Further study of the control room records which became available last week reveals answers to additional questions...
Why did they use sea water to cool the reactors when there were concerns that it might make the chain reaction restart (recriticality)? Could the sea water have been part of the reason for the explosions?
There was enough fresh water stored at each unit to supply emergency flow to the RPVs for about 24 hours. Typically, the recycling of water through the condensate and feedwater systems maintain RPV level, with stored pure water used to fill the system for maintenance and refueling periods (outage). The stored supply is more than needed to fill the RPVs for an outage. Unit #1 had about 80 tons of replenishment water available in the plant's tanks. When this volume ran out about 8 hours after the tsunami, fire engines pumped water into the plant from other fresh water tanks at the power complex. At 2:53 pm on March 12, all fresh water supplies ran out. At 2:54 pm, the plant manager ordered preparations to begin using sea water from the outer drainage trenches, which had been filled by the tsunami. As we have mentioned in earlier updates, keeping the fuel cells inside the RPVs replenished with cooling water is of critical importance. When fresh water supplies ran out, the plant operating staff had no choice but to use sea water.
The concerns of sea water somehow restarting the fission chain reaction inside the fuel cells existed within the Prime Minister's staff, some officials at NISA, and some officials at TEPCO's Tokyo home office. There is nothing in or about sea water that could cause recriticality in a fully shut down reactor fuel cell. The Plant Manager knew the off-site concerns of recriticality were unfounded, so he correctly started sea water injection, even after he was told to stop the injections with units 2 and 3. As it turns out, plant operators were ready to inject sea water into the unit #1 RPV using the high pressure Standby Liquid Control (SLC) system, powered by portable diesel generators, at 3:36 pm, but never actually began the process. A few seconds after the SLC system entry in the records, the hydrogen explosion occurred which damaged the makeshift electric supply cable severely enough to make immediate sea water injection impossible. At 7pm that evening, sea water injection began using fire pumps and internal steam-driven pumps. At 8:45pm, boric acid was added to the sea water injection to further reduce the possibility of recriticality.
Sea water injection had nothing to do with the hydrogen explosions at units 1, 3 & 4.
Wait a minute...you reported that fire trucks didn't arrive at Fukushima until March 17. All news media and government reports say there were no fire trucks or portable electrical generators at the plant site before the fire companies arrived. Were the fire trucks and portable generators in the control room reports of March 12 real, or not?
The report from TEPCO, the government, and the Press about fire trucks and portable generators never mentioned the vehicles already available to the power complex. It seems three fire trucks were on site all-along. TEPCO had some portable generators located a few kilometers away and others were sent to Fukushima by the neighboring Tohoku Company. As it turns out, Japanese Accident Management measures (AM) taken after the 2007 Niigataken Chuetsu-oki Earthquake were implemented by TEPCO for Fukushima Daiichi, which included having fire trucks and portable power supplies available on or near the plant site, and additional fresh water fire protection storage tanks installed. It seems these facts were not reported by TEPCO or NISA after the tsunami hit. Did they assume everyone already knew? In a nuclear emergency with the whole world watching, assume nothing!
The nearby power trucks arrived soon after midnight, early in the morning of March 12. The closest they could get to the only operable plant power panel common to both unit #1 & 2, was about 200 meters from outside the turbine building. A contractor building on site had some heavy-duty portable cabling long enough to connect the power trucks to the distribution panel. The had to literally “blow open” some of the tightly closed doors leading into the control panel room between the reactor and turbine buildings in total darkness. Using mechanized cable-laying equipment would have taken more than a day, but a team of plant operators did it by hand in a few hours. The cabling was laid, connected between the power truck and panel, then energized just 6 minutes before unit #1's hydrogen explosion. High-velocity debris damaged the portable cable beyond repair. The operator's strenuous efforts to get units #1 & 2 re-energized were in vain.
In summation, the plant had some emergency vehicles available soon after the blackout. Why wasn't the availability of these portable power trucks and fire trucks told to the world?
Recently, it was announced that RPV water level instruments were giving false readings. How did the operators know what the water levels were on the three RPVs the first few days of the accident?
There are at least two water level instruments on each RPV. By comparing the readings between the instruments water level inside the RPV can be read with high confidence. Once the cores were uncovered, the terrific heat inside and around the RPVs must have caused the instruments to be damaged. After the cores eventually cooled down, water levels were indicated to be constant, but did not change regardless of the amount of water being injected. This indicated faulty water level instrument readings.
It has been reported that the fire pumps could not operate at a high enough pressure to inject into the pressure vessels. How did they get water injected?
Three fire trucks literally ferried water to the reactor cooling systems from fire suppression system supply tanks until the supply ran out, then subsequently ferried sea water from the drainage trenches. The pumps were sufficient to feed water to the inlets of the SLC pumps in unit #1, which are capable of pumping into very high pressure environments. The report says the SLC pumps were powered from a portable supply truck, but the date and time the power truck began sending electricity to SLC is not in the available control room records.
Japanese news media reported there was only one emergency procedure manual at Fukushima Daiichi, and it was not located in any of the control rooms. Does the operator's record say anything about this?
Yes. The unit #1 record mentions the existence of an emergency procedure manual at the Power Station Emergency Response building (PSER). Staff was sent there in order to learn how to vent pressure from the Primary Containment (Drywell) and Suppression Chamber. They next took the manual to one of the site Administration buildings to get blueprints in order to find where the hand-operated venting equipment was located. On the blueprints, it was shown that the manual operation of one valve on the instrument tubing would open the vent valve. The manual and drawings arrived in the control room shortly after midnight, early in the morning of March 12. If venting would have begun soon thereafter, it is possible that the unit #1 hydrogen explosion could have been averted, as well as the unit 3&4 explosions.
Not having an emergency procedure manual and a detailed set of plant system blueprints stored in each control room is dumbfounding. Because of delayed preparations to vent, combined with the sociopolitical delay of confirming public evacuation, radiation levels in the area of the manual operation valve was so high that no one was allowed to stay in the area long enough to ensure the valve was fully opened. Lack of ability to communicate between the plant and the operators in the plant caused further delays once it was decided to actually start venting. Unit #1's records say they eventually resorted to using pneumatic pressure inside the instrumentation system to facilitate opening the vent valve. The pneumatic pressure rapidly decreased, so the vent valve only partially opened.
Now, back to the current situation in Japan...
Yesterday, the on-again/off-again waste water decontamination system was shut down for 12 hours to repair leaking tubes carrying decontamination liquids to the system. The leaks did not contain radioactive materials. The system is now back in full operation.
A new scandal has erupted concerning the Genkai restart issue. In June, the Kyushu electric company and NISA held a widely-broadcast meeting to say Genkai units #2&3 are safe to restart. As it turns out, Kyushu Electric asked at least 50 of their employees living near the power complex to send in supportive emails. This accounted for about 20% of the supportive emails received. Knowledge of this has spread like wildfire among all Japanese news media outlets. The investigation is ongoing and expected to find even more alleged tampering. On one hand, it sounds like an unethical attempt to manipulate public opinion. On the other hand, the Kyushu employees were local residents and had a right to speak their piece. Further, is this not the same sort of tactic used by nuclear nay-saying groups to manipulate public opinion?
The Prefectural governors in Japan now seem to be in support of the Prime Minister's desire to delay restart of idled nuclear plants until the new, ambiguous “stress test” has been run. It seems those that pass will be allowed to restart, and those which fail must make appropriate upgrades before they will be allowed to restart. The governors feel that waiting until the tests are run will improve public opinion relative to restarts. All admit the current power shortage situation in Japan will continue through the summer, at least.
NHK World reports that Fukui Prefectural officials want the stress tests run, but also demand to know the full extent of damage at Fukushima Daiichi and whether or not the age of the four damaged plants had anything to do with the nuclear emergency, before they make restart decisions. Until they get answers they will not support restart of the Fukui Prefecture reactors. Fukui has the most reactor plants of any Prefecture in Japan.
Although it should come as no surprise, the ash from some of the waste incinerators in Fukushima-neighboring Chiba Prefecture has high levels of radioactive cesium. This is making quite a news media stir. The trace-to-low concentrations of cesium isotopes in the debris being incinerated not flammable. Thus, we have a natural concentration effect when all other combustibles are burned and the cesium isotopes remain. The incinerator operators want to know what to do with the significantly radioactive ash. The government must decide on disposal or the available storage space at each incinerator site will be filled.
TEPCO has posted an English translation of the hand-written records kept by the control room operators at Fukushima during the first few days of the emergency, from the March 11 until the unit #3 hydrogen explosion on March 15. We received a copy of the “TEPCO Fukushima Timeline” through another nuclear website (Nuclear Street). The “timeline” for each unit differs from the rest only in the duration of each report. To explain...the record for unit #1 ends at 4pm on March 12, an hour after it's hydrogen explosion. The other three affected reactor plants have reports that continue until just after the hydrogen explosion on #3 refueling deck on March 15. While we do not have the complete record through the re-establishment of electronic record-keeping on March 19, we can at least begin to find definitive answers for some questions and resolve some misinformation.
Did the earthquake cause any of the safety systems to malfunction, or in any way place the three operating reactor fuel cells in an unsafe condition?
No! All three operating reactor systems had an automatic chain-reaction stoppage (SCRAM) within 1 minute of the earthquake tremors starting. All sets of emergency diesels for all units started automatically and were supplying power to their respective emergency systems. It seems the earthquake did knock out the transmission lines connecting the plants to the nationwide grid, thus there was a wide blackout outside of the Power complex. The diesels were kept the plant site electrified. All three operating reactors were being supplied with water using their Reactor Core Isolation Cooling (RCIC) systems. Control room records verify what we have postulated for months...the 9.0 earthquake did not cause the accident at Fukushima Daiichi.
Did the operators shut off any of the emergency cooling systems before the tsunami hit, as reported by the news media, TEPCO, and the government?
No. This was perhaps the first instance of poor, easily misunderstood communication with the world-at-large. Unit #1's Isolation Cooling system was cycled on and off, by procedure, until the tsunami hit. The RCIC systems automatically shut down on units #2 and 3 because of high water level inside the RPVs. This was a design function of the system and occurred without operator action. The operators quickly restarted the systems on both units.
If not the earthquake, what caused the Fukushima accident?
The cause of the accident was a 45 ft. high tsunami inundating the operating diesel generators for units #1 through 4, resulting in a complete loss of all electrical power. A total station blackout, which the entire Japanese nuclear community thought to be impossible. The reactor core cooling systems all needed electrical power to operate. Even the high pressure, steam-driven coolant injection systems required power to operate the valves supplying steam to them. The Isolation Condensers (I/C), which turn the depleted steam from the pumps back into water, lost their sea water cooling flows. Plus, there was total darkness inside each power plant, making manual operations to get RPV cooling systems restarted extremely difficult. Control room operators used flashlights to monitor RPV conditions until emergency lighting, operated off the un-flooded batteries, was energized a few hours after the blackout began. There are no windows on reactor buildings, so they remained in total darkness.
With decay heat at the level of more than 20 megawatts inside each RPV when the tsunami hit, and severely limited capabilities to remove that heat, the RPVs rapidly heated and pressures went up. Some initial creative efforts to control the pressure build-up using battery power to get steam to high pressure pumps were successful in units #2 and 3. Unit #1 however, soon heated its I/C condenser to maximum, lost the ability to further cool the RPV and it's pressure began to rise steadily. It was nearly two days before unmitigated pressure increases occurred in units #2 & 3. Regardless, the inability to stop the temperature and pressure increases in all three caused high pressure safety relief valves to open and dump steam into their respective suppression chambers (S/C)/torus. With inadequate injection systems to replenish the water lost to the relief valves being open, eventually the fuel cells inside the RPVs were no longer covered with water and melting of fuel ensued. The time-lines for each RPV were quite different, however.
When did the reactor fuel cells become uncovered?
Unit #1 records show that at 10pm (~6 hrs. post-tsunami) the water level in the reactor was more than 2 feet above the top of the fuel cell. Unfortunately, there are no further water level reports in the unit #1 operator records there-after, but it can be assumed that unit #1 fuel was uncovered a few hours later. Unit #2's water level dropped to the top of its fuel cell on March 14, at 5:17 pm. This was more than 70 hours into the actual tsunami-caused blackout. Complete uncovery and the onset of fuel meltage probably occurred after that. There was still a lot of decay heat, but many times less severe than was the case with unit #1, who's core was probably uncovered ~10 hours after the full blackout began. Unit #3's RPV water level dropped to the top of the fuel cell on March 13, at 4:15 am. This was about 37 hours after the tsunami, with a decay heat level of more than 10 megawatts. Not as much heat production as unit#1 when it's core began to uncover, but still enough heat to dry the fuel cell and begin meltage faster than with unit #2. Thus we see that unit#1 probably melted first, unit #3 second, and unit #2 last. It only follows that meltdown severity ought to be in the same order. Why TEPCO and NISA still say that unit #2 had the worst meltdown remains a mystery.
Why didn't the operators do something to keep the cores covered with water?
They tried to keep the cores covered, but inadequate emergency power design and increasing radiation levels in the plant locations where operators could possibly get water to the core, prevented them from keeping the fuel cells covered. They did all they could, and some operating employees even allowed themselves to be over-exposed to radiation in the valiant attempt to recover reactor water level control.
Valiant operators? What about all the news reports of the operators fleeing the plant property? What about all the reports of operator evacuations?
This is yet another example of poor TEPCO and governmental communications. Here's what actually happened. Each nuclear power plant complex in Japan has an “anti-earthquake” structure built to withstand all possible temblors. Plant staffs are trained to immediately, but calmly, proceed to the structure when an earthquake begins. This includes aftershocks and tsunami warnings. However, this does not apply to essential personnel who are operating plant systems. Only non-essential personnel are to proceed to the anti-earthquake building. As it turns out, essential control room and plant operating staff remained at their posts while all non-essential personnel went to the anti-earthquake building. There was no panic. There was no wild, full-scale evacuation of the power complex. Why TEPCO and the government agencies used the term “evacuation” is a bizarre mystery. No such thing happened at Fukushima!
Why didn't the operators vent (relieve the high internal pressures) sooner and perhaps avoid the disastrous hydrogen explosions?
This aspect begins with unit #1, which was severely over-pressurized long before units #2 and 3. The plant manager ordered the operating staff to prepare for venting just after midnight on March 12, but the venting operation could not be started until it was confirmed that all residents within 3 km of the power complex had evacuated. The Prime Minister was advised of the necessity of evacuation by 9pm the previous evening, and the order for evacuation was issued soon there-after. By procedure, the high pressure could not be reduced by venting before evacuation had been confirmed! So, they prepared to vent unit #1, but had to wait. At 12:30 am, the government said evacuation of the 3km radius was complete. This was confirmed by the government at 1:45am. At 1:30am, the Prime Minister gave the plant manager permission to start venting after a press conference to announce the venting had occurred. The press conference was held at 3:06 am. However, some off-duty operators arrived at the Fukushima power complex and reported they had seen people in the town of Okuma. The government assurance of the evacuation was wrong! The plant manager could not begin venting until the entire 3km radius was abandoned, and that no longer seemed to be the case. The Prime Minister arrived at the nearby emergency center at 7am, demanding to know why venting had yet to occur. When told there were still a few people in the 3 km radius, he calmed down but ordered venting to begin as soon as evacuation was certain. At 9:03am, final confirmation of Okuma's evacuation was verified, and at 9:15am the venting of unit #1 began.
Too little, too late. The above procedural delays had allowed pressures inside the Primary and Secondary Containments to raise way too high, and leaks occurred which sent considerable fission product contamination and hydrogen gas into the outer spaces of the reactor building. When the venting eventually began, it seems some of the gasses did not leave the system through the outside exhaust stack, but rather accelerated the leakage into the reactor building's interior. The unit #1 hydrogen explosion occurred at 3:36pm.
Unit 2 and 3 operators found ways to temporarily cool their RPVs for dozens of hours after the unit #1 explosion, avoiding the need to vent. Damage caused by flying debris from the unit #1 explosion and resulting increases in radiation levels inside the #2 & 3 reactor buildings made preparations for venting units #2&3 considerably more difficult, after the need to relieve internal pressures was recognized.
We feel the seven answered questions above are the most important, at this point. We will share more in subsequent updates, but there is one item of current importance that begs immediate coverage...
NHK World reports Prefectural governors across Japan have severely criticized the government's proposal for administering “stress tests” on the idled nuclear power plants, and Prime Minister Kan immediately making the tests mandatory before considering restarts. NISA says the testing will follow the recent proposal made by the IAEA, but could give no details on what the tests will entail or how they might be administered. The Nuclear Safety Commission says they might have details for everyone in a week, but distrust among the governors abounds. The governors basically don't trust the government's sudden announcement. Saga Governor Furukawa says he cannot understand why the government made its proposal just when he was about to decide on restarting Genkai units #2&3. The governor's criticism seems to imply that the “stress test” announcement may be a poorly-planned political ploy.
JAIF reports the first large plastic “cover” sections for encasing damaged reactor buildings #1, 3 & 4 have begun to arrive at Fukushima Daiichi. The steel supports and beams for the covering material continue to be assembled at a seaport 50 kilometers from the crippled power complex. The concrete bases for the steel supports is scheduled to begin arriving today. The plan is to have all three buildings encased by mid-September and effectively eliminate possible airborne activity releases thereafter.
The Japanese government has designated the Education and Science Ministry as the collection agency for all radiation monitoring data in Japan. In a meeting held on Monday, the government decided to centrally analyze all radiation survey data collected by official Ministries, local governments and TEPCO. Results will be posted publicly on a new, dedicated website. The government plans to take detailed surveys inside of every 2 km2 area inside the no-go zone and all evacuation advisory areas outside the 20 km radius. This data will be used to verify (or refute) estimated contamination and radiation levels now being utilized for continued evacuation measures. The plan is to allow residents to return home in areas found to be safe.
Prime Minister Kan has ordered a series of upgraded safety checks for all nuclear plants designed to assess their ability to survive the greatest possible environmental and technological stresses on their systems. Japan's news media is calling this new nuclear safety program a “stress test”. The nuclear operator at Fukushima (TEPCO) and the government's various regulatory agencies have come under heavy, justifiable criticism for not adequately preparing for the catastrophic tsunami. Kan gives no details as to what this upgraded safety program will include, but it ought to take considerable influence from IAEA and American NRC regulatory standards. Upon this announcement, the governor of Saga Prefecture has said he will not decide on the proposed restart of Genkai units #2 & 3 until the “stress test” has been run to completion on the two reactor plants. It is believed all other Prefectural governors will do the same thing. Thus, Kan avoids the political stress which would come with meeting the governors and deciding whether or not to restart idled nuclear plants. Power shortages will undoubtedly be the case across Japan through the summer, if not well into the winter, which seems less significant to Kan than succumbing to radiation fears.
NHK World reports the waste-water decontamination system at Fukushima has cleansed nearly 15,000 tons of contaminated waters. NHK adds the system is working at 86% of its designed capacity. Why not 100%? We might refer to automobile gas mileage ratings for an analogy. If the dealer reports the car has a “design” EPA rating of 30 mpg, we can be quite sure we will actually get about 27 mpg on the open road, and 25 mpg driving locally. Regardless, 86% capacity on the clean-up system is more than enough to adequately the volume of highly contaminated waters in the turbine and reactor building basements at Fukushima.
Professor Ken Sasaki of Hiroshima Kokusai Gakuin University has announced he may have a possible solution to the Cesium contamination situation inside the Fukushima evacuation areas. Cesium-eating microbes. NHK says Sasaki mixed 90 grams of microbes with 2.5 grams of Cesium. The level of cesium dropped by a factor of twelve in 24 hours, and was completely consumed in three days. Sasaki wants to test his Cesium-munchers on soil samples taken from inside the Fukushima evacuation zone.
Mainichi Shimbun has an editorial in today's issue charging that TEPCO and the Tokyo government panicked early-on in the nuclear emergency at Fukushima Daiichi. The editorial states that this “elite” panic was amplified because they did not want the public to panic at the same time. Panic-upon-panic paranoia, per se. Mainichi concludes this may have been yet another reason why TEPCO and the government withheld considerable amounts of information over the first few weeks of the situation. However, “elite” fears of public panic seem to have been unfounded. The news media of Japan expected wide-spread panic over the killer tsunami, but were surprised to find a general public behavior of calm, well-organized actions.
We already know the accident at Fukushima was caused by inadequate regulatory oversight, a lack of TEPCO home-office expertise in handling nuclear emergencies, government nuclear ineptitude, a wildly confused and time-consuming emergency decision-making process, and poor local community response to the Fukushima nuclear emergency center. Now, we might throw in the notion of executive and administrative panic. We recommend reading this most reasonable and provocative editorial...
Japan's Nuclear safety Commission says more than 1,000 children of Fukushima Prefecture were scanned for I-131 thyroid up-take between March 26 and 30th. 45% were found to have trace amounts of I-131 in their thyroids, but none were above the 0.2 microsievert/hr “benchmark” for on-going health monitoring. Regardless, this information comes from thyroid scans performed more than 3 months ago, but has only been released in the past 24 hrs. Why has it taken so long to get this very, very good news released? How much parental angst and anger could have been avoided with a much more expeditious processing and reporting of the findings?
Meanwhile, thousands of miles away in America...
Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) has run a poll of more than 1,000 US residents who live within a ten mile radius of nuclear generating plants. The poll was run independently covering all 64 nuclear plant locations across the country. The individuals polled excluded households with anyone who works at a nuclear plant. Respondents were evenly split among Democrats, Independents and Republicans. The margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points. 83% favor continued use of nuclear reactors in the production of electricity and 11% strongly oppose the nuclear option. This poll was compared to a similar one taken in 2009, which showed nearly 90% in favor and 7% opposed. Other key results include 86% in favor of renewal of operating licenses if the plant continues to meet all safety regulations (13% disagree), and 72% say we should build more nukes (25% disagree). Clearly, those most “at risk” in America do not want the nuclear option abandoned.
NEI has also written a detailed response to a wildly speculative, largely assumptive series of reports run by the Associated Press, June 20 through 24th. Basically, the writer says any plant more than 40 years old should be scrapped. AP's 4 articles say (1) the NRC has weakened safety rules to re-license aging plants, (2) US plants often leak radioactive tritium into the groundwater because of their age, (3) populations surrounding US nukes have soared and emergency evacuation plans are no longer feasible, and (4) extended licensing of nuclear plants is an NRC-nuclear industry conspiracy. NEI refutes each claim in exhaustive fashion. We recommend reading it...
#3 spent fuel pool (SPF) has cooled to a nominal temperature of ~40 oC within 24 hours of new system operation. This in much quicker than TEPCO predicted, similar to what happened with the new #2 SPF cooling system when it began to operate several weeks ago. NHK World should be commended for making this good news public.
JAIF says the waste water circulation system is in full operation. The weak piping that has been springing leaks has been replaced with stronger materials. Plus, the operating procedures have been upgraded to insure there will be no more components incorrectly positioned. The system has been working as designed since Saturday, and enough water has been decontaminated to provide all reactor vessel injections. TEPCO reports the start-up and testing problems over the past two weeks were due to a “lack of preparation” and pressure to rush through operational testing on a system comprised entirely of foreign-made components.
Saturday, a robot began operation to remove debris from the interior of #3 reactor building. JAIF reports the robot has been working very well. On Sunday, a second robot was sent inside and measured the rad levels in the areas the first robot had cleared, and TEPCO says the rad levels were lower than before the cleaning.
Asahi Shimbun reports a 362 ft. long levee has been build to protect unit #3 and 4 from another tsunami. The levee is built out of tarps and netting filled with large rocks. The top of the levee sits more than 14 meters above the shoreline, at low tide.
TEPCO added something quite disconcerting...this levee is the first such sea-side tsunami protection for units #3&4! These units sit about 10 meters above the sea level, so they thought they didn't need additional tsunami protection. Further, the new levee is estimated to protect the units from an 8 meter tsunami, at high tide, spawned by an earthquake of 8 on the Richter scale. The 8 meter tsunami was the design basis for the plant prior to March 11. In other words, units #3&4 may not have met design basis criteria for tsunami! If NISA was aware of this and let them operate the plants anyway, they are a very poor regulatory body. If NISA didn't know, then TEPCO should have their operating license revoked!
A Japan Times article says Tsuruga unit #1 reactor containment does not have an over-pressure venting system. Of the 30 Mark I containments in Japan on Boiling Water Reactor systems, this is the only one lacking the venting technology. Japan Atomic Power Company says they did not install such a system because the did not believe it was needed for Tsuruga #1. If this article is correct, it demonstrates that compliance with safety regulations in Japan is a matter of individual utility discretion. Regulatory compliance should be mandatory, not discretionary.
NHK World reports Japan's Ministry of Science has surveyed more than 400 locations within 20 kilometers of Fukushima Daiichi and found contamination levels lower on asphalt pavements than on open fields and in forests. This is because asphalt is much less porous than soil which let rains wash away some of the deposited contamination. This survey also allows us to see what the actual contamination levels are across the “no-go” zone within 20 kilometers of the damaged power station. As we expected, the highest levels are located in areas that were downwind of the plant between March 15 and March 21, the period of high airborne releases when the winds were blowing inland. The highest reading reported is from an unpaved road near Tamioka Town (~10 km distance) at a bit less than 40 microsieverts per hour. These first 400 monitoring locations are mostly within the probable high concentration pathway northwest of the power plants. The Ministry plans to monitor 3,400 locations from across the entire no-go region by August. The first series of readings will be taken in spots expected to have the highest readings, like roadside ditches, gardens and other run-off collection areas. Hopefully, locations found to have radiation levels below 3.8 microsieverts per hour will be re-opened to residents.
TEPCO has released their first actual pictures of unit #4 spent fuel pool, taken June 29.
The water level is obviously below the top of the pool, but it seems there are still several meters of water above the stored fuel bundles (marked by the blue Cherenkov effect). At 82 oC, we can readily see the steam wafting from the hot water in the pool. We now know the source of the “white smoke” occasionally seen coming from the destroyed unit #4 refueling deck.
World Nuclear Association (WNA) reports a possible reason for why unit #2 reactor building did not have a hydrogen explosion like the other three units. WNA says operators opened a “blow-out panel” which allowed hydrogen to stay below an explosive concentration. We have not found this information anywhere else, but WNA has been quite reliable. As such, this report immediately opens questions relative to units #3&4. Did they also have blow-out panels? If they did, why weren't they opened after unit #1 blew its roof off?
On the nuclear waste front, University of Tokyo reports they have found substantial deposits of rare earth elements in the mud on the floor of the central Pacific, which might rid Japan's hi-tech industry of reliance on foreign supplies. However, there is a plethora of rare earths to be found in old spent nuclear fuel bundles (See “Nuclear Waste : Is It?”) which can do the same thing. Recycling spent fuel cells allows 95% of the matrix to be re-used as reactor fuel, and the remaining fission products (the true nuclear waste) is super-rich in rare earths which lose their radioactivity in less than 50 years. Why is no-one making plans to utilize this method of gaining a very valuable resource?
Rare earths are essential in the production of many hi-tech products and computer components. China currently has a virtual corner on the rare earth market, with America a distant second. Tokyo University's discovery makes it possible for nations to dredge up the precious minerals from deep sea mud in international waters. However, the rare-earth-rich sea floors are between 3,500 and 6,000 meters below the surface of the Pacific. A daunting depth, indeed. It would be cheaper and easier to process rare earths from spent fuel, vice dredging the mud 2 to 3 miles under the sea. Plus, recycling spent fuel would effectively solve the nuclear waste issue.
Today marks The Hiroshima Syndrome's first year on the internet. We want to thank all Fukushima update readers and site visitors for making this a highly successful project. We have had over 30,000 visitors, 70,000 total visits from more than 90 countries, and more than a million hits since our “birth” one year ago. It has been both a humbling and exciting experience for all of us. Thank you, thank you, thank you...
NHK World has polled 28 of the 29 local municipalities having nuclear power stations within their borders (other than in Fukushima Prefecture) and found 5 do not support restarting currently idled reactors in the immediate future, 17 say they cannot decide at this point, 4 said they are willing to consider restarts, and 2 fully support immediate restarting (Genkai Town and Kariwa Village). 64% said they felt local consent is one important determinant on restarting reactors, while 57% said adequate earthquake and tsunami protection is another.
The Mayor of Genkai Town met with Saga Prefecture Governor Yasushi Kurukawa and told him the government's assurances of safety for two Genkai nuclear plants convinced the mayor they should restart. Kurukawa then met with Industry Minister Kaieda who echoed the words of the Genkai mayor. Minister Kaieda added, “Nuclear plants that are not in danger should operate in accordance with political judgment. It is our responsibility to bring only nuclear plants at serious risk to a halt." As a result, Kurukawa softened on his nuclear concerns and anxieties, but still wanted to have a discussion members of the Prefectural Assembly. As of last night, the governor said the discussions had been made and it was generally agreed that Genkai units #2 and 3 should be allowed to restart. He said, “My doubts regarding the safety were clarified”. However, some Saga officials maintain they still have reservations about the decision because of ongoing fears in their constituencies. As a result, Kurukawa will not make his “final decision” until he meets with Prime Minister Kan in mid-July.
On a related note, the governors of Prefectures immediately abutting Saga are expected to oppose the restart at Genkai, although they have no legal power to stop the action. In addition, Asahi Shimbun found that many of the governors in other prefectures with nuclear plants said they will only consider restarts after all findings of investigations into the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 plant are released. The Fukui Prefecture governor has insisted he will not let any of the 14 reactors in his area restart until this happens.
On Wednesday, the Tohoku Electric Company's shareholders voted down an anti-nuclear proposal submitted by a minority group of their stockholders. There were a few individuals who voiced their anger and concerns, reminiscent of the other shareholder meetings earlier in the week, but there does not seem to have been side-show demonstrations to attract the news media.
Meanwhile, back at Fukushima Daiichi...
(We have not provided a regular update of RPV temperatures recently because they have been quite steady. It seems TEPCO's operators have a good handle on the situation. We will let you all know if any significant changes occur in the future.)
TEPCO has decided to use the “mega-float” barge to store slightly radioactive waters from units # 5 and 6. The two units have more than 8,000 tons of seawater in their basements, residual from the tsunami, which may have picked up small concentrations of radioactive isotopes from inside the buildings. The amount of radioactivity in the water is below that of the low-level waste waters they discharged to the sea more than 2 months ago, creating a national furor and some international issues. TEPCO says they have no plans to discharge the water into the sea. TEPCO wants to get the salt water out of the basements to protect the equipment from further sea water damage. The barge has a more than 10,000 ton capacity.
NHK World reports TEPCO workers have accessed the fifth floor refueling deck of unit #4 and begun preparations for the removal of debris hindering the work necessary to have a cooling system working for the spent fuel pool. There is more debris than had been anticipated, and much of it lies on top of some valves needed to operate the cooling system. One positive discovery was made, however. The radiation level on the refueling deck is one millisievert per hour, which is low enough to allow men to work full shifts in the effort to clear away the debris.
TEPCO reports a new cooling system on the unit #3 spent fuel pool should be operating next week. A test run on the system is currently under way.
Mainichi Shimbun says Fukushima Prefecture does not want to make the same error with Date City as was made with the complete evacuation of Iitate Town several weeks ago. Iitate had several localized radiation “hot spots” which politically impelled the Fukushima Prefecture's government to have the entire town abandoned. The central government in Tokyo wanted only those areas with rad levels above the 20 msv/yr standard to be evacuated, but the Prefecture's officials opted for a more cautious complete evacuation of Iitate. With Date, which has a much larger population than Iitate, the Prefecture was more open to only evacuating those areas exceeding the 20 msv/yr standard. Thus, 32 homes in Date will be affected. In addition, homes near the hot-spot locations with pregnant women will also be evacuated, bringing the total to 113.
We applaud the Fukushima Prefecture's government for making the limited evacuation decision with Date. Evacuating all of Iitate was correctly called a social and political fiasco by Asahi Shimbun, causing unfounded anxiety and unnecessary stress on those who were evacuated but not actually located in higher rad areas. Only affecting the few homes in Date that might exceed the government standard is a rational and realistic move. However, we should keep in mind that the 20 msv/yr standard is unnecessarily prohibitive, compared to many much higher background levels found around the world. Further, the assumption that babies in the womb, and newborns, are more susceptible to radiation damage is yet another arbitrary corollary with the no-safe-level theory. (see “Radiation : The no-safe-level myth”) Regardless, the decision with Date is one of the most rational political judgments made since March 11.
A research ship run by the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology has set sail for Fukushima. The University researchers will examine contamination levels in the sea floor and how they are taken up by shellfish, sea worms and crustaceans. They do admit, however, the main focus is to provide data, independent of that published by government and TEPCO, in order to inhibit suspicions that can become groundless rumors.
Asahi Shimbun reports yet another example of TEPCO withholding critical information very early in the Fukushima emergency scenario. A report from the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) says that by 10pm on March 11, some six hours after the tsunami wiped out all electrical power, operators at unit #1 had readings of an unusually high radiation level inside their reactor building. The rad level indicated fuel damage and hydrogen production was happening inside the RPV. At 11 pm, high radiation levels were also detected inside unit #1 turbine building, indicating the earlier reactor building high rad level was correct. At midnight, TEPCO informed NISA they had “possible” high radiation levels throughout unit #1, but it seems there was no mention of hydrogen production. The first mention of an actual high radiation condition and hydrogen production came at 5:14am on March 12. The more than 7 hour delay in transmitting this essential information seems inexcusable, but a statement by a TEPCO official sheds a different light on the issue. Junichi Matsumoto of TEPCO says the existing regulations allowed for the delay, thus TEPCO wasn't trying to cover anything up. The regulations allegedly do not require immediate reporting of all occurrances of high radiation at the power plant.
If TEPCO's assessment of the existing regulations is correct, we literally have a case of double indemnity. If the regulations do not require immediate reporting of unusually high radiation levels during an emergency (in this case a complete loss of power), then the regulations are seriously flawed. Second, TEPCO not informing NISA of the severe internal radiological condition simply because they weren't required to do it, is a prime example of poor decision making. In both cases, it seems the TEPCO home office is the culprit.
The newly appointed government Minister in charge of nuclear emergencies, Goshi Hosono, reports he wants to have some evacuees return home once he feels the situation at the power complex is sufficiently under control. He believes that the current trends at Fukushima Daiichi indicated that some residents will be able to return to their homes by mid-July. It is assumed those returning home will be from areas which were not downwind of the power plants when airborne radioactivity was being released, south and southwest of the release points.
The on-again, off-again waste water decontamination system was stopped Monday after running for about 90 minutes. A rather serious leak appeared at a weak piping connection which was not checked before starting full system operation. In fact, TEPCO now says none to the new system's 4 kilometers of piping has been checked for nearly two weeks!
This is a unique system, created specifically for Fukushima recovery. Everything needs to be checked, re-checked, and then checked again before going into full operation. Two-week-old leak checks are not good enough in a first-time system that has been running in “test” mode for the intervening period. It seems TEPCO is cutting corners to speed up the process, and is actually making achievement of full operation take much too long.
It should be noted the leaking pipe connection was repaired and the system returned to operation on Tuesday afternoon.
Now, another Mayor of the town next to the Genkai Nuclear Power Station says the recently refueled reactors should be restarted. Genkai Town's Mayor Hidio Kishimoto said last weekend's nationally televised meeting with NISA officials helped convince him, along with a face-to-face meeting with Industry Minister Banri Kaieda. The mayor has one caveat... he wants a “state guarantee” from the government in Tokyo that the reactors are safe. Whether or not such a guarantee from Prime Minister Kan's crumbling regime will happen is speculative. Regardless, in Saga Prefecture local official approval is desired before a nuclear plant can be restarted, so Kishimoto's statement is important in getting the two ready-to-go Genkai units on line and lessen the nation-wide power shortage.
This week's share-owner meeting for TEPCO was interesting, to say the least. Somewhere between 8,500 and 9,500 attended (depending on which news source you want to believe). Most of each news report focuses on the media circus created by people protesting TEPCO's investment in nuclear energy and/or demanding abandoning nuclear energy altogether. One share-owner said the executives at TEPCO should perform ritual disemboweling (not a typo). Yet another said TEPCO administrators should all jump into their melted reactors and die. Greenpeace was also present in full force, clothed in full anti-contamination suits with masks. Near the end of each article, we find the results of a vote on a proposition for TEPCO to shut down all nuclear plants and abandon the idea altogether. Although the exact vote count was not mentioned in any article, the anti-nuclear proposition was soundly defeated. Most TEPCO share-owners are clearly in favor of not shutting down TEPCO's nukes. Thus, we see the minority group making “newsworthy” noise gets the headlines, and the mandate of the relatively silent majority occupies the end of each report.
Today, we find that three other power company share-owner's groups used the same tactics as the TEPCO stockholders at their meetings on Tuesday. In each case, a severe minority of share-owners submitted a formal proposal to phase out all nuclear plants within the next decade. At their individual stockholder meetings, similar media-attractive protest strategies to TEPCO's were used, and similar verbal demands were made. In each case, the proposals were either formally voted down or rejected by verbal vote. Three more utility share-owner meetings will occur by the end of the week, and all three have recently-submitted minority “no-nukes” proposals on the table.
If this all sounds like a well-orchestrated scheme to make Japanese anti-nuclearism seem to be as popular as that in Germany and Italy, you're probably right. It is not a new tactic, though. Similar attempts to get share-owner approval for no-nuke-proposals occurred in America after Three Mile Island, and all met the same fate. New decade...same old stuff.
Fukushima Prefecture has begun monitoring their citizens for internal and external radioactive material. They are using three detectors including (1) Whole Body Counters (WBC) for internal radioactivity, (2) “body surface monitors” for external contamination, and (3) “thyroid radiation detectors”. The WBC scans make sense, without question. However, it it safe to assume all residents have showered or bathed many times over the past 90 days since April 1, effectively removing all external contamination. Plus, there is no detectable Iodine-131 at this point since it has died off radioactively, so the thyroid radiation check is of little value.
So, are these two scans worthless? No! If nothing else, they will verify what scientists have been telling the public for weeks. The contamination washes off, and the Iodine has decayed below detectable levels. The public may question TEPCO and the national government concerning the radiation releases from Fukushima, but will they question those closest to home?
One of the largest cranes in Japan has arrived at Fukushima Daiichi to begin preparations for erecting the huge plastic cover for unit #1 reactor building. The cover is being fabricated elsewhere to be disassembled and re-fabricated at the power plant. The crane will eventually be used for the re-fabrication, but will first be used to remove all debris from the top of the building, and the heavy material surrounding the structure.