Fukushima Commentary

Fukushima Commentary

These postings address four questions. What Japanese decisions border on the irrational? Is the Fukushima accident ongoing? Does Fukushima have the potential for world-wide apocalyptic disaster? Are the Fukushima radiation levels health-threatening?

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September 10, 2014

Fukushima groundwater is not contaminating the Pacific Ocean

It is widely reported that hundreds of tons of highly contaminated Fukushima Daiichi groundwater pours into the Pacific Ocean every day. But, an objective look at the evidence tells a completely different story. It’s long-past time for the Tokyo Electric Company (Tepco) and the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) to broadcast the truth – there is no groundwater contamination being released to the Pacific Ocean at F. Daiichi. There are several reasons why I make this claim with the highest possible confidence.

It has been repeatedly posted in Fukushima Accident Updates (1) that the seawater in and around the port at F. Daiichi shows no evidence of a highly-contaminated groundwater influx. It is important to note that the inner harbor (quay) at F. Daiichi has been sealed off from the outer port and the open sea for nearly 3 years. If highly contaminated groundwater was actually out-flowing for the past 3 years, it would necessarily have been inside the quay and the concentration of radioactive isotopes would have constantly increased. However, the opposite has been the case. The concentrations have been steadily diminishing for more than 3 years. Current testing inside the quay shows that all isotopic concentrations are so low that the contained seawater meets Japan’s national standards for release.(2) If there were huge volumes of radioactive water entering the quay, the test result’s trend should be exactly the opposite.

Next, we should look at Tepco’s continual ocean testing out to 15 kilometers, dating back to December of 2011, revealing no evidence of highly contaminated waters flowing into the sea. This has been continually verified by the NRA since they began their own sampling in September, 2013. (3) Once again, if 300 tons of highly contaminated groundwater were actually flowing into the sea itself, the testing results of the surrounding ocean would show it…but they don’t.

To prevent any possible future contamination of the Pacific, Tepco has built an underground barricade all along the shoreline between the four-unit turbine building basements and the quay. This is an example of producing defense-in-depth on the fly. The soil-solidified barrier was completed between units 1 and 2 on March 25th, between units 2 and 3 on February 6th, and, between units 3 and 4 on March 5th. (4) Its integrity is proven by the groundwater samples taken between the barrier and the quay shoreline, all three showing isotopic levels well-below the national standards for release.(5) With the barrier complete, future Pacific contamination from F. Daiichi groundwater is quite improbable.

But, there was no discernible groundwater contamination making it into the ocean before the soil-barrier was completed. What prevented it? Soil is an awesome filtering medium for radioactive isotopes and keeps them from migrating over extremely long tracts of time. Strong evidence for this comes from the country of Gabon, and the several “natural” reactors discovered in the African nation over the past 50 years. (6,7) No less than three large Uranium deposits in Gabon have been studied in detail - Oklo, Okelobondo, and Bogambe – all within 40 kilometers of each other. Between 1.7 and 1.5 billion years ago, their U-235 abundance was about 4.5 times greater than we find in the Earth today; roughly the same 3% concentration artificially manufactured for modern power plant fuel. Underground water sporadically flowed through the deposits over a period of several million years. The water down the spontaneously-released neutrons from U-238 and spawned subsequent fissions in the U-235. While the underground water was inside the deposits, chain-reactions occurred, producing a lot of radioactive isotopes – identical to the ones popularly reported with respect to F. Daiichi.

Further, the Gabon studies have shown that all isotopes have moved no more than a meter from the periphery of the deposits in more than 1.5 billion years…and this includes the inert gas Xenon which has been locked in the mineral aluminum-phosphate for the entire time. The surrounding soil and rock layers filtered the isotopes out of the water carrying them from the deposits, and they have remained there ever since! These observations show that nuclear waste isotopes can be successfully sequestered underground, even in locations as (technically/politically) unsuited for nuclear isotopic releases such as Oklo, Okelobondo, Bogambe, and F. Daiichi.

Most of the groundwater contamination found at F. Daiichi comes from wells located nearest the highly contaminated waters in the underground equipment/cabling tunnels stretching from the turbine basements to the seawater intake structures along the quay shoreline. As we move farther and farther from the tunnels, the groundwater concentrations drop dramatically. By the time we reach the wells closest to the shoreline, albeit inside the new soil barriers, the concentrations are orders-of-magnitude lower. Clearly the soil has been filtering the radioactive isotopes from the groundwater contaminated by the trenches for as long as it has been studied, effectively keeping the contamination from reaching the Pacific. With the soil-solidified barriers now in-place, there is even more reason to understand that no contamination is getting into the quay, and entirely misleading to extend this to something “highly contaminated” besmirching the Pacific Ocean.

Thus, the notion of 300 tons of highly contaminated groundwater flowing into the sea is, was, and will continue to be an assumption…a speculation…a conjecture – anything but a fact. The assumption initially came from two sources: Tepco and the NRA. Why did they broadcast this fact-vacuous assumption? On July 26, 2013, Tepco’s president Naomi Hirose vowed to improve Tepco’s public disclosure policy, saying “even if the evaluations do not show enough evidence, we will swiftly and honestly mention risks and worst-case scenarios without fearing the impact.” Rather than counter exaggerated, confabulated claims made by so-called antinuclear experts that are regularly trumpeted by the Press, Tepco decided to beat them to the punch. The NRA promptly followed suit. Ever since then, the results have created a public relations nightmare. The most ill-fated of their worst-case speculations has been the notion that highly-contaminated groundwater is continually going into the sea.

Although Tepco and NRA worst-case speculations have been tempered with terms like “might”, “may”, and “possibly”, the Japanese Press reports them as statements of certainty. In turn, the historically-nuclear-adverse Press outside Japan took the Japanese reports, added a few scary “spins” of their own, and created an international uproar. The antinuclear prophets of doom feed on it like hungry Jackals. Both inside and outside Japan, most of the public has no idea of the realities involved. Speculations wrapped in embellishment abound, and it can be traced back to Hirose’s worst-case-scenario promise.

Tepco and the NRA have every reason in the world to admit they are wrong about F. Daiichi’s groundwater constantly contaminating the Pacific. Ruthlessly clinging to this fictional worst-case assumption poses Pascalean quandary. Tepco and the NRAS have everything to lose and nothing to gain by continuing the false conjecture, but everything to gain and nothing to lose by admitting their obvious mistake.

I suspect that Tepco and the NRA do not have the courage to do the right thing. I hope they will prove me wrong, but I’m not holding my breath.

References :

1 – http://www.hiroshimasyndrome.com/fukushima-accident-updates.html

2 - http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/nu/fukushima-np/f1/smp/2014/images/2tb-east_map-e.pdf

3 - http://www.hiroshimasyndrome.com/fukushima-commentary/fukushima-commentary-10.html 

4 - http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/nu/fukushima-np/handouts/2014/images/handouts_140905_03-e.pdf

5 - http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/nu/fukushima-np/f1/smp/2014/images/2tb-east_14090801-e.pdf

6 - http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ancient-nuclear-reactor/

7 - http://www.nuclearfaq.ca/cnf_sectionE.htm#v2

August 9, 2014

Did Fukushima Daiichi unit #3 have a “melt-through”?

On August 6th, Tepco announced that the fuel core of unit #3 at F. Daiichi may have melted about five hours earlier than had been previously estimated. In addition, the company said the added time-frame suggests that most of the corium (a mixture of melted fuel, control rods, structural metals and instrumentation) ate its way through the bottom of the reactor pressure vessel (RPV) and fell to the concrete base-mat beneath. It is estimated that the corium then penetrated 0.68 meters into the ~2 meter thick base-mat. Tepco cautions that their “analysis entails some degree of uncertainty”. Their degree of uncertainty might be considerable, if not astronomical.

On July 26, 2013, Tepco’s president Naomi Hirose vowed to improve Tepco’s public disclosure policy, saying “even if the evaluations do not show enough evidence, we will swiftly and honestly mention risks and worst-case scenarios without fearing the impact.” (Fukushima Commentary, August 24, 2013) His statement was in response to incessant allegations of non-transparency by the Japanese Press and parallel pressure from the Nuclear Regulation Authority. In effect, Tepco said that if everyone wants worst-case scenarios, that’s what they will get. The recent announcement on unit #3’s core damage may well be a computer-generated worst-case assumption. Although the results were based on sophisticated computer simulations, the degree of confidence in the conclusion is only as good as the data fed into the program. Much of the data fed into the simulation seems decidedly assumptive, thus we might put the conclusion into serious question. 

There are several reasons why. The first, and perhaps most important, reason is that there is no way to look at the actual condition of the RPV’s bottom head and inspect the condition of the base-mat beneath, at this point in time. It is hoped that the use of Muon tomography will give the world a decent idea of where the solidified corium is located. But, this is currently in the developmental stage. It could happen as soon as next year. Regardless, assumption-based conclusions on the location of unit #3’s corium, at this point, cannot be given any degree of confidence; even those using the best computer simulations money can buy. The proof will be in the pudding, and Muon tomography should show us how well everything turns out.

Next, the data used to run the computer simulation contains numerous technical assumptions. One assumption is that prior estimates of the amount of water injected into the RPV by the High Pressure Coolant Injection system (HPCI) were too high. By re-crunching the numbers relative to HPCI, Tepco now estimates that less water was being fed into the core and allowed the degradation of the Zirconium tubes (cladding) holding the uranium pellets much earlier than prior timelines have shown. The heat generated by this was thus assumed to be much greater than earlier estimated, causing the fuel to melt about five hours prior to that previously proposed. But, did this actually happen?

Tepco has posted that even though HPCI operated, perhaps at a lower-than-previously-assumed output, until 2:42 am on March 13, “We assumed that no cooling water was injected into the reactor after 20:00 (8pm) on March 12.” This, in itself, is highly speculative and smacks of a rather questionable worst-case speculation. Even if HPCI was working at a reduced capacity, some water must have been getting inside the unit #3 RPV until HPCI stopped! If HPCI were merely “spinning its wheels”, it would have over-heated the mechanism and caused it to fail many hours before it actually did. Of all the assumptive data fed to the computer, this may well be the most speculative. Tepco’s chart on water level in the unit #3 RPV began to drop at about 8pm on March 12th, but it took more than four hours for that level to reach the top of the fuel core (TAF). If there was absolutely no water being injected during this period, the level decrease would have been much faster; not nearly so gradual. This implies that some water was being injected by HPCI – maybe not as much as HPCI is designed to supply, but certainly not nothing.

Yet another assumption in the computer data-feed concerns the fact that the water level in the RPV, as measured by the precious little instrumentation that was working at the time, stopped decreasing about the time HPCI failed. Tepco assumes that the water-level instrumentation must have been damaged and was giving false readings. They based this assumption on the fact that calibrations run months after-the-fact showed the instrument readings to be in error. However, the calibrations occurred after the hydrogen explosion with unit #3 at 11am on March 14. The shock of the detonation may well have caused instrumentation damage. The instrumentation itself is designed to operate effectively at all pressure and temperature conditions up to, and including, the point where the safety relief valves (SRV) open. The SRVs first opened at 9:36am on March 13. Although there seems to be no technical reason why Tepco is assuming the instrumentation must have been giving false readings, the assumptionis made nonetheless.

Further, the measured water levels after TAF was exposed, never completely uncovered the entire fuel core. Even the computer simulation itself estimated that the core was never completely uncovered until the moment that the SRV’s were opened, depressurizing the system, and allowing low pressure fire pumps to inject water and quench the RPV’s internals. Without full core “uncovery” of the fuel core for many minutes, a full meltdown of the fuel is quite unlikely.

In addition, Tepco estimates that when about a fourth of the core was still water-covered (5:10am), the temperature above the core reached more than 2150oF (1200oC). This was not a temperature reached in air, but must have occurred in a steam-shrouded environment. In an enclosed steam environment, pressure rises in parallel with temperature increases. The saturated steam pressure would have been well in excess of the set-points for the SRVs to lift and exhaust into the suppression pool (Torus). This would have meant that the SRVs should have lifted on or before 5:10am – not 9:36am! Plus, we’re not looking at one or two valves that might have been stuck shut or malfunctioned. We’re talking about at least six of them. It is important to point out that SRVs work against spring pressure. They are fully “passive” in that no power source is needed for their operation. To assume all of these passive devices “stuck shut” and allowed pressure to skyrocket well above the design set-points borders on the absurd.

The above should be sufficient to make any rational adult skeptical of Tepco’s claim of a melt-through with unit #3 at Fukushima Daiichi. This does not mean that Tepco’s new estimate of unit #3’s core damage should be entirely rejected. For example, it is possible that HPCI injections were less than previously assumed. However, to say that there was no water going into the core at the point Tepco assumed is absolute speculation. In fact, without the conjecture that HPCI did nothing while it was unquestionably operating, the conclusion collapses.

It should be noted that nuclear energy worst-case scenarios rarely turn out to be correct. In fact, they are almost entirely wide of the mark. Cleverly-created worst-case scenarios, relative to nukes, have historically been the domain of hardened nuclear critics. To date, none of their tacit “guarantees” have come to fruition. Tepco’s recent worst-case scenario with respect to Fukushima unit #3 may be no better than the fantastical fabrications spawned by unprincipled prophets of nuclear energy doom.

References –

1 - http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/2014/1240141_5892.html  

2 - http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/betu14_e/images/140806e0101.pdf

August 2, 2014

Japan’s Press reinforces the Hiroshima Syndrome

Whenever the anniversary of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki (H/N) bombings approaches, the Japanese Press posts numerous articles about them. Since 3/11/11, most Press outlets bring the Fukushima accident into the mix.  In the process they reinforce and underscore the Hiroshima Syndrome. This year, a new approach emerges.

The Hiroshima Syndrome is a strong aversion to, if not mortal fear of, nuclear power plants due to confusion between reactors and bombs. Reactors and nuclear weapons are extremely different; in fact, it is impossible for a nuclear power plant reactor to experience a nuclear detonation. Why? Nuke plants use fuel that is nearly 20 times too dilute to be used in a bomb. But, this is not the only point of confusion. Many nuclear-averse people believe the atmospheric releases from nuclear plants, including those from nuke accidents, are the same as bomb fallout. But, the differences between the two are as significant as the dissimilarities between reactors and bombs. (For a more detailed breakdown on these two roots of the Hiroshima Syndrome, see “The Uranium Explosive Myth” and “Confusion about Fallout” in the left-hand menu)

The Hiroshima Syndrome is not uncommon in Japan, infecting much of the public. An informal survey run for me by a friend in Japan covering more than 150 persons, showed that 2/3 did not know the differences between reactors and bombs. The Syndrome also seems to taint most of the Japanese Press outlets and builds the biases found in their reporting. Late in 2012, the Asahi Shimbun polled 50 news outlets in Japan and 47 admitted they were antinuclear, with more than half admitting to the perceived connection between Fukushima and H/N as a reason. Seemingly unaware of the above-mentioned differences, most Japanese news media treat reactors and bombs as if they are literally one-and-same. There have been numerous articles on the impending H/N anniversary, and most admix the Fukushima accident with the H/N.

In this instance, an editorial from Japan Times is selected as an example. (1) Right from the start, the headline underscores nuclear confusion, Fukushima disaster colors A-bomb anniversaries. The sub-head tells us of a new confusion being added to the mix; Parallels can be drawn between control of information during Occupation and today. The intent is to make parallels between actual post-H/N confidentiality and unabashed assumptions concerning Fukushima informational flow.

Japan’s new secrecy policy has been used to allege covering up information relative to Fukushima Daiichi. There is a kernel of truth to this. The government’s policy includes the security measures at all Japanese nukes in order to keep sensitive information from falling into the hands of terrorists. However, many news outlets have posted articles where antinuclear activists and politicians allege that the new policy allows the government to withhold the “truth” about the impact of the accident, alleging a sumptuous buffet of supposed health problems….many of which are not medically connected to any level of radiation exposure. Many of these allegations are based on exaggerations and embellishments that stagger the mind. The reality is quite different. But, this does not dissuade the Times from trying to make the connection between Fukushima and H/N.

After WWII, America invoked what was essentially a top-secret tag to all things associated with nuclear weapons. In addition, some American military officials tried to downplay the effects of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombings. For example, in September 1945, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Leslie Groves “announced to the press that if any Japanese had died from exposure to radiation, ‘the number was very small.’ . . . Vegetation was growing in Hiroshima, and radiation levels were so low, ‘you could live there forever.’ ” (1) Obviously, paranoiac secrecy and misinformation were not uncommon with respect to American interests. It seems the Times’ uses Groves’ statement correctly.

However, immediately following the Grove’s reference, we find, “Skip ahead to 2011: Dr. Shunichi Yamashita, the head of Fukushima Medical University, makes controversial remarks suggesting that an exposure limit of 100 millisieverts per year is acceptable. The comments, which made international headlines, were contested. Referring to the remarks, The Japan Times’ Eric Johnston wrote, “According to a 2006 study by the U.S. National Academy of Science, an exposure of 20 millisieverts will produce 2,270 cancer cases per 1 million people annually.” This is supposed to show that Fukushima secrecy is as severe as that which occurred after Hiroshima/Nagasaki. Actually, it is trying to combine apples and oranges. Dr. Shunichi’s statement is based on scientific evidence. On the other hand, there is no actual evidence of negative health effects below 100 mSv/year exposure with humans. The NAS study extrapolates from much larger exposures and derives the 20 mSv/2,270 cancers per million number based on the severely flawed and contentious Linear/No Threshold notion. Thus, the Times’ attempt to make a Fukushima and H/N parallel crumbles.

To make matters worse, the above is immediately followed by, “Jump to spring 2014: On April 14, the Mainichi Shimbun reports that in an effort to collect data on internal radiation exposure, the Foreign Ministry sent an email to municipalities that ‘suggested the data could be used to play down the radiation effects from the disaster.’ The data was to be used by the International Atomic Energy Agency, but ‘the email suggested that the IAEA report is expected to evaluate radiation exposure among residents at lower levels than reports by other international organizations.’” How does this relate to a possible connection between Fukushima and Hiroshima/Nagasaki? Your guess is as good as mine. I can’t find even a most-distant connection. Also, the Times is cherry-picking from an Email posting. Cherry-picking an Email posting? That’s stooping extremely low!

Undaunted, the Times sinks lower into the confabulatory abyss. During U.S. post-war occupation, many doctors and researchers in Japan found it difficult to get involved in the H/N aftermath. They faced a lack of funds, American Occupation-based restrictions, being required by the Allied authorities to translate all reports into English, and not having access to autopsy data. Censorship of reports written by Japanese researchers was not uncommon, and many reports that did make it through the restrictions suffered years of delay before seeing the light of day. The Times tries to connect this to Fukushima by referencing assumptions made by Japan’s most anti-nuclear news outlets, alleging government attempts to stop medical research with respect to Fukushima. These allegations are entirely vacuous. To connect speculative Fukushima newspaper reporting with actual H/N historical evidence is disinformation at its worst.

Finally, The Times tries to connect suppression of anti-atomic bomb protests after WWII with the speculative notion that the new state’s secrecy law will cause the same thing to happen with respect to Fukushima protests. This is a bold-faced fabrication. There is nothing in the law even remotely referring to antinuclear protests. Attempting to draw a parallel between what actually happened seventy years ago with something that is not happening now is morally corrupt. To add insult to their fantasy, the Times cites Koichi Nakano, professor of political science at Sophia University. He says, “You find a similar power with the Japanese government as existed during the U.S. Occupation. Self-censorship will become more prevalent. Journalists will censor themselves before asking questions. The activists who try to find out information about the nuclear industry may get in trouble, they may not, but they’ll worry about what they otherwise wouldn’t.” In other words, fear that the secrecy law might someday be used to dissuade protests could keep demonstrators from demonstrating. If this sounds circular…it is! I wonder how many college professors the Times’ had to canvas to find one who fit their agenda.

The attempt to confuse Fukushima with Hiroshima/Nagasaki is clear. Millions of Japanese, and millions-more around the world, are already confused about reactors and bombs. The effects of not knowing the differences between reactors and bombs are considerable, and has caused severe psychological damage. By trying to add to the existing confusion by making unfathomably specious parallels between post-H/N secrecy and Fukushima, based on assumptions completely alien to Japan’s new sate’s secrets law, can only make the negative psychological impact of the Hiroshima Syndrome worse than it already is.


1 - http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2014/07/30/voices/fukushima-disaster-colors-bomb-anniversaries/#.U9vk86N0wdV

July 27, 2014

219th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers

The Hiroshima Syndrome’s Fukushima Commentary is proudly hosting the 219th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers. This week’s edition includes articles by Brian Wang, Dr. Jim Conca, Rod Adams, Eric McErlain, and Meredith Angwin, just to name a few.

Here’s the Fact or Fiction (?) quiz for this week… The phrase used for a fast, automatic reactor shutdown is “SCRAM”. It is the acronym for Safety Control Rod Axe Man, first used with the Chicago Pile reactor in 1942.


Now…for this week’s Blogs. To read the full articles, please click on the individual links. Blog topics for this edition include Russia’s next generation nukes, the nuclear/renewable mix, selfish motives behind the Linear/No Threshold assumption, nuclear plant reliability…and much more.

From Next Big Future (2) –

Russia will be building 1200 MWe fast neutron reactors as the core of its next generation nuclear fleet

Russia plans to start construction of three BN-1200 sodium-cooled fast neutron reactors before 2030. OKBM Afrikantov has said it envisages about 11 GWe (9 of the 1200 MW plants) of such plants by 2030, possibly including South Urals plant. The BN-1200 reactor for Beloyarsk will generate 1220 MWe and have a 60-year life. The core of a fast reactor is much smaller than that of a normal nuclear reactor, and it has a higher power density, requiring very efficient heat transfer. http://nextbigfuture.com/2014/07/russia-will-be-building-1200-mwe-fast.html


BRICS countries are building about75%of the world’s new nuclear reactors and are forming a new BRICS energy association 

Brazil, Russia, China, India and South Africa (BRICS) are forming an energy association. Together these countries are making 75% of the new nuclear reactors in the world. http://nextbigfuture.com/2014/07/brics-countries-are-building-about-75.html

From Jim Conca -

Nuclear-Renewable Mix Is Just What The EPA Ordered

The not-for-profit Energy Northwest in WA State is exactly what the EPA’s new carbon rules are supposed to encourage - a diverse mix of non-fossil fuel generating systems that operates over 90% of the time and emits less than 20 gCO2/kWhr for between 4.7 - 5.2¢/kWh, now and for the next 30 years. http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2014/07/23/nuclear-renewable-mix-is-just-what-the-epa-ordered/

From Atomic Insights -

Selfish motives for LNT assumption by geneticists on NAS BEAR I

 Dr. Edward Calabrese has published a new paper titled "The Genetics Panel of the NAS BEAR I Committee (1956): epistolary evidence suggests self‐interest may have prompted an exaggeration of radiation risks that led to the adoption of the LNT cancer risk assessment model." Rod Adams discusses the paper and integrates its conclusions with those from other sources to add to the evidence that the LNT was imposed for political, not technical reasons. http://atomicinsights.com/selfish-motives-for-lnt-assumption-by-geneticists-on-nas-bear-i/

From Nuclear Diner

How did Russia Build the Next Generation Fast Reactor while US Stalls on Deploying Advanced Prototype by 2021?

How Russia went from rags to riches in the nuclear arena - both domestically and internationally. It is not surprising that they are able to design and build the next generation advanced fast reactor, the BN-800, nor that they are planning on starting construction on three new BN-1200 by 2030. http://www.nucleardiner.com/archive/item/russian-nuclear-success-strategic-planning
From ANS Nuclear Café

Research Reactor License Renewal Challenges

by Rod Adams

Renewing NRC licenses for research and test reactors in the US is a very lengthy, time-intensive, and costly process. The scale of the challenge may contribute to regrettable decisions by institutions that maintaining operable facilities is not worth the trouble. http://ansnuclearcafe.org/2014/07/23/research-reactor-license-renewal-challenges

From NEI Nuclear Notes (3) –

Why the CERES Study on Clean Energy is Fatally Flawed

NEI's Eric McErlain thought it was peculiar that several utilities with significant nuclear assets were rated near the bottom of a CERES/Clean Edge study on clean energy. After confronting CERES and doing some detective work, the reason why became all too apparent.


Energy Scalability and Carbon Reduction

NEI's Scott Peterson writes about the critical connection between nuclear energy and energy diversity.


Nuclear Energy's Unmatched Reliability

NEI's Mitch Singer investigated how much work needs to go into preparing nuclear plants for the summer months when electricity demand is at its height.

From Yes Vermont Yankee

Carbon Emission Confusion

Meredith Angwin analyzes the EPA carbon emission rules. She finds them arbitrary, ineffective and political. Her op-ed "Carbon Emission Confusion" has appeared in newspapers and websites throughout Vermont, including the Valley News, The Commons of Brattleboro, and the St. Albans Messenger. You can read it (and comment fairly easily) at the Vermont Digger website. http://vtdigger.org/2014/07/09/meredith-angwin-carbon-emission-confusion/ 

From Nuke Power Talk

NRC Commissioner Nominees

Gail Marcus reports on the recently announced White House nominations for the NRC. She gives some background on the two nominees - Stephen Burns, presently head of Legal Affairs at the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, and Jeffrey Baran, presently Democratic Staff Director for Energy and the Environment in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.  She also discusses some of the issues that have been raised about both candidates and speculates on the future, given the pending Congressional recess. http://nukepowertalk.blogspot.com/2014/07/nrc-commissioner-nominees.html

*                      *                      *

Fact or Fiction (?) answer – Fiction.

Oak Ridge Associated Universities reports the term appears to have been coined by Volney Wilson at the University of Chicago. Wilson was in charge of the instrumentation at Chicago Pile (CP-1). Wilson directed the construction of the pile’s control rods. Leona Marshall Libby, the only woman present during CP-1’s start-up, says, "The safety rods were coated with cadmium foil, and this metal absorbed so many neutrons that the chain reaction was stopped. Volney Wilson called these ‘scram’ rods. He said that the pile had ‘scrammed’ [when] the rods had ‘scrammed’ into the pile."

Scram is often said to be an acronym for "safety control rod axe man, but the word "reactor" was not in use at the time of CP-1’s initial criticality. The "axe man" being referred-to was Norman Hilberry who stood by with an axe ready to cut an emergency control rod’s rope tied to the railing of the balcony overlooking the pile. There is no record that the term “scram” was used with reference to Hilberry at the time of CP-1’s initial operation. https://www.orau.org/ptp/articlesstories/names.htm#scram

July 19, 2014

How Safe is “safe enough” in Japan?

The question of “how safe is safe enough” has suddenly emerged in Japan. The reason is the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s approval of Kyushu Electric’s submittal on safety improvements for Sendai units 1&2. The NRA says Sendai meets all of their safety regulations, so there is no technical reason to bar restarts. Even though a month-long process of establishing local public approval remains, the NRA finding has spurred the Japanese Press to ask the rhetorical “safe enough” question; which has not been publically broached in the island nation before.

The typically-objective Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s largest newspaper, addresses the question without actually stating it. (1) Its answer seems to be that since the Sendai unit’s meet all regulatory criteria, they should be judged safe enough for full-power operation. The newspaper states, “Passing safety screening under the new safety standards is a precondition for reactivation of reactors.” The Yomiuri stresses that Kyushu Electric’s 400-page submission is detailed, including measures taken to avert “maximum impact of an earthquake on the reactors and tsunami height, as well as its measures against serious accidents including hydrogen explosions.” Owing to NRA pressure, Kyushu Electric substantially raised its assumptions for the maximum impact of an earthquake on the reactors and tsunami height, and upgraded accordingly. The Yomiuri also points out that Kyushu Electric is presently running on a thin margin of electrical reserves, and loss of only one fossil-fueled unit could make their surplus capacity vanish. Operation of the two Sendai units will keep this from happening. The implied conclusion is that by passing the NRA requirements, the Sendai nukes are “safe enough”.

However, the majority of major newspapers in Japan are purporting the opposite opinion. Many begin their commentaries with a recent statement by NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka, "We cannot say that a disaster will never happen. The regulations cannot guarantee safety." This opens the door for reasoning fraught with the promotion of uncertainty and doubt, all of which is designed to reinforce public fears.

Perhaps the most flagrant example is the Asahi Shimbun, Japan’s second-largest newspaper, which seems determined to make itself the most antinuclear of the bunch. The Sendai units may meet NRA regulations, but is not “safe enough” for operation according to the Asahi. (2) Their editorial opens with, “It clearly hasn't dawned on the central government and Japan's electric power companies that it is impossible to construct a nuclear plant that is 100-percent safe.” It goes on to say that the “stance” of the nuke utilities has been “backward looking” since the Fukushima accident, and wrangled themselves out of “a huge investment of time and money” by “understating” estimates on maximum-possible quakes and tsunamis. In other words, the Asahi believes Japan’s nuclear utilities have ignored the lessons wrought by Fukushima. Thus, they should not be allowed to restart any of the idled nukes.

What the Asahi conveniently ignores is that the utilities have paid out billions of dollars in upgrades to meet or exceed the new standards, all of which have been based on extreme worst-possible scenarios for quakes and tsunamis. It has not mattered if the scenarios are likely to happen in the next millennia-or-so. The NRA said it must be done, thus it will be done or there will be no restart approval. The Sendai units are the first to show that meeting the new worst-case quake and tsunami mandates is entirely possible. This is not in any way an indication of “backward thinking”. Further, the Asahi fails to admit that the Nuclear Regulatory Authority has proved the worst earthquake in Japan’s history produced no safety system compromises at Fukushima Daiichi. The newspaper seems fixated on the vacuaous idea that the quake caused unacceptable damage on 3/11/11, and that there’s no way any nuke could survive a stronger temblor. This is nothing less than irresponsible fantasy.

With respect to the NRA, the newspaper says the new standards are “nothing but the minimum level required for safety.” The Asahi argues that nuclear utilities cannot be trusted to do the right thing during an accident condition, strongly implying that Tokyo should take charge in all cases. Their commentary says, “The electric power companies themselves must bring the [emergency] situation under control. There is no indication of how the central government would take responsibility should another serious situation occur in Japan.” Undoubtedly, the newspaper fails to comprehend that the people most qualified to handle emergencies are the plant staffs, and that virtually no-one in Tokyo has any plant operating experience. In fact, the utterly naïve orders from Japan’s PM, Naoto Kan, unnecessarily delayed the venting of unit#1 and virtually insured the subsequent hydrogen explosion which doomed both unit #2 & #3. The ignorant should never be allowed to lead the knowledgeable. How the Asahi can argue to the contrary with a clear conscience is unfathomable.

The Asahi also believes that no nuclear plant should operate before all public protective plans are completed. This sounds reasonable, but the bottom line is that public safety begins with multi-layered technological safeguards, followed by sound decisions made by the plant staff if and/or when a physical safety compromise is possible. The Asahi fails to acknowledge that the concept of “defense in depth” is the essential public protective factor. Regardless, the newspaper says that Tokyo should take control of such a situation, and not leave the decision-making to the local officials. The utter disaster of the Tokyo-organized nuclear evacuation, based on unrealistic and unscientific radiological assumptions, necessarily proves that a central government should never be given this type of responsibility. The local officials know their people and infrastructure far better than anyone hundreds of kilometers distant, and radiation biologists and Health Physics professionals understand the actual effects of radiation exposure many times better than naïve politicians whose main concern is garnering votes.  

The Asahi also fails to consider that the Sendai units are quite different from F. Daiichi. F. Daiichi has Boiling Water Reactor systems, while Sendai has Pressurized Water Reactor plants. (For the distinction see “The Nuclear Cooling Tower” at http://www.hiroshimasyndrome.com/the-nuclear-cooling-tower.html which illustrates both types) But, perhaps the most important difference is in the containments that surround the reactor vessels. Fukushima has the relatively small GE Mark I design, which proved to be not forgiving enough with respect to hydrogen generation. The PWRs at Sendai not only have Mark I-similar inner structures for containment (drywells), but the entire nuclear structure is surrounded by a massive domed outer GE Mark III containment, which showed its safety in 1979 at Three Mile Island by withstanding an internal hydrogen explosion.

Finally, it seems the newspaper is overly-charmed with foreign prophets of nuclear energy doom who have long-held that the only safe nuke is one that never operates. The Asahi’s objections are essentially an echoing of long-held antinuclear grandiloquence concerning rhetorical uncertainties and insubstantial doubts. The editorial closes with the following question that shifts responsibility to the most innocent group in Japan, “Now that Japanese society knows what is involved, does it really want to again use nuclear power?” In other words, if the Sendai units restart and a Fukushima-level accident occurs, the people of Japan bear the ultimate responsibility by allowing it to happen in the first place. This level of hubris on the part of Japan’s second-largest newspaper is intolerable, especially since the Asahi makes no effort to balance its opinion with the existent facts.

References :

1 - http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0001429038

2 - http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ201407170044

June 29, 2014

215th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers

The Hiroshima Syndrome’s Fukushima Commentary is proudly hosting the 215th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers. This week’s edition includes articles by Rod Adams, Dr. James Conca, Meredith Angwin, Margaret Harding, Brian Wang, Will Davis, and (your’s truly) Les Corrice.

Here’s the Fact or Fiction (?) quiz for this week… Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and is the only woman to win two.

Now…for this week’s Blogs. To read the full articles, please click on the individual links. Blog topics for this edition include – nuclear as the best way to boil water, the criminal act of using radiation to scare people, the “bad science” used to set radiation standards, a “love letter” to engineers, Fukushima children not dying of cancer, and more.


From Atomic Insights (2) –

Cheap, emission-free way to boil water 



Fission is an elegant way to heat a gas 



From Dr. James Conca

Scaring the Japanese People with Radiation Is Criminal



From Yes Vermont Yankee (2) –

"No Safe Dose" is Bad Science. Updated. Guest post by Howard Shaffer



Protecting Against Nothing: The Failings of ALARA



From 4 Factor Consulting

A Love Letter to Engineers



From Next Big Future (3) –

The future of more cities, more nuclear energy and water management



800 MW fast neutron Russian breeder reactor is fully powered up



Prospects for lower cost nuclear fission power



From The Hiroshima Syndrome

Fukushima Children are NOT Dying!


From ANS Nuclear Cafe (2) –

Nuclear Power Uprates: What, how, when, and will there be more?



"Vogtle Loan Guarantee Finally Approved"


*                      *                      *

Fact or Fiction (?) answer – Fact.

Marie Curie and her husband were awarded half of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903 for their study into spontaneous radiation discovered by Becquerel (who was awarded the other half of the Prize). In 1911 she received a second Nobel Prize in recognition of her work in radio-chemistry. 44 women have received the Nobel Prize, but Marie Curie is the only woman to win the honor twice. http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1903/marie-curie-bio.html -- http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/lists/women.html



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