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Fukushima Commentary 1...10/23/11-5/25/12
Arnie Gundersen profits on Japan fears, Japanese renewables, Japan blasts WHO, apocalyptic rumor make headlines, Mainichi gets it wrong, Japanese economic collapse, nuclear robot inspection, real disaster in Japan, tsunami refugees ignored, what is a Becquerel?, unit 2 phantom melt-through, Fukushima meltdowns, and cold shutdown.
America’s Gundersen profits on Japan’s fears
For the past several weeks, America’s preeminent prophet of nuclear energy doom has been touring Japan. He says that Fukushima Daiichi is an accident still-in-progress, with the greatest potential for disaster being the spent fuel pool (SFP) of unit #4. (1) His prolific panderings have precious little real-world evidence to support them, but the Japanese Press and many politicians treat him as an expert voice to be reckoned with. But, don’t think he’s doing it out of the kindness of his heart. His latest book on Fukushima skyrocketed to the top of the Japanese non-fiction best-seller list last spring, and he’s surely receiving consultation fees for his current tour of appearances. Technically his company, Fairwinds Energy Education, is not-for-profit. However, one can be sure that he’s paying himself handsomely out of the windfall of money Fairwinds is receiving from Japan. Preaching that Nuclear Judgment Day is an ongoing possibility has become a lucrative endeavor.
But, the money he’s making in Japan isn’t the issue of greatest importance. It’s that he’s given equal expert billing with reputable professionals and organizations, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency! If it were merely the Japanese Press presenting him as a “balancing” voice to counter Japan’s nuclear community, we might dismiss what he is doing as yet another antinuclear activist seeking fifteen minutes in the sun. However, he has been given audience by a goodly number of lawmakers from Japan’s Diet in Tokyo! They take him SERIOUSLY!
During his trip to Japan in late August and early September, Gundersen met with Diet members, lawyers and citizens' groups to share his notions concerning the F. Daiichi situation, primarily focusing on the on-going fears relative to unit #4 SFP. In a Kyoto public presentation, Gundersen said, "The spent-nuclear-fuel pool at Fukushima No. 1's unit 4 remains a sleeping dragon. The situation and possibility of a fuel pool fire in reactor 4 in the days (immediately) after the (March 2011) quake was the reason the U.S. government recommended that the evacuation zone be (set at) 80 km."(1) The statement itself is grossly misleading. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s chairman speculated to America’s Congress that #4 SFP was dry on March 16, 2011, and that fuel bundles in the unit #2 SFP were protruding out of the water. In addition, not actually knowing what was happening at the plant, combined with America’s 50 mile emergency planning zone philosophy, Washington naively ordered all Americans within 50 miles (80 kilometers) to get out of Dodge. Did Gundersen mention that in July of 2011 the NRC said they over-reacted and the American evacuation was unnecessary? It seems he did not.
Undaunted, “Apocalyptic Arnie” added that America’s Brookhaven laboratories did a study on a hypothetical SFP fire in 1997 which would cause the permanent evacuation of a 50 mile radius.(1) However, the study itself says nothing about an evacuation radius, only that near-by evacuations would be prudent if the assumed fire took place at an actual nuke. Further, in 2003 the NRC pointed out that a Zirconium fire (1100oC ignition point) was a highly unlikely event. Further, the assumption of releasing between 10% and 100% of the contained fission products was just plain wrong. The NRC states that these over-estimations and were off by as much as an order of magnitude (factor of ten). Further, the study assumed no human intervention to mitigate the postulated event.(2) In other words, Gundersen intentionally misrepresented the content of the Brookhaven study, and conveniently neglected to say anything about the NRC’s critical appraisal of the report. To make matters worse, he stretched the truth even further by saying, "The Fukushima plant's reactor 4 (pool) has 1,500 fuel bundles. That's more cesium than was released into the atmosphere from all of the nuclear bombs ever exploded, (which total) more than 700 over a period of 30 years. That's also why the U.S. recommended an evacuation with an 80 km radius."(1) A complete fabrication! This was not why America recommended an 80km evacuation radius. It had nothing to do with nuclear weapon associations. But, it seems believable in Japan where the Hiroshima Syndrome(3) holds sway. Confusion between reactors and bombs is commonplace in the island nation, and Apocalyptic Arnie is exploiting it to the maximum extent possible.
But, he doesn’t stop there! Gunderson continues, "I told Tepco that while I realized they hoped and believed that there will always be water in the nuclear fuel pool, I had to ask whether or not they had (already prepared and stationed) any chemicals to put out a nuclear fuel pool fire in the event they were wrong. Tepco's response was that there was nothing in the fuel pool that could burn, a statement I find appalling."(1) For someone touted as a nuclear expert, that is a stupendously stupid statement. The heat generated by spent fuel drops dramatically over the course of time. Yes, at the immediate point of reactor shutdown decay heat is 7% of full power. An hour later, it’s about 1.5%. At the end of one day, it’s below 1%. After 10 days, it’s about 0.3%. This sort of heat-generating reduction continues for at least 50 years (the radiological lifetime of 99% of the contained fission fragments, by volume). The “hottest” fuel bundle in SFP #4 has been out of the reactor for nearly two years and its current decay heat rate is in the 0.01% range! Further, if all the water in SFP #4 suddenly vanished and the staff at F. Daiichi did nothing, the fuel cells would be exposed to open atmosphere and cool rapidly via natural convection. In other words the fuel bundle’s present heat production would never get them hot enough to ignite the Zirconium cladding. It’s doubtful that the heat being generated at this point would boil water. Apocalyptic Arnie’s response to Tepco is in-itself appalling and patently inexcusable for someone ballyhooed to be an expert of repute!
Now, here’s the truly depressing part…The Japanese Press and many government officials find Gundersen’s sale of fear-laden Fukushima snake-oil worthy of serious consideration. Prior to 3/11/11, there was absolutely no public education in Japan on nuclear power plants, nuclear safety, or the realities of radioactive decay. Nothing! Even teaching about the aftermath of Hiroshima/Nagasaki has been out of the schools for three decades. The only nuclear and/or radiological education to be found was on the university level, and merely for those aspiring to be part of what is known as Japan’s “nuclear village”. Japan was, and for the most part still is, a nation plagued by abject nuclear and radiological ignorance. Because of the rampant fear resulting from confusion between reactors and bombs, Japan’s people are severely suffering the psychological distress spawned by the Hiroshima Syndrome. Because of ignorance, a foreign street corner prophet of nuclear energy doom is given free license to line his pockets with Japanese yen.
Why has the Japanese Press ignored “The myth of renewable energy”?
Ten months ago the antinuclear Bulletin of Atomic Scientists posted a report entitled “The myth of renewable energy” (11/22/2011). While numerous blog-sites reported on the Bulletin posting, there is no coverage to be found in Japan’s popular Press. With the current love affair the Japanese Press has concerning a shift to renewable electricity sources, it seems they have intentionally ignored the Bulletin’s realistic assessment of renewables. Why?
The Bulletin report identifies the impossibly massive volume of materials needed to make the world’s electricity needs entirely “renewable” by 2030. One astonishing statement summarizes the folly of making the world renewable; “Renewable energy sounds so much more natural and believable than a perpetual-motion machine, but there's one big problem: Unless you're planning to live without electricity and motorized transportation, you need more than just wind, water, sunlight, and plants for energy. You need raw materials, real estate, and other things that will run out one day. You need stuff that has to be mined, drilled, transported, and bulldozed -- not simply harvested or farmed. You need non-renewable resources [to make it happen].”
The Bulletin looks at three of the major renewables available in the world – solar, geothermal, and wind – with respect to the amount of construction materials that would be needed. They also identify the major geophysical drawbacks in the use of biomass and hydro. With respect to wind, they point out that a single two-megawatt wind turbine needs a copious amount of two important rare earths – 800 lbs. of Neodymium and 130 lbs. of Dysprosium. They are entitled “rare earths” because there are relatively little of them to be found on earth, the deposits are “scattered” and few locations are easy to access. If the entire world went “wind” by 2030, 7.6 million two-megawatt wind mills would have to be built. The Bulletin says “That's a heckuva lot of neodymium.” They add that it would take 720,000 wave generators, 1.7 billion solar-voltaic units, 5,350 geothermal plants, 900 hydroelectric, or 49,000 concentrated solar power systems to do the same thing.
The Bulletin then explains, “Unfortunately, ‘renewable energy’ is a meaningless term with no established standards. Like an emperor parading around without clothes, it gets a free pass, because nobody dares to confront an inconvenient truth: None of our current energy technologies are truly renewable, at least not in the way they are currently being deployed.” This seems to be the bottom line of the report – belief that renewables can be easily and cheaply used to power the world is a myth.
Why didn’t the Japanese press share this revealing Bulletin report with their readers? They dutifully tell Japan everything antinuclear the Bulletin posts. It is unlikely the Japanese Press “missed it”. Here’s the rub. In general, the Japanese public suffers under the mortal fears of nuclear energy (the Hiroshima Syndrome) and radiation itself (radiophobia). A majority of the people want nuclear energy completely abandoned and replaced with renewables. Public opinion seems to be more important than anything else, especially with the Japanese Press. But the truth about the immense undertaking of replacing all nukes with renewables has received only cursory mention by the news media. All Japanese antinuclear voices make it sound as if shifting to renewables will be easy and affordable, and the Press broadcasts these pie-in-the-sky statements continually. The Bulletin report would have terrific impact on the debate, especially since the report itself comes from one of the world’s foremost antinuclear voices. Deplorably, the Japanese Press has decided to keep their readers ignorant of the truth about renewables, in order to conform to public opinion. Challenging public opinion is bad for news media business. But in this case it potentially inflicts colossal injury on Japan. Their economy has circled the drain ever since 3/11/11 due to the tsunami recovery, naïve radiation fears and confusion between reactors and bombs. The cost of replacing nukes with renewables will be staggering, possibly bringing the nation to its economic tipping point. Not telling Japan of the risks concerning such a colossal shift is unforgivable.
Tokyo shoots itself in the foot again!
Although it seems almost too bizarre to be true, the Tokyo government “angrily” says the WHO report on Fukushima public exposures is an unreal overestimation (Asahi Shimbun). Some of the WHO estimates are greater than the government has published, and Tokyo doesn’t like it one bit! “The WHO estimates deviate considerably from reality,” says one source, “If those figures are taken at face value, that may spread disquiet and confusion among the Japanese public”. What makes Tokyo’s response so strange is, first, researchers from Japan’s Radiological Sciences and the National Institute of Public health served on the WHO panel. Further, the data used for the WHO report came from the Japanese government last September! Why is Tokyo be so upset? Another official said something that seems to shed revealing light, “If they [the WHO estimates] are released, that will not only arouse unnecessary anxiety among the Japanese public but also serve as negative publicity (emphasis added).” In other words, the WHO report might give Tokyo another political black eye. But, the hit may well be self-inflicted.
The WHO report on Fukushima health impacts is based on highest-possible exposure estimates. The estimates are high because WHO assumed all people stayed in their homes for 4 months after the accident, when in-fact most quickly evacuated. Plus, the effect of sales bans on contaminated food was not included in the prognosis, which suggests over-estimation of internal exposure. Such conservative approaches are common, and Tokyo has previously used the same techniques themselves. Should the government blast WHO because they came out with a somewhat different assumption?
The public in Japan has literally lost faith in their government because of Tokyo’s penchant for naïve bungling during the F. Daiichi accident. Naoto Kan’s inept handling of the F. Daiichi crisis, combined with his censorship of information released to the public, created a chasm of suspicion that the present government has been shackled with. Instead of possibly easing the distrust situation, Tokyo adds more fuel to the fire by attacking the findings of one of the most prestigious scientific organizations in the world, and concurrently denigrates their own official data. What are they thinking? Tokyo had been offered the opportunity to recover a modicum of confidence by praising rather than criticizing the WHO report. But in an utterly confounding move, they have decided to amplify rather than mitigate voter non-confidence. Naoto Kan shot himself in the foot several times after 3/11/12. Now, the Yoshihiko Noda government may have followed suit.
Apocalyptic fantasy gets headlines in Japan
This past week, Doomsday prophecies have spread around the world concerning Spent Fuel Pool #4 at Fukushima Daiichi. Tepco has issued statements contradicting the apocalyptic rumors, but it seems no news media source is listening to them. On Thursday, Asahi Shimbun wrote, “But these days, even politicians may seem more reliable than TEPCO about information concerning nuclear safety.” The Asahi supports their Tepco aversion by referencing international news outlets like the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Huffington Post, all of which are an ocean away and a world apart. They also cite a lone Japanese source, Mitsuhei Murata, 74, professor emeritus at Tokaigakuen University who served as Japan's ambassador to Switzerland. He said, "The trust in the central government and TEPCO which allowed the accident to happen has fallen around the world. There is no nation that wholeheartedly believes those releases." This strongly implies that the professor is willing to believe international scaremongering over hard data! But, he doesn’t stop there. "Since TEPCO is, after all, a for-profit company, it cannot be said to be making every possible effort.”
Where has this suddenly-popular science-fiction fantasy come from? The scenario comes primarily (but not solely) from America’s notorious prophet of nuclear energy doom, Arnie Gundersen. Gundersen asserts the SPFs at Fukushima have the “power to split the Japanese Archipelago.” He adds that the fuel in SPF # 4 contains radiation equal to the amount released in the atmosphere by all past nuclear weapon experiments. Gundersen also says that the No. 4 reactor building's structure was critically weakened by the 3/11/11 earthquake, the building is tilted, and he advises friends in Tokyo to immediately evacuate if and when the No. 4 reactor building collapses. None of Gundersen’s assertions fly in the face of Tepco’s analytical data. It seems his statements are based on personal assumption. In other words, “Apocalyptic Arnie” is making it up! Tepco has flatly denied all of his assertions, as well as those by Robert Alvarez which parallel Gundersen. Undaunted, Mr. Murata chimes in, "Since TEPCO is, after all, a for-profit company, it cannot be said to be making every possible effort. There is no time to waste. Knowledge from around the world should be gathered as soon as possible to begin the work of removing the nuclear fuel from the storage pool." This shows that the professor is more willing to believe Gundersen’s fiction than serious analytical fact!
As regular readers will attest, I have closely followed the post-accident events in Japan every day since March 11, 2011. I have found that since Naoto Kan stepped down and Tepco was no longer compelled to clear all public information through Kan’s staff before release, Tepco’s communications have stood the test of time. Their level of transparency and honesty has been commendable since Kan’s resignation. Due to many months of Kan’s censuring, Tepco’s reputation for transparency and honesty went down the drain. It is understandable that trust was lost with the public, causing the Press to seek out other sources to counter Tepco claims. But enough is enough. I firmly believe Tepco has long-since turned the informational corner. The era of distrust in Tepco’s information should end, although there presently seems to be no light at the end of trust’s tunnel. Regardless, when the second-largest newspaper in Japan gives serious billing to phantasmagorical offal of unprecedented magnitude, we are taken from the ridiculous to the sublime.
For additional information on the absurd speculations of a possible apocalypse caused by unit #4 SPF, please go to esteemed colleague Rod Adam’s blog of May 11, 2012… http://atomicinsights.com/
Get it right, for crying out loud!
The Mainichi Shimbun has posted an editorial on the dangers of shut-down reactors. (#1, below) It is written in a Q and A format. I am not going to nit-pick the many exaggerations contained in the article because nuclear-related hyperbole is typical of the Mainichi. However, the Mainichi’s assessment of the current level of heat being generated from the damaged fuel of Fukushima Daiichi’s units #1 through 3, is false… fictitious… just plain WRONG! And, not by just a little bit, either. They should prominently post a correction.
First, what we are dealing with is called “decay heat”. When the U-235 and Pu-239 (near the end of core life) atoms split (fission), the two pieces of the original nuclei instantly become two other elements. These “new” elements are not unique to the universe, and can be found on the Periodic Chart (from Zinc to Dysprosium). These freshly-made elements are quite unstable and produce radiation. As the radiation is absorbed and/or dissipated inside the reactor core, heat is produced. Immediately after a rapid, full-core shutdown (SCRAM), decay heat can be op to 7% of full reactor power (after a power run of approx. 1 year). Fortunately, the vast majority of the “new” elements is highly radioactive and burn themselves out at a prodigious pace. Within an hour after SCRAM the decay heat rate is ~1.5%, and after a day is below 1%. The drop-off continues for a few centuries until it becomes less radioactive than natural Uranium itself.
Now, here’s the intolerable problem with the Mainichi editorial. It says, “Over a year has passed since the No. 1 through 3 reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 plant were stopped, and the heat has dropped to around 0.4 percent of what it was immediately after the shutdown.” This is way, way off. Actually, decay heat is well below 0.1%...in fact more like 0.05%. (#2, below) In other words, the Mainichi’s posted decay heat levels in the F. Daiichi cores are off by as much as a factor of 20! Instead of 5,000 liters of water possibly boiled off in an hour, it’s more like 250 liters. The fuel in the Spent Fuel Pools is even older and generates much less heat. This makes the speculations of apocalyptic consequences from SPFs going dry, little more than a scary fairy-tale.
We should demand the Mainichi to get their technical numbers right. Anything less would be worse than a mere oversight…it would be disrespectful to their readers!
The end of an era, or, the onset of Japan’s economic and energy collapse
On Saturday May 5, Tomari unit #3 will be shuttered for routine maintenance and inspection. When it is disconnected from the nation’s electric transmission system, there will no longer be any operating nukes in Japan. It will mark the first time in 42 years that fission power will not be contributing to Japan’s energy infrastructure. (News on Japan) It will also mark the low-point of former Prime Minister Kan’s de-facto moratorium on nuclear energy which began soon after the tsunami/quake catastrophe of March 11, 2012. The complete cessation of nuclear-based electric generation has received mixed reactions from all over the country. Slightly more than half the people polled by two of Japan’s largest newspapers, the Mainichi and Asahi Shimbuns, do not want nuclear plants restarted until the new nuclear safety commission is in place and stronger regulations are enforced. The majority also wants to make Japan “nuclear free” as soon as possible. On the other hand, residents of the communities hosting the nukes want the currently-ready nukes restarted to avoid an energy short-fall this coming summer, as well as re-establish the local economic benefits of nuclear operation. The divergent debate is amplifying as time passes. With all nukes shuttered and the restart of perfectly safe, completely functional nukes like Oi units #3 & 4 hanging on a political trend that Tokyo seems too timid to quash, the angst-ridden majority will breathe a collective sigh of relief. Because clean, non-polluting nukes have been replaced by old, unreliable and pollution-spewing fossil fueled plants, they will also be breathing particulates and gasses that have been confirmed to shorten lives, induce cancer, and choke the systems of the most sensitive of the population. The proven, un-questioned negative health effects of burning fossil fuels should be seriously juxtaposed by the essentially assumed health effects of nuclear plants, including Fukushima Daiichi’s three meltdowns.
But, such rational understanding is uncommon in Japan, at this point in time. Misconceptions about nuclear energy and radiation exposure are considered reality by most Japanese due to more than a 30-year dearth of public information and a complete lack of both subjects in the nation’s education system. Radiophobia has gripped the nation to such a degree that recovery from last year’s real disaster, the tsunami of March 11, has been moving at a virtual snail’s pace out of fear that the moldering debris might be radioactive. To make matters worse, the government has been more concerned about soothing fears than doing the right thing and restarting the nukes so badly needed. In fact, the situation may well become the world’s most significant example of political fear pacification resulting in national economic and energy collapse.
Undaunted, several aggressive governmental opportunists like Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto and Osaka governor Ichiro Matsui have exploited the national restart debate to the maximum to bolster their higher political ambitions. Both also want the emergency planning zones around nukes expanded more than 300% in order to include their fiefdoms, as well as bring extra money into their governments. Their arguments are predicated on the exploitation of fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD). They understand that national ignorance of nuclear power plants and the biological effects of extremely low level radiation exposure have generated fear that infects the core of Japan’s population. They understand that it is very, very rare for nuclear experts and academics to say anything is impossible (even if it is), which allows them to evoke uncertainty sufficient to keep Japan’s nuclear-paranoic majority in a constant state of anxiety. They understand that the government’s arbitrary behaviors and less-than-transparent information sharing in March, 2011, have placed a severe state of doubt in the minds of more than 75% of the voting public. Exploitation of nuclear FUD is being tested by these opportunists, and if they are successful we might see a tsunamic wave of similar political actions sweep the island nation.
As long as the exploitation of FUD supersedes doing what is rational and realistic, Japan’s economy and energy infrastructure will continue to circle the drain.
F. Daiichi unit #2 robot inspection – one answer and two new questions
The Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) has used a new robot to inspect inside the Primary Containment Vessel’s (PCV) torus room of unit #2 at Fukushima Daiichi. The torus is a gigantic, donut-shaped tank containing about 600,000 gallons of water to suppress (condense) steam released from the reactor vessel during an over-pressure condition. The robotic inspection is the most detailed to date with respect to the inside of any containment structure at the power complex. The inspection seems to answer one long-standing question about unit #2, but at the same time presents two new, more troubling questions.
First, there is no evidence of any deformation, cracks, or physical compromise of the torus tank itself. In addition, there is no indication of damage to the steel shell of the walls surrounding the torus tank. In other words, there is no evidence of any water leaks with the unit #2 PCV itself. See : http://www3.nhk.or.jp/daily/english/20120418_34.html The pictures should finally put to rest the myth of a hydrogen explosion inside the PCV on March 15, 2011. The pictures released by Tepco show no evidence of any kind of hydrogen burn, either. In fact, if we didn’t know better we might conclude that nothing happened at all. See : http://photo.tepco.co.jp/en/date/2012/201204-e/120419-01e.html
A more important outcome of the robot’s inspection is two new, albeit over-lapping questions. First, unit #2’s rate of cooling water injection is about double the water flow for the same amount of cooling as units #1 & 3. Decay heat production in each core is now about the same, so double the water flow should mean twice the cooling. The numbers just don’t add up. Prior to this week, it was assumed that there must be a serious leak from the RPV into the PCV, and from there to the turbine building basement. But, there doesn’t seem to be any source of leaks from inside the PCV. The water is not going inside the “drywell” area either, where a surprisingly low water level was discovered a few weeks ago. So the question becomes…where is the water going? Since the temperature is about the same for unit #2 as is the case with the other two units, the flows indicate that about half the water Tepco is trying to inject into #2 RPV is not getting there! Only half of the water intended for injection is actually cooling the damaged core, while the other half is being lost before it gets there. It is very possible there is a serious leak from the feed-water piping somewhere before the pipes pass through the PCV and Drywell walls. The leak’s location is anybody’s guess at this point, but not inside the containment structure itself.
Which leads to the second new question…If only half of the water being pumped to the unit #2 RPV is actually getting there, what is happening to the water coming out of the system after it cools the damaged core? It’s not leaking into the Drywell and it doesn’t seem to be going into the torus room. The water levels in both are physically lower than the water level inside the turbine building basement. Unless the law of gravity has been repealed, there is no way the ongoing influx of water going into unit #2’s turbine basement is coming from the building’s PCV or drywell. Thus, there must also be yet another piping compromise outside the PCV from a system which has as not yet been speculated upon.
Tepco needs to go back to the computer-simulated drawing board and try to ascertain where the cooling water for unit #2 reactor core is really going, because their assumptions to date have been effectively quashed! By all indications, there has been no “melt-through” from the unit #2 RPV and there are no leaks going into or coming out from the unit #2 containment building. The previous “official” speculations on water leaks inside unit #2 at Fukushima Daiichi simply do not make sense any more.
Irrational Korean missile fear replaces irrational Nuclear fear…almost.
As the Ides of April approaches, Japan’s national fear of a ballistic missile test out of North Korea has supplanted fear of Fukushima for the past few days. Prime Minister Noda’s task force of ministers charged with deciding whether or not to restart two of Japan’s currently idled nukes, decided to wait another day due to the Korean situation. Industry Minister Edano also postponed his journey to Fukui Prefecture to explain the Oi units #3 & 4 safety factor to dissident governors. But, the governor of Fukushima Prefecture, Yuhei Sato, chose the moment to speak out against the central government’s anticipated decision to restart the two Oi units…which are not anywhere near his political domain. (Mainichi Shimbun)
There are some serious flaws in Sato’s statements to the Press which bear comment. "The investigation into the Fukushima No. 1 plant disaster isn't yet complete, but (the government) is already discussing restarting reactors. That is a problem," Sato told reporters at a news conference. It doesn’t matter that former Prime Minister Kan’s de-facto moratorium on nuke operation has the nation on the verge of electrical collapse, and that the idled nukes are being replaced by old, dirty “thermal” (fossil-fueled) units that were never built to constantly run at full-capacity. It doesn’t matter that Japan’s economy is circling the drain largely due to massive increases with buying foreign oil and liquid natural gas to keep the lights on.
Undaunted, Sato makes the first of two bizarre statements, “It makes me question whether the government really understands how severe nuclear disasters are.” Outside of the three destroyed buildings at Fukushima Daiichi, where is the evidence of a disaster? The mountains of debris left by the March 11, 2011 tsunami along the coast of the Tohoku region, coupled with the nearly 20,000 people drowned by the massive wave itself, serve as testament to a true disaster. And, what supports Sato’s belief that Tokyo doesn’t have a clue? The problem in Fukushima is fear of radiation. It is radiophobia that drives the political decisions designed to soothe the public’s irrational fear of the invisible and the unknown. The disaster is psychological, and Sato is doing little more than fanning the flames of fear, uncertainty and doubt in the minds of his people.
The second shocking statement is, "As the nuclear disaster progresses, we hear of new incidents every day," referring to the reports of spreading radioactive contamination and radioactive water leaks found in the Press. First, the accident at Fukushima no longer “progresses”…it has been contained since December, at the very least. In fact, one could pose a strong argument that the accident itself ended March 17, 2011, when all crippled units were sufficiently depressurized to allow cooling flow to quell the over-heated fuel cells, and spent fuel pool replenishments were occurring on a continual basis. Sato is clearly attempting to create the false notion that the accident continues to worsen. Next, where is the evidence that contamination continues to spread? Answer…there is none! Since the unit #1 enclosure was completed last fall, the releases of atmospheric radioactive particulates have been so minimal as to be no longer detectable outside the 20km no-go zone surrounding F. Daiichi. Detailed ground-based monitoring has discovered localized “hot spots” that have been there all along, but were not previously “known”. This is in no way evidence the contamination continues to spread. And lastly, the few 2012 radioactive liquid leaks have been from the large volume of decontaminated water being stored at the power complex. One…just one of the leaks has been confirmed to have reached the sea, and the concentration of Cesium was so minimal that it was below the lower limit of detection. It is not the disaster-itself that progresses, but rather Sato’s idea of a disaster that continues to progress.
A former boss once told me that appearance is everything and reality is nothing. It is also true that if something is repeated often enough, it becomes fact. Governor Sato is appealing the popular notion that Fukushima is an on-going nuclear accident, the reality of which is clearly the opposite. If Sato and other political opportunists continue to trumpet these false notions, it is very possible that fiction will effectively displace fact.
The real disaster in Japan
Sunday, March 11, 2012, marked the first anniversary of the Great Tohoku Earthquake/Tsunami. While most media pundits focus on radiation fears and apocalyptic “what-if” scenarios relative to the Fukushima accident, I choose to mark this date by charging much of Japan with pseudo-criminal negligence. Public enemy no.1 is governmental. Since the day after the tsunami hit, official focus has centered on a nuclear crisis that has killed no-one and will likely never cause one radiation-related death. Meanwhile, recovery from a disaster that killed 20,000 and left 22 million tons of disease-spawning rubble and debris, has taken a back seat to radiation-based reactions of fear, uncertainty and doubt. Only 17 out of nearly 700 municipalities in Japan have the human decency to assist in the massive tsunami clean-up. In addition, the affected governments fleetingly mention recovery for the sick and homeless spawned by the tsunami, while trumpeting loud and long on the smaller number relative to the Fukushima accident.
What’s more, anti-nuclear protesters and the news media should be held as accomplice’s after-the-fact. Tens of thousands of demonstrators deflect attention from the horrid effects of the tsunami saying it was merely a natural disaster, and scream loud and long about Fukushima Daiichi because it resulted from failed human technology. The news media passively aids and abets this travesty because it’s good for business. Actually, calling the Fukushima accident a disaster is a misnomer…where’s the devastation? Where’s the destruction? Was anyone killed? Will anyone ever capitulate to the long-term effects? The authentic disaster is twofold. The first was the incredible earthquake and unprecedented tsunami it spawned. The second disaster, entirely predicated on government, news media, and anti-nuclear malfeasance, is national radiophobic fixation at the expense of all Tohoku disaster victims.
Fomenting groundless fear in Japan
Some of the Japanese Press continues to shamelessly promote radiophobia. Monday, the Mainichi Shimbun alleged that the health effects of radiation exposures below 100 millisieverts remain “unknown”. The Mainichi states, “…the health effects of radiation -- including from relatively low doses -- are a matter of concern for many, and unknowns remain.” This contradicts a small mountain of evidence showing exposures below 100 msv are essentially harmless and further evidence that it may actually improve human health. But the Mainichi doesn’t stop there. They assert that radiation irreversibly damages DNA and mistakes can occur during DNA repair that can cause chromosomal abnormalities, mutation, and/or death. This contradicts recent discoveries in America (Livermore Laboratories) showing that DNA repair processes are more efficient with increased exposures and the degree of radiation-induced mistakes actually decrease. What’s worse, the aiding and abetting of fear proliferation has wormed its way in to the minds of “officials” who should know better. Yasuhito Sasaki, director at the Japan Radioisotope Association and former member of the ICRP, says, "There is no safe amount of radiation exposure. The less radiation one is exposed to, the better." The Mainichi has been at the fear-inducing forefront of Japanese news media since March 11. This is but the latest example..
Is the No-Go Zone “Uninhabitable”?
The Press, inside Japan and around the world, has labeled the 20km no-go-zone around Fukushima Daiichi “uninhabitable”. In a strict sense, the word means “unfit to live in”. In the words of fellow ANS Social Media member Mark Norsworthy, “’Uninhabitable,’ to me and I suspect to most, conjures the thought ‘if people go there, they will die’…Desolate wastelands, completely devoid of and hostile to life.” I believe Norsworthy’s notion is precisely what the Press is intending. Anyone who has followed this blog, and/or kept a close eye on the Japanese news reports about the no-go zone can see that the term uninhabitable is inappropriate. Actually, we might better define the no-go zone as a place the Japanese government has decided no-one is allowed to live, for the time being. “Off limits” would be perhaps a better phrase for the situation. The no-go zone was established rather arbitrarily by former P.M. Kan who essentially used a grade-school compass to mark off the area on a map, encompassing all our parts of seven municipalities. At least some of the no-go zone is eminently habitable...and habitable right now! At least one of the zone municipalities (Kawauchi Village) has caught on to this fact and wants to re-open their community to repopulation in March. They plan on having sufficient support infrastructure in place by April. Only Futaba and Okuma, both adjacent to F. Daiichi, have contamination levels so high that it could take 30-50 years before repopulation will be permitted. The other six communities could be repopulated as soon as 3 years, given Tokyo’s restrictive standards. Should the Fukushima no-go-zone be termed “uninhabitable”? Of course not. It’s a politically determined “off limits” area.
More disturbing news out of Japan? I think not!
The Press, fueled by the Japanese news media, has been focusing on the faulty temperature monitor inside the PCV (Primary Containment Vessel) of Fukushima Daiichi unit #2. Early Sunday morning, the indication rose to ~82oC, which is above the national guideline of 80oC for maintaining a state of cold shutdown. At 2:20pm, TEPCO informed NISA that the temperature guideline for unit #2 was “no longer satisfied” as stipulated in the “Reactor Facility safety Regulation” as a “condition for Operation”. A ton of liquid boric acid was injected into the RPV, followed by a 3-ton-per-hour increase in cooling water flow. Total injection rose to 17.5 tons per hour. Within a few minutes, the indicated temperature began to decrease. By 3pm, the monitor indicated 79OC, once again below the guideline. But this morning (Monday), the monitor rose to 94oC. Looking at this trend in isolation is being widely purported as “more disturbing news from Japan”.
However, two other detectors in close proximity to the problematic one have been steadily decreasing in temperature the entire weekend. Both of them now read about 33oC, down from about 42oC before this all started. As TEPCO has been increasing cooling water flow, the two temperature decreases have followed completely in-step. While this fact has not been completely ignored by the Press, it has been reported at the very end of each article we have seen, making it a relative “ho-hum” adjunct to the “real story”. In any other industrial facility, if one instrument provides an unexpected change and the others show either nothing or the opposite trend, the problem monitor’s reading is rejected due to obvious malfunction. That is, any industrial realm other than nuclear. Everything in nuclear energy gets exaggerated by the Press to the negative extreme…everything! This is perhaps the most obvious example in Japan since March 11, 2011. By all rational thought, TEPCO’s judgment of a faulty device is correct. At least one sensible voice can be found…"It is unlikely the one showing 91.2 degrees is correct and the other two are incorrect because the other two show almost the same temperature," Toshihiro Yamamoto, a specialist in reactor safety management at Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute, told The Japan Times Monday. But, the international Press neglects to mention Yamamoto’s statement.
What makes matters worse, and borders precipitously on the absurd, is the speculation that the materials inside the reactor have moved, creating a localized hot spot. We’re talking about temperatures below 100oC, for crying out loud! That’s not hot enough for any “movement”. However, in the news media’s unquenchable thirst for “balance”, nay-saying voices have been found. "Because we haven't been able to grasp how the nuclear fuel in the cores has been distributed, it's impossible to rule out localized high temperature spots," says Kazuhiko Kudo, a special professor of nuclear engineering at Kyushu University. (Mainichi Shimbun) So, why hasn’t this hot spot been detected over the past 10 months? Probably because there is no hot spot! All this sort of reporting does is feed the anxiety of a public already paralyzed by the double-whammy of radiophobia and The Hiroshima Syndrome.
Which brings us to a final informational issue…The international Press calls everything inside of or attached to the reactor building “the reactor”. This is as incorrect and misleading as saying your entire house is your kitchen. The reactor is the steel vessel that contains the uranium core, and everything inside the vessel. All structures and material outside the steel container are not the reactor. Just like my kitchen is not my house, the reactor is not the entire power plant!
The true crime of March 11, 2011!
11 months after the earthquake and tsunami devastated the coast of the Tohoku region, the Tokyo government has finally established a Reconstruction Agency to deal with recovery. This comes after nearly a year of political dickering within the central government while millions of tons of debris smolder with unhealthy inattention. Not to mention more than 200,000 evacuees who are unable to return to their homes. We’re not talking about the Fukushima no-go zones, either. That’s a different issue. The Tohoku non-nuclear disaster is a national embarrassment of international proportion. While the attention of the world has been directed to the plight of the Fukushima evacuees by the government and Japanese Press, very little has been reported concerning the much, much worse situation with the evacuees along the rest of the Tohoku coast. It’s beyond unreasonable. It’s ludicrous! Tokyo says they can now “quickly address the needs of the people in the disaster zone.” Who do they think they are conning? Upon today’s announcement Prime Minister Noda said, "I feel the heavy weight of responsibility that I need to meet the expectations of the people in the disaster area." Your words ring hollow, Mr. Noda. You and your predecessor (Naoto Kan) clearly have not felt enough weight to do the right thing as soon as possible. Politically-predicated delays of an unconscionable nature have transpired and the central government is the culprit. The Diet should be dissolved and the party leaders responsible for this largely avoidable situation should be tried for crimes against their own people. Propriety demands I practice restraint in what I write here…and I am. I’m livid with outrage! Local officials along the Tohoku coast have denounced Tokyo’s inactivity since last spring, and for good reason. 11 months of literally doing nothing while exploiting the political fruits of the Fukushima accident is beyond all ethical and moral comprehension!
What's a Becquerel and is it dangerous?
Before today’s updates, it might help many readers to further explain the Becquerel, with respect to some of the reports coming out of Japan. Please recall the Becquerel’s definition of one radioactive disintegration per second. One other way to look at it (in a very, very general sense) is one click per second on a Geiger counter. You will get dozens of “Geiger clicks” per second off a low-grade granite counter-top due to its containing low concentrations of natural Uranium, Radium, and Thorium. The same sort of thing happens with an adobe brick. The point is that a Becquerel is a tiny, tiny unit of measurement. On January 20th, TEPCO announced they had discovered contaminated water inside a vertical pit near unit #1. The news media said the water in the pit was highly radioactive. However, the actual activity of the water has been analyzed and found to contain 0.2 Becquerels/cc. That is, one would have to wait some 5 seconds between “Geiger clicks” when monitoring a cubic centimeter sample. Is that really “highly radioactive”? Of course not. Why did the Press call this essentially innocuous activity “highly radioactive”? Two possibilities come to mind. Either they don’t know any better, or they are intentionally exaggerating. I hope it’s the first because education will eventually correct the error. If it’s the second, then the Press is purposefully exacerbating the mental damage caused by radiophobia.
Has Unit #2 had a “phantom melt-through”?
TEPCO has made a brief endoscopic (visual) inspection inside the primary containment structure surrounding the unit two Reactor Pressure Vessel (RPV). What seems surprising to TEPCO and the Japanese Press, is no indication of melted fuel outside the RPV. TEPCO spokesperson Junichi Matsumoto told Japan Times, “We could not spot any signs of fuel, unfortunately.” He added that the endoscopic device used for the inspection only looked at a small portion of the interior, so a better inspection technology and longer visual examinations should find evidence of melted fuel having leaked from the RPV. Or will they?
I suspect the problem is neither technological nor temporal. I have maintained since the Fukushima Daiichi control room records were released in July that unit #2 probably did not experience a full, core-relocating meltdown. Severe fuel damage inside the fuel cell is a given. From the operator records, it seems the fuel cell was completely uncovered and had no cooling water flow whatsoever for up to 5 hours. With unit #2 generating the lowest decay heat rate and after four days of continual decay heat reduction, that isn’t enough time for a total catastrophic meltdown! Some melting is probable in the upper, central portions of the core. Perhaps even the severe degree of melting found at TMI in 1984. But not the core-relocating event postulated by TEPCO. In other words, TEPCO can look all they want, and express as much disappointment as they wish for not finding evidence of RPV melt-through, but I believe they are chasing a phantom. A few corium drips solidified on the vessel-penetrating control rod mechanisms? Maybe. But a melt-through just doesn’t seem likely to me, and the preliminary endoscopic images taken yesterday only add fuel to my fire.
This blog is probably the singular place on the internet you will find this speculation….I’ve been looking diligently for months and have found this assumption nowhere else. If I’m wrong, I’ll be the first to admit it and ask that my crow be served medium rare with fries and plenty of ketchup. But, that’s one meal I don’t think I’ll have to eat.
How many full meltdowns were there at Fukushima?
The latest JAIF posting of pressures and temperatures inside the three damaged RPVs at Fukushima continues to suggest that only unit #1 experienced a complete core-relocating meltdown. Units #2 and #3 RPV temperatures indicate severe melting of core materials, but not a full meltdown in either case. Here’s why. The faster water flows through any heat producing system, the lesser the amount of heat the water removes as it passes through. The slower the flow, the greater the amount of heat absorbed as it passes through. With the entire fuel cell of unit #1 completely melted and relocated, there is literally nothing to obstruct the flow of water through the core barrel where the fuel used to be. It’s not there anymore. The water flows through rather rapidly and picks up minimal heat from the corium (solidified mixture of uranium and other core metals). Please keep in mind that unit #1 has 60% less fuel in its core than units #2 and #3, and decay heat has dropped to perhaps one MWth. Unit #1 RPV temperature is at 26oC. On the other hand, unit #2 temperature is at 52oC and unit #3 temperatures are between 47-55oC. The higher temperatures strongly indicate there are some pretty severe flow restrictions in and around the core barrel. This demonstrates that for units #2 and #3 some or most of the damaged fuel has not relocated and remains inside the core barrel! The unmelted portion in each RPV is unquestionably deformed, blocking possible water flow pathways. This slows the flow and allows the water itself to pick up more heat than would otherwise be the case. Thus, government, TEPCO, and news media reports of full, core-relocating meltdowns for all three reactors are probably incorrect. With unit #1…without a doubt! With unit #2, probably not. With unit #3…possibly not.
December 23, 2011 (the first one)
To be, or not to be? Cold shutdown is the question.
In one of the most horrendous editorials to yet come out of Japan, Mainichi Shimbun says the recent cold shutdown announcement is essentially a scripted government stunt. Their rationale stems from “road map” modifications made over the past few months which The Mainichi says were employed to insure that the time-table for declaring cold shutdown would be met. If a new situational discovery would cause the time-table for cold shutdown to be extended, the condition would be moved to the post-cold shutdown part of the road map. Rather than re-set the cold shutdown clock, they changed the map. The Mainichi reports, “It is apparent the government is trying to close the curtain on a performance it has written and acted out [in order] to stress to international society that it has brought the crisis under control quickly.” The editorial’s writer has the audacity to say, “The latest announcement that the goals of the road map have been achieved is merely the result of officials lowering their own hurdles. It reminds me of the time during World War II when the Imperial Japanese Army headquarters called the Japanese army's retreat a ‘shift in position.’" While all other news media outlets in Japan have published similar accusations, they have at least attributed them to politicians, alleged experts, and local residents. The Mainichi editorial boldly goes where no ethical Press source should go…making bold, provocative, unfounded statements to fulfill what seems to be an administrative agenda designed to condemn the government.
To make matters worse later in the article, the editorial prints “facts” that have been created out of old news stories we now know to have been entirely false. For example, The Mainichi says SPF #4 had boiled away by March 14, but the unit’s hydrogen explosion that day caused water from another pool on the refueling deck to be blown into the SPF and brought water in the pool back to a safe level. Because of this, the fuel bundles in the SPF were saved, preventing another huge release of radiation at some moment in the future. Absolute poppy-cock! The pool never boiled away…not even close. Where they got the idea that SPF #4 was saved due to water being sloshed in from another pool is a mystery. Did the writer make it up? A second example is The Mainichi saying a unit #2 hydrogen explosion was averted only because the unit #1 explosion had “forced open a window in the No. 2 building, releasing the trapped hydrogen.” Yes, a large “blow out panel” was discovered to be open on the unit #2 refueling deck in the weeks following the accident, but no-one knows how it was opened…no-one except the Mainichi’s editorial staff, it seems. Did they make this one up, too?
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