Fukushima Commentary 13...1/26/14-3/7/14

March 7, 2014

A Fukushima Third Anniversary “What If” Scenario

(Naoto Kan’s crime against Japan; Part II)

My March 1st commentary, Naoto Kan’s crime against Japan, left some interesting questions on the table – what if Kan had not ordered the crippling delays of March 12, 2011? Where would we be today, three years later? If I might be allowed to speculate…

At midnight on 3/12/11, the management team at Fukushima Daiichi knew they would have to depressurize unit #1’s containment. If allowed by Tepco/Tokyo, the plant’s staff would have quickly begun preparing for the manual initiation of the “vent” operation. The radiation levels inside the unit #1 reactor building would not have been as extreme as they were nine-plus hours later with the actual venting. The work to get the depressurization ready could have been finished in a comparatively quick fashion. The wind was blowing out to sea, so there was no risk to the local public. Weather forecasts said the sea-ward air flow would probably not fully shift for at least two days. We can thus conservatively speculate that without Naoto Kan’s interference, the depressurization could have begun on-or-about 1:30am with no risk to any member of the public.

The “venting” would have depressurized the inner Primary Containment Vessel, likely averting compromise of its physical integrity. The accumulating hydrogen gas would have been blown out to sea along with the airborne radioactivity, averting a hydrogen explosion. By allowing the venting to occur until the mobile diesel was feeding electricity into unit #1 (at ~3pm), a sequential re-energizing of some, if not most of the emergency cooling systems would have ensued. At the time the diesel began operation, the staff was preparing to send water into the core via the Standby Liquid Control system. All they needed was electricity to run the SLCC pump. The high pressure SLCC pump would probably have been feeding the reactor fuel core no later than 4pm, avoiding severe melting of the fuel inside its core.

Since units #1 and #2 were tandem, they shared the auxiliary electrical system. It is probable that unit #2 would have been repowered before six pm. Venting of unit #2 would have been un-necessary. By sundown of March 12, 2011, both units #1 and #2 would have been in a safe condition and steadily progressing toward cold shutdown.

The team that found an operational switchboard inside unit #1 and spliced half of the available cable between it and the mobile diesel, could have set to work with unit #3 after their work was done ~4pm on March 12. A second diesel was slowly making its way down from units #5 and #6 located on the bluff overlooking the four lower units. There is every reason to think plant manager Yoshida would have set every available person to the task of getting that second diesel to unit #3 a quickly as possible once units 1 & 2 were out of the woods. While additional personnel would be clearing the access road for the 2nd diesel, an operational switchboard inside unit #3 reactor building would have been found. There is no reason to think the one found inside unit #1 was a singular discovery. The remaining cable from unit #1 could have been spliced into the switchboard and laid out to the outside, awaiting the mobile diesel’s arrival.

Operator records say the level of water in the #3 reactor did not reach the top of the fuel core until ~4:45am on March 13. Thus, plant staff would have had about 12 hours to repower the blacked-out unit and prevent the core inside unit #3 from losing its water cover. It is quite possible that the second diesel would have arrived at the scene, been spliced into the cable, and been feeding power into unit #3 in plenty of time to save the core from severe meltdown. If there would have been a need to vent unit #3 before power was restored, it would have occurred while the wind was still blowing out to sea. The wind did not shift on-shore until early morning of March 14, so any venting of unit #3 on March 13 would have placed no member of the public at risk. More importantly, it is likely the #3 hydrogen explosion at ~11am on March 14 would have been averted if the unit had been repowered early in the morning of March 13.

By averting the three hydrogen explosions and making all venting operations while the wind was blowing out to sea, the situation three years after would be much, much different. To begin, the 20 kilometer exclusion zone around F. Daiichi, and the evacuation “corridor” stretching to 40 kilometers northwest of the nuke station, would not exist. It is possible that the initial 3km evacuation radius would have remained as such for a time, at least until all three affected units reached cold shutdown condition. However, it is unlikely that the relatively small number of people inside the zone would have been kept from their homes for an extended period. There would not have been 85,000 people forced by the government to leave their homes. In fact, nearly all of the currently mandated evacuees would have been home for the last three years.

Second, the unit #4 reactor building would not have exploded, and nothing inside would have been damaged relative to the reactor, safety systems or spent fuel pool. The damage to the unit was due to hydrogen gas that migrated from unit #3 through the tandem-unit air-conditioning system. There would have been no explosion, no unit #4 containment building “tilting and in danger of collapse” speculations, no American government panic due to thinking the water in the spent fuel pool had boiled away, and no confabulated prophecies of apocalypse due to the 1533 fuel bundles in the SFP.

Third, there would be no explosion-spawned rubble for the staff to cart away and bury, and wastewater storage issues would be many times less severe than we find today. There would certainly not be a thousand huge tanks holding a thousand tons of contaminated water each. There might not be any external storage tanks at all! Plus, there might not be any contaminated groundwater to speculate as flowing into the Pacific on a daily basis.

Fourth, the decommissioning of damaged unit #1 (and perhaps unit #3) would be several orders of magnitude less daunting, and occur with much less exposure to the decommissioning staff than is now the case. There would be no leaks out of the containments, thus the PCVs would already be flooded with water, drastically dropping the radiation fields inside and outside the buildings.

Fifth, Tepco’s required evacuee compensation outlays would be much less. Let’s assume the government would have mandated the current $1,000 per month/per person payment for psychological damage and stress, for all 85,000 of the current evacuees, regardless. This would make the total about $85 million per month. Tepco is currently paying out more than $1 billion per month for a buffet of compensations.

Sixth, Fukushima Prefecture’s agricultural business would probably have continued without a significant glitch. The reason for consumer aversion to Fukushima Prefecture’s produce is the possibility of it containing a trace of radioactive material from the accident. But, if there were no “fallout” (the Press’ term…not mine), only the most paranoiac radiophobes would be reluctant to eat Fukushima produce.

Seventh, there would be no rational basis for fearing an increase in child thyroid cancers in the prefecture. All the Iodine would have been blown out to sea. Without the rural Iodine contamination, there would be no child thyroid cancer scare.

Finally, nearly all of the several million tons of tsunami debris that remains along the prefecture’s coastline would probably have been removed, at this point. By the end of 2013, Miyagi and Iwate Prefectures, which were more severely pummeled by the tsunami than Fukushima, had removed more than 95% of their coastline debris. In Fukushima, there is still about 40% of the tsunami residue to be handled. The delay is largely due to radioactive contamination fears. It is safe to assume the debris removal along the Fukushima coast would be much the same as with the two other Prefectures, were it not for Fukushima contamination.

On the other hand, there would still be some downsides. As mentioned above, unit #1 at F. Daiichi would still have to be decommissioned due to a severe partial meltdown.  It is possible unit #3 would be decommissioned, as well, since it is possible that some fuel damage would have occurred before being repowered on March 13. The decommissionings, however, would not take 30-40 years. It would be more like the time-frame America experienced with Three Mile Island in the 1980s… ten years… maybe.

Next, there probably would have been a considerable “voluntary” evacuation worse than with with Three Mile Island in 1979. We should keep in mind that Japan had what was probably the most radiation-averse population on the planet due to the bombings of Hiroshima/Nagasaki. The massive differences between reactors and bombs, as well as the great dissimilarities between bomb fallout and nuclear plant accident airborne releases, were virtually unknown to the population of Japan on 3/11/11. All they knew was nuclear bombs, and most (except the current populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki) believed the misconceptions that a nuclear reactor is just like a bomb and a fission is a tiny nuclear explosion. There was probably no worse place on Earth for a reactor plant accident than post-WWII Japan. Regardless, a significant voluntary evacuation would probably have been the case, with a small but significant fraction refusing to ever go home out of fear of nuclear energy. Such is the case with the Hiroshima Syndrome.

Also, Fukushima Prefecture’s fishing industry would still have been harmed because all of the released Iodine, Cesium, Strontium, and etc. which would have fallen into the Pacific Ocean from the depressurizations. Reluctance to eat the catch off Fukushima’s coastline would have happened anyway. Asian nations would probably have reacted just a radiophobically as they did after the actual nuke accident. In addition, the Fukushima radiation paranoia now surfacing along the Pacific coast of North America would still have occurred.

Finally, we should not overlook the loss of life and the extreme damage caused by the 3/11/11 tsunami. Fukushima Prefecture says more than 1600 people were killed by the black water surge…about 8% of the total for the entire coastline. While no official numbers have been posted by the Press, it is safe to assume that at least 10,000, and perhaps as many as 25,000 tsunami survivors lost everything – their homes and all belongings – on that fateful day. These unfortunate Fukushima residents would still be disaster refugees, without a doubt.  They would be part of what the current tsunami refugees call themselves – Kimin; Japan’s forgotten people.

What you have just read is speculation, of course. But one cannot honestly deny…if Naoto Kan had not interfered with the emergency actions of the trained and experienced staff at Fukushima Daiichi, the situation today, three years after the fact, would be very different and much less gloomy.

* Addendum - Reader J. W. pointed out there would be at least two other important differences for Japan. Japan's 50 other nuclear power plants would have continued operation, perhaps with pauses for upgrading in the light of Fukushima lessons. As a result, the Japanese economy would be in much better shape. Very true, J.W. Thanks for the input.

March 4, 2014

PBS Fukushima Report is Fear-mongering at its Worst

The February 28 PBS report, Inside the slow and dangerous clean up of the Fukushima nuclear crisis, is fear-mongering at its most disturbing extreme. The obvious intent is to scare and upset the viewer with exaggeration, innuendo, and thinly-veiled conspiracy theory, all predicated on proliferating fear, uncertainty and doubt. (FUD) There seems to have been little or no effort towards rational informing of the viewers.

Even the lead-in by anchor Judy Woodruff drips with fear and doubt, “Now we take you to a place that garnered headlines around the world three years ago, but has hardly been seen since, because it’s so dangerous.” Hardly seen since? Who is she trying to kid? Fukushima has been in the Japanese Press every day for three years, and the internet has been inundated with apocalyptic scenarios made by leading international antinukes on a regular basis. Plus, what about the Fukushima radioactivity reporting coming out of the Pacific coastline of North America the past two months? “Hardly seen”? Give me a break. In addition, the implication that the Press in Japan isn’t covering Fukushima “because it’s so dangerous” is a complete fabrication! They are all over it… like white on rice.

The report itself begins with end-of-the-world insinuations by PBS’ Miles O’Brien, when he says the evacuation zone around F. Daiichi “remains a post-apocalyptic landscape of abandoned towns, frozen in time. We were on our way to one of the most hazardous places on Earth, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.” Who wrote the script? Harvey Wasserman? Arnie Gundersen? Helen Caldicott? This is straight out of the antinuclear persuasion’s “Fukushima 101” rhetorical guidelines. The apocalyptic beginning follows with a quote from the plant manager posed in a fashion that makes it seem as if he is not taking his job seriously enough, “After all, if you are just cleaning up after an accident, there is a lack of quality, meaning speed is the only concern. I feel that isn’t enough. We need to look ahead, 30 to 40 years.”

Next comes two misleading statements – “Engineers believe some of the nuclear fuel has melted right through the steel containment vessels on to a concrete basement floor, where it is exposed to groundwater.” (Which it isn’t) – “As the ground water passes through the pump, it gets mixed in with the contaminated water that is used to cool the melted-down cores.” (What is O’Brien talking about? What pump? How is the pump mixing the waters? Is he making this up, or does he simply not have a clue?)

Next, the commentary turns to the wastewater tank issue. After implying that the storage tanks were thrown together in slap-dash fashion, O’Brien says that “no one disputes the plant is steadily leaking radiation-tainted water into the sea.” However, he conveniently neglects to point out that the alleged out-flow, inside the barricaded inner harbor, has contamination levels have become so low that they meet Japan’s limits for open discharge to the sea. Further, he neglects to say that all open water sampling outside the quay for more than a year shows nothing…nada…zero Fukushima contamination! He does present so-called “balance” by citing the plant manager, “When you go out to the open ocean, there is very little contamination found. Basically, the contamination is limited to the port.” But, this seems to be a left-handed way to say that Tepco cannot be trusted.

Finally, O’Brien’s piece turns to the usual antinuclear rhetoric intended for fomenting FUD. “At the port, they are bolstering the last line of defense. This water-shielding wall should be complete in September. Behind it is a system that injects a chemical into the ground that turns water into a viscous gel, stemming the flow to the sea. The company is also testing an idea to bury cooling pipes near the melted reactors to freeze the ground, making impermeable ice plugs in walls that would keep the clean and contaminated water apart. But all of this is clearly not sustainable. (emphasis added) In about three years, they will run out of space for new water holding tanks. Then what?” Which assumes everyone will just be sitting on their hands for the next three years.

At least O’Brien mentions the high-tech ALPS isotopic removal system that only lets harmless Tritium through. But, it’s radioactive so it is given special fear-oriented attention. When American expert Lake Barrett tells O’Brien that Tritium levels will be so low as to meet Japanese drinking water standards, O’Brien says “TEPCO has no authorization from the Japanese government, local residents or fishermen to discharge any water at all, including what is leaking, from the Fukushima Daiichi site.” O’Brien is right, but he clearly uses this to imply that if Tritium was harmless they would be allowed to release it. I guess we’re not supposed to trust Lake Barrett, either. There is nothing about rampant fear of radiation in the public… nothing about rumors of radiation hurting the Japanese fishing industry… nothing about a Japanese news media that is blatantly antinuclear. Just narrative designed to instill FUD.

O’Brien closes his fear-mongering with, “Three years after the meltdowns, the crisis has not ended here. In some ways, it is still unfolding.” The clear implication being that the accident continues… it’s not over… be concerned… be very concerned!

Then, Judy Woodruff chimes in, “Next Wednesday, Miles will have a report on the Fukushima meltdown’s effect on fish in the surrounding waters… we, his NewsHour colleagues, are in awe of his courage.” I’m in awe of how twisted the story is. I’m disgusted that PBS has stooped this low. Are revenues down? Is this what Public Television has come to? And, what about the untold story of the refugees from the disaster that killed 20,000 Japanese and made 300,000 permanently homeless many hours before the Fukushima accident began? What about the tsunami victims?

Oh…wait a minute…my bad…the tsunami’s aftermath isn’t nuclear – it cannot be connected to Fukushima radiation. The tsunami story wouldn’t instil FUD in the viewers, so it just isn’t newsworthy enough!

* The term "pump" in the posted transcript of the PBS report turns out to have been a typo. The term used in the video is "plant". This still makes the statement dubious, at best. The groundwater seeping into the turbine basements does not "pass through" the plant. Yes, it mixes with the contaminated water in the cellars, but this water is stripped of Cesium and stored in wastewater tanks. It doesn't "pass through" the plant. *

March 1, 2014

Naoto Kan’s crime against Japan

This past week, a court panel in Tokyo rejected a criminal suit against former PM Naoto Kan concerning his actions during the first week of the Fukushima accident. Kan and five other officials allegedly caused the premature deaths of numerous people due to the chaotic Fukushima Daiichi evacuation. The panel said they could find no proof of the claim. I was waiting to see how the case would turn out before writing what follows. If criminal charges would have been filed, my opinion would be little more than adding insult to injury. I no longer feel this constraint.

There are numerous detailed reports concerning what happened at Fukushima, including my E-book Fukushima: The First Five Days. All of these sources show that soon after midnight of March 12, 2011, Naoto Kan made an executive decision. In my opinion, the events caused by Kan’s decision warrant criminal charges being brought against him, but not for the evacuation. His decision may have been the main reason for the severity of meltdowns with units #1, 2 & 3, and the sole cause of the hydrogen explosions at units #1, 3 & 4.

At ~12:20 am, site manager Yoshida wanted to begin the work of manually depressurizing unit #1 and asked the company’s home office for permission. Tepco-Tokyo dutifully forwarded the request to Kan, who’s approval should have been a perfunctory “yes”.  However, Kan told them to not depressurize until (1) the entire 3km radius’ evacuation was confirmed, and (2) a 3pm Press conference in Tokyo was held to announce the impending depressurization. The Press conference was held at 3:06am, but the 3km radius could not be confirmed as evacuated until ~9am. I firmly believe these politically-mandated delays are the prime reason for the full core-relocating meltdown of unit #1 and the hydrogen explosion which decimated the upper story of the Reactor Building at 3:36pm. If these delays had not been ordered by Kan, the full meltdown could well have been mitigated and the building explosion completely avoided.

The records kept by the staff and management team at F. Daiichi show that at 10pm on March 11, control room indication for reactor water level had been energized and there was more than 20 inches of water above the top of the fuel core inside unit #1. The meltdown could not have yet begun with that much water in the core. However, reactor building radiation levels were increasing. By 11pm, radiation levels at the Turbine Building access were increasing, as well. It may have been at this point that the fuel inside the reactor was beginning to be uncovered. But, as long as there was any water and steam inside the RPV, it is unlikely than a full meltdown would happen. When the actual melting of the core began is speculative, at best, but it does not seem to have begun before midnight. Soon after midnight, site manager Yoshida ordered the staff to prepare to depressurize the Primary Containment structure surrounding the reactor itself. The lower pressure would allow low pressure fire pumps to inject cooling water into the core and stop the progression of core damage. Local authorities said the 3km radius was fully evacuated at 12:30am, so Yoshida wanted depressurization to begin in earnest. They needed Tokyo’s approval. At 1:30am they were told of Kan’s two criteria for depressurization by Tepco-Tokyo.

It is quite likely that if the depressurization of unit #1 would have happened at 1:30pm, the amount of fuel melting in the core would have been severe, but a full core relocation unlikely. Some hydrogen may have begun seeping out of the PCV and into the outer reactor building. However, it is unlikely that the hydrogen level in the outer building would have been sufficient for the later-in-the-day explosion. When the actual depressurization occurred at ~ 10am, the fuel core was fully melted and had relocated to the bottom head of the pressure vessel. Also, large volumes of hydrogen gas had entered the outer reactor building in sufficient quantity to cause the subsequent explosion. The depressurization was way, way too late. The person most responsible for this situation was Naoto Kan.

The explosion with unit #1 came just six minutes after a high-voltage mobile diesel had begun sending electricity into unit #1. The staff was on the verge of starting the high-pressure Standby Liquid Control (SLC) system which would have been able to inject water inside the RPV. Flying concrete shards from the hydrogen explosion shorted out the heavy-duty cable that has been spliced between the diesel and a switchboard inside the reactor building. Flying debris also smashed into the diesel and knocked it out of commission. If it were not for the unit #1 hydrogen explosion, it is safe to say unit #1 would have been in a safe condition rather quickly, and unit #2 re-energized through tandem-unit interconnections soon there-after. If the depressurization would have been allowed at ~1:30am on March 12, 2011, it is probable that unit #1’s fuel damage would have been stanched at the partial/severe meltdown stage and the unit #1 hydrogen explosion would never have happened! Further, it is likely that unit #2 would have completely avoided meltdown since the fuel core did not begin to uncover until around 4:30pm on March 14th! In fact, unit #2 did not lose its steam-powered emergency cooling pumps (RCIC and HPCI) until a few hours before the core began to uncover. If there had been no unit #1 explosion, there would have been no fuel melting and relatively minor fuel bundle damage.

It is possible that unit #3 could have been saved, as well. A second high-voltage mobile diesel was on its way to unit #3 from units #5&6, when the unit #1 explosion occurred. The road was damaged by the earthquake and tsunami debris had to be removed as the diesel made its way down from the two undamaged unit on the bluff above units #1 through #4. It was a slow go. When unit #1 exploded, there was even more debris to clear than before, making the trip even slower. About half of the spool of heavy-duty cable used to splice the first diesel into unit #1 remained. The balance of the cable could have been used to connect the second diesel with unit #3 and reenergized the emergency cooling systems. The flow of water into unit #3’s core was not terminated until 2:42am on March 13th. The meltdown probably didn’t begin until after that time. Thus, unit #3 might have been saved if not for the hydrogen explosion with unit #1 at 3:36pm on March 12.

Kan would argue, I’m sure, that he ordered the delays to insure that no member of the public would be exposed to the radioactive gasses released by depressurizing unit #1. However, the wind was blowing out to sea on March 11th and was projected to stay that way for at least two days, which was not unknown to Kan and his emergency team in Tokyo. Real-time meteorological data from a computerized system, acronym SPEEDI, was available to Kan the entire time, but he negligently chose to ignore it because he felt  meteorological forecasting was inherently inaccurate.

Clearly, Kan panicked and gave orders that exacerbated the severity of the accident. He more than “meddled” - he criminally interfered! While we cannot say that Naoto Kan’s negligence caused the Fukushima accident, it seems that we can point a guilty finger at the former PM and say that he was the primary reason for the severity of the accident and the one person most responsible for all three hydrogen explosions. In my honest opinion, he should be criminally indicted for executive malfeasance, meddling in the emergency actions at F. Daiichi, placing the station’s entire staff in an un-necessary state of danger, and causing completely avoidable anguish to be inflicted on the people of Japan.

February 26, 2014

Japan’s nuke regulator is stalling nuke restarts… for what?

Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority appears to be intentionally delaying the restarts of the country’s nukes. The sequence of events that cause this conclusion evokes nuclear energy déjà vu, reminiscent of the American regulatory experience following Three Mile Island. Japan’s leading newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, has been following recent NRA actions and doesn’t like what they see. The newspaper’s recent editorial, NRA mustn’t delay reactor restarts by insisting on public hearings, (1) strongly suggests that they are fed up with apparently intentional delays.

It started on February 15th when the Yomiuri correctly announced that there seemed to be no end in sight for the NRA to finish their review of reactor restart applications. (2) It had been more than six months since the first wave of restart applications were submitted to the watchdog agency, which was the amount of time the NRA said the review of the first few applications would take. In order to avoid the continual importing of expensive fossil fuels to replace Japan’s idled nukes and keep many utilities from having large rate increases, the first restarts need to happen this coming summer. One utility official said, “To reactivate nuclear reactors this summer, the safety checks should be finished ideally in March.” But, on Feb. 15th, NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka said that none of the safety inspections will be finished before April, contradicting his statement last July that screenings would take “around six months”. Six months ended in January. It is now seven months… and counting.

The situation has understandably irked the utilities that have spent trillions of yen to meet the new safety regulations. The companies feel that the NRA is literally making it up as they go along. There have been more than 80 meetings between the NRA and the nuke companies since last summer, each one taking an average of 10 hours. Just when the companies feel they have met the regulatory mandates, the NRA comes up with new concerns that further delay the process. In fact, one corporate source said, “Even when we think the discussion has progressed on an issue, a new problem emerges on the same issue.” The NRA seems distrustful of each utility’s effort, and in return the companies have lost faith in the regulator. Prof. Yoshihiro Nishiwaki of Tokyo Institute of Technology said, “Discussions will not progress if both sides remain distrustful of each other.”

The situation reminds me of meetings between America’s NRC and the utilities who were building nukes at the time of the TMI accident. The NRC invoked a construction moratorium on America’s nuclear industry after TMI to allegedly insure that all “lessons learned” from the accident were included in the new nukes. However, every one of the partially-completed nukes experienced what seemed to be a never-ending process of meetings over the new regulations. Repeatedly, the NRC came up with additional mandates that delayed everything and made the costs of building nukes skyrocket. I was involved in one of the stalled construction projects, and became convinced the NRC merely trying to prolong the process. As a result, many American nukes under construction were cancelled and replaced by new fossil-fueled units, which had unexpectedly become much cheaper to build even after the already-spent monies on nukes were written off as losses. The current situation in Japan is becoming too similar to ignore. After TMI, NRC delays with construction made many partially-built nukes too expensive to complete. Will Japan’s NRA make restarts too expensive to pursue?

This past week the NRA suddenly invoked a new mandate that will surely postpone restarts even more. They have decided that to prioritize safety screenings to allegedly speed up the process, which makes sense because they have a limited qualified staff to do the job. (3) The watchdog says they will first process screenings on nuclear plants found to have taken enough steps to protect against earthquakes and tsunami while having no other safety concerns. However, the NRA also said they have decided to seek public comments and hold hearings in the municipalities hosting nukes, as well as neighboring communities. The public involvement period will begin after the safety screenings are completed and the draft results are posted. As Lawrence (Yogi) Berra once said, “It’s déjà vu all over again”. Post-TMI construction resumptions in America were marked by a continual stream of public hearings, which added further delays and higher costs to finishing America’s under-construction nukes. It seems Japan’s NRA is following the same cost-ineffective path that will do nothing more than continue to damage Japan’s economy and raise consumer electricity prices.

Here’s the bottom line… The Yomiuri smells something fishy with the NRA’s make-it-up-as-you-go behavior. The newspaper urges the NRA to reconsider their public input decision. (1) The Yomiuri says, “Inviting public comments and holding public hearings are not provided for by law. Regulation authorities organized such events in the past, but they were held mainly to consider the construction of new nuclear power stations. The NRA is conducting safety checks on 10 idled power plants.” The newspaper points out that public comments were sought when the new regulations were invoked, and that should have sufficed. However, NRA Chair Tanaka says these new inputs are intended to fulfill the agency’s responsibility for full transparency. The Yomiuri calls his excuse “dogmatic”. Rather, the watchdog should make decisions based on specialized knowledge, and not on ex-post-facto public opinions. Further, the NRA already seems under-staffed to handle the restart requests, but now they will have to devote more people to the public comment process. The Yomiuri concludes, “Coming at this juncture, the NRA’s decision on public comments and hearings can reasonably be criticized as stalling.”

Yes… it seems the NRA is stalling. But, for what purpose? Is the NRA bending over backwards to show that they are truly independent. Are they trying to avoid getting bad Press? No matter what they do, Japan’s voices of nuclear energy disapproval will criticize any restart decision as “too soon”, and argue that the NRA is “too close” to the nuclear utilities and nothing has changed due to the Fukushima accident. Japan’s economy has been damaged by the nuclear moratorium long enough. The utilities have spent huge sums of money to meet the new regulations. It’s time for the NRA to do the right thing and stop wasting time and money.

References - 

1 - NRA mustn’t delay reactor restarts by insisting on public hearings; http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0001057135  

2 - No end in sight for N-reactor checks;http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0001033369

3 - NRA to prioritize nuclear plants for safety screening; http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0001047224

February 25, 2014

Bloomberg falls prey to scare-mongers

On Monday, February 24th, Bloomberg posted a brief article about a minor power loss at Fukushima Daiichi; Fukushima Nuclear Fuel Removal Suspended After Cooling Failure. (1) Today, Tepco reported that the cause was excavation in the ground outside unit #4, resulting in equipment damaging an underground power cable. The cooling system electricity was cut off for the unit #4 spent fuel pool for a period of four hours. By procedure, the transfer of spent fuel bundles was stopped until the cooling system was restored. During the power loss, pool temperature raised all of 0.1oC. As soon as power was restored, the spent fuel transfer resumed. (2)

The Monday’s Bloomberg article was essentially correct, based on today’s Tepco report, until the final sentence/paragraph, which read, “Were the [spent fuel] rods to break or overheat, it could prompt a self-sustained nuclear chain reaction similar to the meltdowns at three Fukushima reactors that followed the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, experts have warned.” There are so many things wrong with this statement, it is difficult to know where to start…. But I’ll try.

Who are these alleged “experts”? They are certainly not anyone with actual nuclear engineering or commercial reactor operations experience. Anyone with actual spent fuel expertise would know that spent fuel bundles transfers are about as low risk as it gets. Movement of fuel bundles is completely routine…it happens every time a reactor gets refueled. It’s about as risky as clipping fingernails! Those who have followed the situation at F. Daiichi every day for three years (like yours truly) would know that Tepco took extreme care in inspecting the pool and storage racks, including the removal and in-depth inspection of two unused bundles, to insure that there would be no problems. Further, there have been some 374 fuel bundles already moved to their new home in the common facility storage pool next door, and no fuel bundle incidents have occurred.

The probability of a unit #4 fuel bundle breaking is vanishingly small, given all the study done before the fuel transfer process began last year. Even if one did break, it would probably not cause a criticality situation because the water in the pool is treated with neutron-absorbing boron. No neutrons equals no criticality. Plus, a self-sustained chain reaction (criticality) occurs at such a miniscule level that there isn’t enough heat generated to increase water temperature. It’s not enough energy to activate a single LED pixel on a modern high-definition TV. Unlikely does not mean absolutely impossible, but in this case it is for all intents and purposes impossible!

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the meltdowns at F. Daiichi units #1, 2 & 3 happened when the reactors were completely shut down. There were no chain reactions occurring. The shutdowns from full power were entirely automatic as soon as the pre-tsunami earthquake was detected by the nuke station’s sensitive ground movement sensors. The fuel damage was due to the inability to remove the heat of radioactive decay after the reactors had been shut down for nearly an hour. It wasn’t the chain reactions at F. Daiichi that led to the meltdowns. It was decay heat…pure and simple. No doubt about it. Thus, the “sustained nuclear chain reaction similar to the meltdowns at three Fukushima reactors” portion of the Bloomburg posting is essentially a materially-false statement.

Once again I must ask…who are the “experts” Bloomberg alludes to? Who are the “expert” sources for their preposterous assumption? It seems they are experts in scaring people who haven’t the foggiest notion that they are being rhetorically manipulated… experts skilled in twisting a kernel of truth so severely that it no longer resembles the truth it was taken from… experts in exploitation of the ignorant. But, experts in what is real with respect to spent fuel bundles? Absolutely not!

Bloomberg ought to be ashamed of what they have posted. Have they been bamboozled by the prophets of nuclear energy doom? Or, are they merely resorting to scare-mongering to boost revenue? Regardless, Bloomburg has been a reputable source of information for decades, thus this instance is disappointing to the point of being deplorable.

1. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-02-25/fukushima-nuclear-fuel-removal-suspended-after-cooling-failure.html

2. http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/2014/1234483_5892.html

February 23, 2014

197th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers

The Hiroshima Syndrome’s Fukushima Commentary is proudly hosting the 197th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers.

Here’s the Fact or Fiction (?) for this week…The world’s first civilian nuclear power plant to produce electricity was the Calder Hall unit at Windscale, Great Britain, in 1956. Fact? or Fiction?

Now…for this week’s Blogs. To read the full articles, please click on the individual links. Blog topics for this edition include – The importance of knowing what is real, a second installment on prejudice against nuclear energy, the radiological situation at New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, the Entergy-Vermont settlement concerning Vermont Yankee, and much more.


From Energy Reality Project

Our responsibility to know reality has never been more important



From ANS Nuclear Café

Persistent Prejudice Against Nuclear - Can Anything Be Done? Part 2



From Atomic Insights – (2)

Airborne radiation (contamination) at WIPP



Response to contamination: WIPP and New Mexico should practice communication skills



From Yes Vermont Yankee

The Proposed Entergy Settlement is Good for Vermont



From Next Big Future

UAE, China build for larger energy future while USD, UK, France tweak and maintain nuclear power and energy in general and Japan grinds towards nuclear restarts



From Nuclear Town Hall

Time for DOE to Complete Its Part 810 Nuclear Export Reform



From Jim Conca of Forbes

Foreign Company Tries To Seize U.S. Land For Keystone Pipeline 


*     *     * 

Fact or Fiction (?) answer –


The first civilian nuclear power plant to produce electricity was AM-1 in Russia, which commenced operation on June 26, 1954. Its core contained 18 fuel cells and had a net capacity of only five megawatts, but the output was sent to the local grid. The AM-I designation stood for “Atom Mirny”, which means “Peaceful Atom”. http://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/2004/obninsk.html -- http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Magazines/Bulletin/Bull544/54401210507.pdf

February 10, 2014

Japan’s Press fails to make nuclear energy a major election issue… again!

Yesterday, nuclear-neutral Yoichi Masuzoe won a decisive victory in the Tokyo governor’s election. Ever since former Governor Naoki Inose resigned in December, most of the Japanese Press has bent over backwards to make nuclear energy the key, over-riding issue. When staunchly antinuclear Morihiro Hosokawa joined in the campaign in mid-January, the Press saw this as an opportunity to make its antinuclear agenda politically successful. With Tokyo’s governor having the most influence on national policy out of all governors in Japan, the news media believed a Hosokawa victory would force PM Shinzo Abe’s regime to follow a no-nukes policy, perhaps even end the push to restart currently-idled nukes. Anti-nuclear activists were hoping the election would reinvigorate their increasingly unpopular movement, which struggles to thwart the government’s reactor restart efforts. But after the votes were in on Sunday, none of this had happened!

The Press did their utmost to present Masuzoe as “pro-nuclear”, but that didn’t work. Actually, dubbing him as pro-nuke was misleading and it seems the Tokyo electorate knew it. Japan’s Press followed the decades-old mantra of antinukes around the world – if you are not antinuclear, then you must be pronuclear. Neutrality on the issue is seen as pronuclear by those of the overtly antinuclear persuasion. Masuzoe was clearly neutral. He did his best to avoid debating nuclear policy with Hosokawa during the campaign, stating that it was a national issue and inappropriate for Tokyo’s governor to get involved with because there were no nukes in the Prefecture. However, he did advocate raising Tokyo’s renewables use from 6% to 20%, which would seem to show he was not a steadfast pro-nuke. Further, if he were actually pronuclear, he would have had a record of advocating restarts for currently-idled nukes, at the very least. But, he said nothing about restarts. Nuclear neutral? Yes. Pro-nuclear? No.

Masuzoe won because the Tokyo voters did not believe the nuclear energy issue was key. In fact, a pre-election poll run by Japan’s leading newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, indicated that nuclear energy policy ranked a distant fifth in relative importance behind medical and welfare policies at an 84% rating, disaster preparedness at 81%, the economy and unemployment at 75%, and, anticrime and public safety at 68%. Nuclear energy was next with a 61% rating, followed by 2020 Olympics’ preparation at 52%. While nuclear policy had a modicum of significance in Tokyo’s public mind, it wasn’t that important.

When Hosokawa announced that he was running, he was immediately presented by the Press as a viable candidate, especially when harshly antinuclear former PM Junichiro Koizumi immediately voiced his support for him. They literally became a political team. Each and every public appearance made by the insufferably inseparable duo made front page headlines, and pictures of their crowds made it seem as if hundreds, if not thousands of people were hanging on their every nuclear-critical word. But, carefully-cropped Press images making crowds seem large did not turn into votes. Considering the election itself had one of the lowest voter turn-outs on record, the crowds following the two former PMs during the campaign should have translated into an overwhelming Hosokawa victory. However, the opposite happened on Sunday.

Since the majority of the Press in Japan did not get the antinuclear victory they desired, they had to place blame somewhere. Japan’s second-leading newspaper, Asahi Shimbun, blamed the antinuclear debacle on Hosokawa getting a late start and having a poorly organized campaign. (2) Hosokawa announced his largely antinuclear candidacy on January 14th. On the other hand, Mr. Masuzoe announced himself as a candidate on January 8th. The actual date at which campaigning could begin, by Japanese law, was January 22nd. During the 17 days of campaigning, Hosokawa and Koizumi made no less than 34 public appearances. Does that sound like a late start sufficient to account for Hosokawa’s crushing defeat? Of course it doesn’t. The Asahi also said its first visit to Hosokawa’s campaign office when the race officially began was disappointing – no campaign workers, leaflets, or no clear chain of command. The Hosokawa campaign wished to appear grass-roots and was using an “air-attack strategy” intended to gain instant success through a barrage of public appearances publicized by a more-then-willing Press. Regardless, the Asahi said “it was more a defeat caused by insufficient preparations by the Hosokawa camp rather than a victory for Masuzoe.” At least that’s what the Asahi wants their millions of readers to believe.

More excuses for the Press’ failure to make nuclear the determining issue came from other outlets. The popular Mainichi Shimbun quoted Hosokawa as blaming the defeat on apathy, "Ending the use of nuclear energy was not treated as seriously as it should be." (3) On a similar note, Japan Times quoted Hosokawa as saying, “The elimination of nuclear power plants was not covered as a focal point (in the election) very often.” (4) He continued this rhetorical tactic in the Japan Daily Press where he said nuclear energy was not a major election issue because “some forces prevented it.” (5) I ask – who is Hosokawa trying to kid? Not a single day passed during the campaign without several major news articles being posted which touted nuclear energy as the most important issue before the Tokyo electorate. And, who or what are these mysterious “forces” which prevented the issue being covered during the campaign. As far as the Press was concerned - including Yomiuri Shimbun and NHK World which are arguably Japan’s most nuclear-neutral news media outlets– nuclear energy was the most news-worthy issue in the election, right up to the end.

It should be noted that an exit poll run by the Yomiuri Shimbun revealed nuclear energy to be the most important issue among “swing” (undecided) voters! (6) This was especially important because Tokyo’s major elections are often decided by swing votes, a demographic that outnumbers all party-affiliated voters combined. However, the “swing” vote didn’t result in an antinuclear victory either. Masuzoe won that facet of the race by garnering 30% of that vote, vs. 26% for Hosokawa.

Mr. Masuzoe did not win by default, as the Asahi would have us believe. He did not win because the nuclear issue wasn’t given enough attention. He did not win because Hosokawa got a late, disorganized start. In fact, Hosokawa wasn’t even second-fiddle. He came in third behind former Bar Association president Kenji Utsunomiya, who also preached the antinuclear gospel. Further, the total votes garnered by Hosokawa and Utsunomiya would not have beaten Masuzoe (2,113,000 for Masuzoe and 1,938,000 for Hosokawa/Utsunomiya combined). Mr. Masuzoe won decidedly because he addressed the Tokyo electorate’s greatest concerns. He won because he listened to the public. He won because national nuclear policy is not a determining issue with the Tokyo electorate at-large.  


1 - http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0000996164 -- http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0000996255 

2 - http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/politics/AJ201402090032

3 - http://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20140209p2g00m0dm028000c.html

4 - http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/02/09/national/masuzoe-set-for-victory-over-anti-nuclear-foe-in-tokyo-gubernatorial-poll/#.Uvei18uYYdU

5 - http://jen.jiji.com/jc/eng?g=eco&k=2014020900262

6 - http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0001019571  

7 - http://jen.jiji.com/jc/eng?g=eco&k=2014021000026 

January 26, 2014

193rd Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers

The Hiroshima Syndrome’s Fukushima Commentary is proudly hosting the 193rd Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers.

Here’s the Fact or Fiction (?) for this week…The first nuclear-powered submarine for the US Navy was named The Nautilus. It was the first submarine to sail to the North Pole.

Now…for this week’s Blogs. To read the full articles, please click on the individual links. Blog topics for this edition include – Kazakhstan’s leadership in Uranium production, some good news for nuclear out of Europe, why the nuclear field needs to embrace diversity in its ranks, the latest on Vermont’s directionless energy policy, and what might be done to counter prejudice against nuclear energy.


From Next Big Future (2) –

Uranium production in Kazakhstan amounted to 22,500 tons in 2013,
which corresponds to the planned targets.


US Watts Bar unit 2 reactor should be completely constructed in 2015 and generating power in 2016


From Nuke Power Talk

Good News from Europe: Reasoned Approaches to Energy Policy


From Nuclear Literacy.org

Diversity & Social Justice in STEM 


From Yes Vermont Yankee – (2)

My Comment on the Total Energy Study


Art of the Grid


From ANS Nuclear Café

Persistent Prejudice Against Nuclear – Can Anything Be Done? Part I


From Atomic Insights –

Natural gas price spikes: More than "pipeline capacity"


From Jim Conca at Forbes.com –

Can Natural Gas Weather The Cold?


From The Hiroshima Syndrome – (2)

Radiation Exposure Standards By AHANE*


Unit 4 Spent Fuel Pool Issues and Answers


*     *     *

Fact or Fiction (?) answer – Fact. The Nautilus set sail for the geographic North Pole from Pearl Harbor on July 23, 1958. She reached the Pole on August third. http://www.ussnautilus.org/nautilus/


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