarize the main facts. The earthquake that hit Japan was 7 times more powerful than the worst earthquake the nuclear power plant was built for (the Richter scale works logarithmically; the difference between the 8.2 that the plants were built for and the 8.9 that happened is 7 times, not 0.7). So the first hooray for Japanese engineering, everything held up.

When the earthquake hit with 8.9, the nuclear reactors all went into automatic shutdown. Within seconds after the earthquake started, the control rods had been inserted into the core and nuclear chain reaction of the uranium stopped. Now, the cooling system has to carry away the residual heat. The residual heat load is about 3% of the heat load under normal operating conditions.

The earthquake destroyed the external power supply of the nuclear reactor. That is one of the most serious accidents for a nuclear power plant, and accordingly, a "plant black out" receives a lot of attention when designing backup systems. The power is needed to keep the coolant pumps working. Since the power plant had been shut down, it cannot produce any electricity by itself any more.

Things were going well for an hour. One set of multiple sets of emergency diesel power generators kicked in and provided the electricity that was needed. Then the tsunami came, much bigger than people had expected when building the power plant (see above, factor 7). The tsunami took out all multiple sets of backup diesel generators.

When designing a nuclear power plant, engineers follow a philosophy called "Defense of Depth". That means that you first build everything to withstand the worst catastrophe you can imagine, and then design the plant in such a way that it can still handle one system failure (that you thought could never happen) after the other. A tsunami taking out all backup power in one swift strike is such a scenario. The last line of defense is putting everything into the third containment (see above), that will keep everything, whatever the mess, control rods in or out, core molten or not, inside the reactor.

When the diesel generators were gone, the reactor operators switched to emergency battery power. The batteries were designed as one of the backups to the backups, to provide power for cooling the core for 8 hours. And they did.

Within the 8 hours, another power source had to be found and connected to the power plant. The power grid was down due to the earthquake. The diesel generators were destroyed by the tsunami. So mobile diesel generators were trucked in.

This is where things started to go seriously wrong. The external power generators could not be connected to the power plant (the plugs did not fit). So after the batteries ran out, the residual heat could not be carried away any more.

At this point the plant operators begin to follow emergency procedures that are in place for a "loss of cooling event". It is again a step along the "Depth of Defense" lines. The power to the cooling systems should never have failed completely, but it did, so they "retreat" to the next line of defense. All of this, however shocking it seems to us, is part of the day-to-day training you go through as an operator, right through to managing a core meltdown.

It was at this stage that people started to talk about core meltdown. Because at the end of the day, if cooling cannot be restored, the core will eventually melt (after hours or days), and the last line of defense, the core catcher and third containment, would come into play.

But the goal at this stage was to manage the core while it was heating up, and ensure that the first containment (the Zircaloy tubes that contains the nuclear fuel), as well as the second containment (our pressure cooker) remain intact and operational for as long as possible, to give the engineers time to fix the cooling systems.

Because cooling the core is such a big deal, the reactor has a number of cooling systems, each in multiple versions (the reactor water cleanup system, the decay heat removal, the reactor core isolating cooling, the standby liquid cooling system, and the emergency core cooling system). Which one failed when or did not fail is not clear at this point in time.

So imagine our pressure cooker on the stove, heat on low, but on. The operators use whatever cooling system capacity they have to get rid of as much heat as possible, but the pressure starts building up. The priority now is to maintain integrity of the first containment (keep temperature of the fuel rods below 2200°C), as well as the second containment, the pressure cooker. In order to maintain integrity of the pressure cooker (the second containment), the pressure has to be released from time to time. Because the ability to do that in an emergency is so important, the reactor has 11 pressure release valves. The operators now started venting steam from time to time to control the pressure. The temperature at this stage was about 550°C.

This is when the reports about "radiation leakage" started coming in. I believe I explained above why venting the steam is theoretically the same as releasing radiation into the environment, but why it was and is not dangerous. The radioactive nitrogen as well as the noble gases do not pose a threat to human health.

NHK news programme screen shot

At some stage during this venting, the explosion occurred. The explosion took place outside of the third containment (our "last line of defense"), and the reactor building. Remember that the reactor building has no function in keeping the radioactivity contained. It is not entirely clear yet what has happened, but this is the likely scenario: The operators decided to vent the steam from the pressure vessel not directly into the environment, but into the space between the third containment and the reactor building (to give the radioactivity in the steam more time to subside). The problem is that at the high temperatures that the core had reached at this stage, water molecules can "disassociate" into oxygen and hydrogen – an explosive mixture. And it did explode, outside the third containment, damaging the reactor building around it. It was the same sort of explosion, but inside the pressure vessel (because it was badly designed and not managed properly by the operators) that lead to the explosion of Chernobyl. This was never a risk at Fukushima. The problem of hydrogen-oxygen formation is one of the biggies when you design a power plant (if you are not Soviet, that is), so the reactor is built and operated in such a way that it cannot happen inside the containment. It happened outside, which was not intended but a possible scenario and OK, because it did not pose a risk for the containment.

So the pressure was under control, as steam was vented. Now, if you keep boiling your pot, the problem is that the water level will keep falling and falling. The core is covered by several meters of water in order to allow for some time to pass (hours, days) before it gets exposed. Once the rods start to be exposed at the top, the exposed parts will reach the critical temperature of 2200 °C after about 45 minutes. This is when the first containment, the Zircaloy tube, would fail.

And this started to happen. The cooling could not be restored before there was some (very limited, but still) damage to the casing of some of the fuel. The nuclear material itself was still intact, but the surrounding Zircaloy shell had started melting. What happened now is that some of the byproducts of the uranium decay – radioactive Cesium and Iodine – started to mix with the steam. The big problem, uranium, was still under control, because the uranium oxide rods were good until 3000 °C. It is confirmed that a very small amount of Cesium and Iodine was measured in the steam that was released into the atmosphere.

It seems this was the "go signal" for a major plan B. The small amounts of Cesium that were measured told the operators that the first containment on one of the rods somewhere was about to give. The Plan A had been to restore one of the regular cooling systems to the core. Why that failed is unclear. One plausible explanation is that the tsunami also took away or polluted all the clean water needed for the regular cooling systems.

The water used in the cooling system is very clean, demineralized (like distilled) water. The reason to use pure water is the above-mentioned activation by the neutrons from the Uranium: Pure water does not get activated much, so stays practically radioactive-free. Dirt or salt in the water will absorb the neutrons quicker, becoming more radioactive. This has no effect whatsoever on the core – it does not care what it is cooled by. But it makes life more difficult for the operators and mechanics when they have to deal with activated (i.e. slightly radioactive) water.

But Plan A had failed – cooling systems down or additional clean water unavailable – so Plan B came into effect. This is what it looks like happened:

In order to prevent a core meltdown, the operators started to use sea water to cool the core. I am not quite sure if they flooded our pressure cooker with it (the second containment), or if they flooded the third containment, immersing the pressure cooker. But that is not relevant for us.

The point is that the nuclear fuel has now been cooled down. Because the chain reaction has been stopped a long time ago, there is only very little residual heat being produced now. The large amount of cooling water that has been used is sufficient to take up that heat. Because it is a lot of water, the core does not produce sufficient heat any more to produce any significant pressure. Also, boric acid has been added to the seawater. Boric acid is "liquid control rod". Whatever decay is still going on, the Boron will capture the neutrons and further speed up the cooling down of the core.

The plant came close to a core meltdown. Here is the worst-case scenario that was avoided: If the seawater could not have been used for treatment, the operators would have continued to vent the water steam to avoid pressure buildup. The third containment would then have been completely sealed to allow the core meltdown to happen without releasing radioactive material. After the meltdown, there would have been a waiting period for the intermediate radioactive materials to decay inside the reactor, and all radioactive particles to settle on a surface inside the containment. The cooling system would have been restored eventually, and the molten core cooled to a manageable temperature. The containment would have been cleaned up on the inside. Then a messy job of removing the molten core from the containment would have begun, packing the (now solid again) fuel bit by bit into transportation containers to be shipped to processing plants. Depending on the damage, the block of the plant would then either be repaired or dismantled.

Now, where does that leave us?

  • The plant is safe now and will stay safe.
  • Japan is looking at an INES Level 4 Accident: Nuclear accident with local consequences. That is bad for the company that owns the plant, but not for anyone else.
  • Some radiation was released when the pressure vessel was vented. All radioactive isotopes from the activated steam have gone (decayed). A very small amount of Cesium was released, as well as Iodine. If you were sitting on top of the plants’ chimney when they were venting, you should probably give up smoking to return to your former life expectancy. The Cesium and Iodine isotopes were carried out to the sea and will never be seen again.
  • There was some limited damage to the first containment. That means that some amounts of radioactive Cesium and Iodine will also be released into the cooling water, but no Uranium or other nasty stuff (the Uranium oxide does not "dissolve" in the water). There are facilities for treating the cooling water inside the third containment. The radioactive Cesium and Iodine will be removed there and eventually stored as radioactive waste in terminal storage.
  • The seawater used as cooling water will be activated to some degree. Because the control rods are fully inserted, the Uranium chain reaction is not happening. That means the "main" nuclear reaction is not happening, thus not contributing to the activation. The intermediate radioactive materials (Cesium and Iodine) are also almost gone at this stage, because the Uranium decay was stopped a long time ago. This further reduces the activation. The bottom line is that there will be some low level of activation of the seawater, which will also be removed by the treatment facilities.
  • The seawater will then be replaced over time with the "normal" cooling water
  • The reactor core will then be dismantled and transported to a processing facility, just like during a regular fuel change.
  • Fuel rods and the entire plant will be checked for potential damage. This will take about 4-5 years.
  • The safety systems on all Japanese plants will be upgraded to withstand a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami (or worse)
  • I believe the most significant problem will be a prolonged power shortage. About half of Japan’s nuclear reactors will probably have to be inspected, reducing the nation’s power generating capacity by 15%. This will probably be covered by running gas power plants that are usually only used for peak loads to cover some of the base load as well. That will increase your electricity bill, as well as lead to potential power shortages during peak demand, in Japan.

If you want to stay informed, please forget the usual media outlets and consult the following websites:

  • http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/03/12/japan-nuclear-earthquake/
  • http://ansnuclearcafe.org/2011/03/11/media-updates-on-nuclear-power-stations (in Japan)
  • ___________________________________________________

    From: The Courier Mail / Herald Sun

    The real disaster, not the media one

    Andrew Bolt – Monday, March 14, 11 (06:32 am)

    And the media coverage of some papers obsesses instead about trouble at some nuclear reactors….

    More than half the 17,000 population of one coastal town, Minamisanriku, was unaccounted for….

    Ziggy Switkowski counters the hype:

    Most of us are exposed to about 4 millisieverts (mSv) of mainly background radiation each year. Radiation workers are allowed 50mSv per year. At the current radiation level reported at the perimeter of the damaged Fukushima plant, an individual dose would exceed 50mSv after about a week’s continuous exposure. Measurable radiation poisoning occurs at a much higher level still.

    Controlled venting of excess and mildly radioactive gases is happening, will result in some community exposure to radiation, but is very unlikely to have an effect on community health. At this time, only workers on site are likely to have had elevated radiation exposures. In the context of the general devastation from the earthquake and tsunami, any health or property damage arising from the affected reactors is likely to be small.

    If core cooling can be satisfactorily restored, then in the best case local residents could return to their homes in days.

    Engineers have taken extraordinary steps to get coolant to the reactor of most concern, flooding the core with seawater. This is a step probably not in the playbook and reflects grievous concerns about core integrity. Still, the combination of venting and seawater flushing should stabilise the situation in the days ahead. The reactor itself is a write-off.

    UPDATE

    As I’ve written before, Chernobyl inspired the kind of green hype that’s led to these wild fears of nuclear armageddon:

    Take, just for starters, Garrett’s fond claim that the Chernobyl accident killed "30,000 people", or even 250,000 – a claim that, quite typically, no journalist called him on at the time. His figure is the purest tosh, of course. The known death toll from Chernobyl is just 50 or so, with many of the dead killed by the force of the blast, rather than any radiation sickness.

    And, unlike Garrett, I can give a credible source for my statistic – the Chernobyl Forum, which in 2005 worked out the cost of the world’s only reactor explosion with the help of scientists from eight United Nations bodies, including the World Health Organisation and the International Atomic Energy Agency, as well as of experts appointed from the worst-hit countries, Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.

    True, the forum chairman, Dr Burton Bennett, is no rock star. But perhaps his years of studying radiation effects might make his opinion almost as worth having as Garrett’s, and here it is:

    "By and large, however, we have not found profound negative health impacts (from Chernobyl) to the rest of the population surrounding areas . .. ."

    But that’s not to say people weren’t literally scared sick—even to death.

    The IAEA estimated that European women from as far away as Italy and Greece sought more than 200,000 extra abortions after the explosion, so sure were they from all the fear-mongering that their babies would be deformed.

    Added the Chernobyl Forum: "Persistent myths and misconceptions about the threat of radiation have resulted on paralysing fatalism among residents of affected areas." And who here did most to promote such apocalyptic "myths and misconceptions", may I ask?

    UPDATE

    The ABC and I have been pelted with abuse by people outraged that I put the known death toll from Chernobyl so far at around 50. They have demanded to know from where I plucked this figure.

    It is in fact the conclusion of the most exhaustive and authoritative review of all the science by the Cherobyl Forum, representing the main countries involved, as well as all the relevant UN agencies, including the World Health Organisation and the International Atomic Energy Agency:

    On 3-5 February 2003, at the Agency Headquarters in Vienna, representatives from the IAEA, other United Nations organizations (FAO, UN-OCHA, UNDP, UNEP, UNSCEAR, WHO and The World Bank) and Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, established and launched the "Chernobyl Forum".

    The Forum concluded in 2005:

    Apart from the dramatic increase in thyroid cancer incidence among those exposed at a young age,

    there is no clearly demonstrated increase in the incidence of solid cancers or leukaemia due to radiation in the most affected populations

    Claims have been made that tens or even hundreds of thousands of persons have died as a result of the accident. These claims are highly exaggerated…

    According to UNSCEAR (2000), ARS [acute radiation sickness] was diagnosed in 134 emergency workers. In many cases the ARS was complicated by extensive beta radiation skin burns and sepsis. Among these workers, 28 persons died in 1986 due to ARS. Two more persons had died at Unit 4 from injuries unrelated to radiation, and one additional death was thought to have been due to a coronary thrombosis. Nineteen more have died in 1987–2004 of various causes; however their deaths are not necessarily — and in some cases are certainly not — directly attributable to radiation exposure.

    Among the general population exposed to the Chernobyl radioactive fallout, however, the radiation doses were relatively low, and ARS and associated fatalities did not occur…

    So far, epidemiological studies of residents of contaminated areas in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine have not provided clear and convincing evidence for a radiation-induced increase in general population mortality, and in particular, for fatalities caused by leukaemia, solid cancers (other than thyroid cancer), and non-cancer diseases.

    However, 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.

    That brings the total number of deaths linked to the Chernobyl disaster to 65, but up to 19 of them may not, and in some cases certainly weren’t, directly related to radiation exposure.

    19 Thoughts on “Nuclear reactor: blast impossible, meltdown no sweat

    1. Nuclear fatalities in the last ten years: 7

      Wind farm fatalities in the last ten years: 44.

      http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/jamesdelingpole/100079664/did-climate-change-cause-the-japanese-earthquake/

    2. Alexander K on March 15, 2011 at 4:57 am said:

      Excellent and solid information, which certainly should dispell some myths. Other excellent blogs carry the figures for the many hundreds of Chinese coal miners who die each year in collapsed mine shafts and other relevant death stats in the energy extraction fields, which all go to prove that the MSM is neither logical, nor even terribly adfult; they are still getting a huge vicarious thrill from frightening the ignorant, themsleves included, for promoting the irrational fear of atomic power.

    3. great information, thanks so much for posting…

      if you haven’t seen this, you might enjoy “Good bye Kyoto” at AT: http://www.americanthinker.com/2011/03/good_bye_kyoto.html

      “The Kyoto Protocol was a fraud right from Day One. Even if it had been punctiliously followed by all of the nations who ratified it, it would have achieved essentially nothing — a measly reduction in the calculated temperature half a century hence of 0.02 degrees C — an amount too small to even measure.”

      cheers…

    4. val majkus on March 15, 2011 at 3:46 pm said:

      latest update
      http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/RS_Possible_damage_at_Fukushima_Daiichi_2_1503111.html
      Loud noises were heard at Fukushima Daiichi 2 at 6.10am this morning. A major component beneath the reactor is confirmed to be damaged. A fire is burning at unit 4 and evacuation to 30 kilometres is being urged.

      Confirmation of loud sounds at unit 2 this morning came from the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA). It noted that “the suppression chamber may be damaged.” It is not clear that the sounds were explosions.

    5. val majkus on March 15, 2011 at 3:48 pm said:

      from the same link:
      Fire at unit 4

      Kan also confirmed a fire burning at unit 4, which – according to all official sources – had never been a safety concern since the earthquake. This reactor was closed for periodic inspections when the earthquake and tsunami hit, therefore did not undergo a rapid and sudden shutdown, although it was of course violently shaken.

    6. Bob D on March 15, 2011 at 5:24 pm said:

      It looks like the fire at No. 4 is out.
      NZ Herald – Japan disaster: Latest updates
      4.24pm
      Japan’s nuclear safety agency says the fire at a fourth reactor of stricken nuke plant Fukushima Daiichi has been extinguished.

    7. That’s good news. That account includes this eyewitness’ comments:

      “It’s like a horror movie,” said 49-year-old Kyoko Nambu as she stood on a hillside overlooking her ruined home town of Soma, about 40 kilometres from the plant.

      But what a cruel irony:

      “Our house is gone and now they are telling us to stay indoors.”

    8. val majkus on March 15, 2011 at 8:23 pm said:

      update from my previous link http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/03/15/fukushima-15-march-summary/
      Unit 2: This is now of most concern, and the situation continues to change quickly. Here is the key information to hand (I will update as new data emerges).

      Loud noises were heard at Fukushima Daiichi 2 at 6.10am this morning. A major component beneath the reactor is confirmed to be damaged. Evacuation to 20 kilometres is being completed, while a fire on site has now been put out.

      Confirmation of loud sounds at unit 2 this morning came from the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA). It noted that “the suppression chamber may be damaged.” It is not clear that the sounds were explosions.

      The pressure in the pool was seen to decrease from three atmospheres to one atmosphere after the noise, suggesting possible damage. Radiation levels on the edge of the plant compound briefly spiked at 8217 microsieverts per hour but later fell to about a third that.

      A close watch is being kept on the radiation levels to ascertain the status of containment. As a precaution Tokyo Electric Power Company has evacuated all non-essential personnel from the unit. The company’s engineers continue to pump seawater into the reactor pressure vessel in an effort to cool it.

      Evacuation ordered

      Prime minister Naoto Kan has requested that evacuation from 20 kilometer radius is completed and those between 20-30 kilometers should stay indoors. He said his advice related to the overall picture of safety developments at Fukushima Daiichi, rather than those at any individual reactor unit.

      Shortly afterwards Noriyuki Shikata said radiation levels near the reactors had reached levels that would affect human health. It is thought that the fire had been the major source of radiation.

      Prime minister Naoto Kan has requested that everyone withdraw from a 30 kilometer evacuation zone around the nuclear power plant and that people that stay within remain indoors. He said his advice related to the overall picture of safety developments at Fukushima Daiichi, rather than those at any individual reactor unit.

      Regarding radiation levels: It is very important to distinguish between doses from the venting of noble-gas fission products, which rapidly dissipate and cause no long-term contamination or ingestion hazard, and aerosols of other fission products including cesium and iodine.

      From NEI:

      Yukio Edano, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, during a live press conference at 10 p.m. EDT, said there is a fire at Fukushima Daiichi 4 that is accompanied by high levels of radiation between Units 3 and 4 at the site. The fire began burning at Unit 4 at around 6 a.m. Japan time on March 14 and is still burning. Fire fighters are responding to the fire. The reactor does not have fuel in the reactor, but there is spent fuel in the reactor (pool) and Edano said that he assumes radioactive substances are being released. “The substances are coming out from the No. 4 reactor and we are making the utmost effort to put out the first and also cool down the No. 4 reactor (pool).”

      Edano said that a blast was heard this morning at Unit 2 at about 6:30 a.m. A hole was observed in the number 2 reactor and he said there is very little possibility that an explosion will occur at Unit 2.

      “The part of the suppression chamber seems to have caused the blast,” Edano said. A small amount of radioactive substance seems to have been released to the outside.

      TEPCO workers continue to pump sea water at 1, 2 and 3 reactors. “The biggest problem is how to maintain the cooling and how to contain the fire at No. 4.” At 10:22 a.m. Japan time, the radiation level between units 2 and 3 were as high as 40 rem per hour. “We are talking about levels that can impact human health.” Edano said.

      Of the 800 staff that remained at the power plant, all but 50 who are directly involved in pumping water into the reactor have been evacuated.

      More updates to the above as the fog of uncertainty begins to clear…

      ———————————

      Finally, a telling comment from a friend of mine in the US nuclear research community:

      The lesson so far: Japan suffered an earthquake and tsunami of unprecedented proportion that has caused unbelievable damage to every part of their infrastructure, and death of very large numbers of people. The media have chosen to report the damage to a nuclear plant which was, and still is, unlikely to harm anyone. We won’t know for sure, of course, until the last measure to assure cooling is put in place, but that’s the likely outcome. You’d never know it from the parade of interested anti-nuclear activists identified as “nuclear experts” on TV.

      From the early morning Saturday nuclear activists were on TV labelling this ‘the third worst nuclear accident ever’. This was no accident, this was damage caused by truly one of the worst of earthquakes and tsunamis ever. (The reported sweeping away of four entire trains, including a bullet train which apparently disappeared without a trace, was not labelled “the third worst train accident ever.”) An example of the reporting: A fellow from one of the universities, and I didn’t note which one, obviously an engineer and a knowlegable one, was asked a question and began to explain quite sensibly what was likely. He was cut off after about a minute, maybe less, and an anti-nuke, very glib, and very poorly informed, was brought on. With ponderous solemnity, he then made one outrageous and incorrect statement after another. He was so good at it they held him over for another segment

      The second lesson is to the engineers: We all know that the water reactor has one principal characteristic when it shuts down that has to be looked after. It must have water to flow around the fuel rods and be able to inject it into the reactor if some is lost by a sticking relief valve or from any other cause – for this, it must have backup power to power the pumps and injection systems.

      The designers apparently could not imagine a tsunami of these proportions and the backup power — remember, the plants themselves produce power, power is brought in by multiple outside power lines, there are banks of diesels to produce backup power, and finally, banks of batteries to back that up, all were disabled. There’s still a lot the operators can do, did and are doing. But reactors were damaged and may not have needed to be even by this unthinkable earthquake if they had designed the backup power systems to be impregnable, not an impossible thing for an engineer to do. So we have damage that probably could have been avoided, and reporting of almost stunning inaccuracy and ignorance.Still, the odds are that no one will be hurt from radioactivity — a few workers from falling or in the hydrogen explosions, but tiny on the scale of the damage and killing around it.

      It seems pathetic that Russia should be the only reported adult in this — they’re quoted as saying “Of course our nuclear program is not going to be affected by an earthquake in Japan.” Japan has earthquakes.

      That’s the end of the quote – from a personal level this is the worst natural disaster that I remember in my lifetime; commiserations to all our Japanese friends and I’m looking for a site where I can donate

    9. QuentinF on March 16, 2011 at 4:08 pm said:

      The reactors are 40 yo Westinghouse units.

    10. val majkus on March 18, 2011 at 8:45 am said:

      update 17/3
      http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/03/17/fukushima-17-march-summary/#more-4112
      In sum, this accident is now significantly more severe than Three Mile Island in 1979. It resulted from a unique combination of failures to plant systems caused by the tsunami, and the broad destruction of infrastructure for water and electricity supply which would normally be reestablished within a day or two following a reactor accident. My initial estimates of the extent of the problem, on March 12, did not anticipate the cascading problems that arose from the extended loss of externally sourced AC power to the site, and my prediction that ‘there is no credible risk of a serious accident‘ has been proven quite wrong as a result. It remains to be seen whether my forecast on the possibility of containment breaches and the very low level of danger to the public as a result of this tragic chain of circumstances will be proven correct. For the sake of the people there, I sure hope it does stand the test of time

    11. Someone pointed out on the radio this morning that these nuclear plant were built in the age of the slide rule. (Nowt wrong with that mind)

      But it does indicate that the gear is pretty ancient.

    12. Quentin F on March 19, 2011 at 12:20 pm said:

      Sorry for them..
      http://globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=23764
      I think unfortunately hes right.

    13. val majkus on March 20, 2011 at 9:02 am said:

      latest update at
      http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/03/20/fukushima-sat-19-march/
      Last Saturday the the crisis level at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station was rapidly on the rise. Hydrogen explosions, cracks in the wetwell torus and fires in a shutdown unit’s building — it seemed the sequence of new problems would never end. A week later, the situation remains troubling, but, over the last few days, it has not got any worse. Indeed, one could make a reasonable argument that it’s actually got better.

      Yes, the IAEA has now formally listed the overall accident at an INES level 5 (see here for a description of the scales), up from the original estimate of 4. This is right and proper — but it doesn’t mean the situation has escalated further, as some have inferred. Here is a summary of the main site activities for today, followed by the latest JAIF and FEPC reports. You also might be interested in the following site map
      … read the rest at the link – all seems good news

    14. Richard C (NZ) on March 21, 2011 at 10:14 am said:

      A rational article gleaned from Bing climate science news (I’ve all but given up on the tripe that Google dishes up):-

      Talk about a meltdown

      http://www.fosters.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20110320/GJOPINION_0102/703209947/-1/FOSOPINION

      On earthquake opportunism:

      “…….when thousands die, or when some sudden calamity befalls us, the tendency of politicians, journalists, policymakers and experts is to seize on the moment to advocate some radical changes. “A crisis,” Rahm Emanuel famously declared in the early days of the Obama administration, “is a terrible thing to waste.”

      That this axiom didn’t generate more controversy always struck me as bizarre. I mean, shouldn’t it be “a crisis is a terrible thing to exploit”?

      So here we go again in Japan, where the tragedy is literally too terrible to comprehend. The death toll, the scale — the whole nation moved 8 to 12 feet — the suddenness: It all overwhelms.

      And yet the search for scapegoats and the thirst to confirm one’s preferred policies kicked in almost immediately.

      The most egregious examples were attempts to link, no matter how tenuously, the earthquake with climate change. Though in fairness, such naked balderdash has been far less common than it was in the wake of the Asian tsunami of 2004, never mind the riot of idiocy after Hurricane Katrina the following year (when, for example, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. blamed Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour: “Now we are all learning what it’s like to reap the whirlwind of fossil fuel dependence which Barbour and his cronies have encouraged”).”

      On the nuclear backlash:-

      “NBC science correspondent Robert Bazell explained Tuesday morning that this is certainly “not Chernobyl,” but it is “worse than Three Mile Island.”

      True enough. But let’s remember that no one was hurt, never mind killed, by the Three Mile Island accident. And over the last decade, the wind farm industry has seen more fatalities than the nuclear industry.

      In Europe, where nuclear power is vastly more common than it is here, the Japanese earthquake is being exploited to the hilt. “If the Japanese,” editorializes the British Independent newspaper, “with all their understandable inhibitions about anything nuclear and all their world-leading technology, cannot build reactors that are invulnerable to disaster, who can?”

      Well, that’s just it. Who said anything, anywhere, is invulnerable to disaster? At 9.0, this was Japan’s biggest earthquake and could be the fourth largest ever recorded (it was even detected in Pennsylvania). Perhaps the standard shouldn’t be whether Japan’s reactor was “invulnerable” but whether it succeeded by taking such a beating without threatening much human life?

      The damaged reactors are ruined, but so what? Cars are designed to be ruined after a major accident too. We routinely, and wisely, trade salvageability for survivability. Few skyscrapers in the United States can withstand a 9.0 earthquake; should we stop making tall buildings?

    15. Richard C (NZ) on March 21, 2011 at 10:31 am said:

      “the wind farm industry has seen more fatalities than the nuclear industry.”

      Deaths per TWh for all energy sources: Rooftop solar power is actually more dangerous than Chernobyl

      http://nextbigfuture.com/2008/03/deaths-per-twh-for-all-energy-sources.html

      Coal – China__________278
      Coal – USA ___________15
      Oil__________________36 (36% of world energy)
      Natural Gas __________4 (21% of world energy)
      Biofuel/Biomass_______12
      Peat________________12
      Solar (rooftop)_________0.44 (less than 0.1% of world energy)
      Wind________________0.15 (less than 1% of world energy)
      Hydro_______________0.10 (europe death rate, 2.2% of world energy)
      Hydro – world including Banqiao)___1.4 (about 2500 TWh/yr and 171,000 Banqiao dead)
      Nuclear_____________0.04 (5.9% of world energy)

    16. It seems quite plausible that wind is an extremely risky and dangerous technology to maintain and service.

      Think about it, 40 storey towers out in the North Sea, one of the most hostile marine environments in the world. Turbines blades that are the size of aircraft.

    17. QuentinF on March 21, 2011 at 1:01 pm said:

      The explosion blew Xe, Kr and other nucleotides into the atmosphere. Its already too late regardless of what they stop now. A melt down and explosion is what it is .How far they get dispersed is a guess. Already contaminated food in Japan.

    18. val majkus on March 21, 2011 at 2:41 pm said:

      latest update by Barry Brooks
      http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/03/21/fukushima-21-march-update/
      from first para
      It’s not yet time for the period of reflection and introspection on the Fukushima Daiichi crisis, but we’re getting there. Even the U.S. says the worst seems to be over

    19. val majkus on March 25, 2011 at 12:52 pm said:

      AND lessons to be learned
      Guest Post by Dr. William Hannum. Bill worked for more than 40 years in nuclear power development, stretching from design and analysis of the Shippingport reactor to the Integral Fast Reactor. He earned his BA in physics at Princeton and his MS and PhD in nuclear physics at Yale. He has held key management positions with the U. S. Department of Energy (DOE), in reactor physics , reactor safety, and as Deputy Manager of the Idaho Operations Office.
      http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/03/25/preliminary-lessons-from-fukushima-for-future-nuclear-power-plants/
      Conclusions:

      The major lesson to be learned is that for any water-cooled reactor there must be an absolutely secure supply of power sufficient to operate cooling pumps. Many other lessons are likely to be learned. At this early point, it appears that design criteria for fuel storage pools may need to be revised, and hydrogen control assessed.

      Given the severity of the challenge faced by the operators at Fukushima, and their ability to manage the situation in such a way as to preclude any significant radiation related health consequences for workers or the public, this event should be a reassurance that properly designed and regulated nuclear power does not pose a catastrophic risk to the public—that, overall, nuclear power remains a safe and clean energy sources

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