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Japan Power

US Alarmed Over Japan's Nuclear Crisis 580

Posted by samzenpus
from the not-looking-good dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The Washington Post reports that the US is urging Americans who live within 50 miles of Japan's earthquake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to evacuate as Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said that no water remains in a deep pool used to cool spent fuel at the plant and that radiation levels there are thought to be 'extremely high.' Jaczko's testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee suggests that damage to the plant is worse than the Japanese government and the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., has acknowledged. On Tuesday, the company said water levels in three of the site's seven fuel pools were dropping, but did not say that the fuel rods themselves had been exposed. Left exposed to the air, the fuel rods will start to decay and release radioactivity into the air and lack of water in at least one spent-fuel pool sparked fears of a worst-case scenario: the fuel could combust. 'If there's no water in there, the spent fuel can start a fire,' says Eric Moore, a consultant to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on nuclear plant design and safety issues. 'Once you have that fire, there's a high risk of radiation getting out, spewed by the fire.' The power company says a reduced crew of 50 to 70 employees — far fewer than the 1,400 or more at the plant during normal operations — had been working in shifts to keep seawater flowing to the three reactors now in trouble. Their withdrawal on Wednesday temporarily left the plant with nobody to continue cooling operations."
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US Alarmed Over Japan's Nuclear Crisis

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  • Not to take aware from the obvious serious problem of nuclear fallout, but the connection with NTT is out too: http://www.internetpulse.net/ [internetpulse.net]

  • Headline win (Score:3, Informative)

    by Noughmad (1044096) <miha.cancula@gmail.com> on Thursday March 17, 2011 @08:17AM (#35514772) Homepage

    Anyone born before 1945 must find a great amount of irony in the headline.

    • I tried very hard, but I just could not find the following _full_ interview [google.com] in English, only Spanish. Reuters quote part of the interview but leave out the juiciest and most damning accusations by nuclear accident cleanup hero/expert Yuri Andreyev. Luckily google translate does a decent translation so you can read it...

      A couple of (corrected) quotes:

      Andreyev: "In the nuclear industry there are no independent bodies"

      [What has happened in Japan's Nuclear facility] "was not an error, it is a crime"

      • by cpu6502 (1960974)

        P.S.

        Also I question the sanity of this man Andreyev. He says if the fuel melts, it can achieve critical mass, and explode. Nuclear plants are designed to prevent such a thing.

        • I think the trouble is these plants were built in the early 70s, before all that. They require active cooling to be safe, and nobody thought they'd see a magnitude 9 earthquake in their lifetime...
    • by poetmatt (793785)

      I'm sure it was intentional. Meanwhile, the US is being idiotic on this. If you look at non-politically spewed bullshit, you'll see that Things are being managed pretty damn well [mitnse.com]. Japan has prepared for this far better than the states. Jaczko is just unhappy that Japan is rightfully keeping him the hell away from the situation.

  • Scare tactic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Stenchwarrior (1335051) on Thursday March 17, 2011 @08:18AM (#35514782)
    I don't know how much if this is true. I assume there is a modicum of truth in all of these reports, but these guys [mitnse.com] seem to offer a more rational and less sensationalist explanation.
    • Re:Scare tactic (Score:4, Insightful)

      by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Thursday March 17, 2011 @08:38AM (#35514964) Homepage Journal

      I don't know how much if this is true. I assume there is a modicum of truth in all of these reports, but these guys seem to offer a more rational and less sensationalist explanation.

      Those guys are also tied directly to the DoD.

      They gain credibility from their name on one hand, and lose it from their obligations on the other.

      • by Orgasmatron (8103)

        Yeah, better to listen to "experts" only from the anti-nuclear activist groups, like on TV.

      • Re:Scare tactic (Score:5, Insightful)

        by LordLimecat (1103839) on Thursday March 17, 2011 @10:35AM (#35516478)

        I would say the same about the media (though im not sure that their name alone is sufficient to give them credibility)-- their obligations are to make sensationalist stories.

        Hence why you will see a whopping 2 minute segment on how thousands have died and tens of thousands have no power or water, and then a 3 hour segment on how there is low level radiation that might conceivably kill some of the plant workers if the radiation levels spike significantly and the plant blows up.

        Thats real responsible reporting guys, really makes me trust everything you have to say.

        • Re:Scare tactic (Score:5, Insightful)

          by gad_zuki! (70830) on Thursday March 17, 2011 @10:45AM (#35516602)

          >their obligations are to make sensationalist stories.

          I can't believe the reporting on this. Words like "NUCLEAR NIGHTMARE" are on the TV and in print, while thousands are without power, water, and are looking for their lost loved ones.

          I'm so sick of the sensationalist media. It just creates reactionary and sensationalist people. Sadly, the coal and oil industries are probably laughing at all this as building more reactors in the US will now be impossible or more difficult than usual. We're going to keep burning more fossil fuels. Oh well, here comes more pollution and guaranteed risk of lung cancer increases instead of a slim chance of radiation leakages.

    • Re:Scare tactic (Score:5, Insightful)

      by drooling-dog (189103) on Thursday March 17, 2011 @09:30AM (#35515550)

      I understand fully that people within and around the industry are concerned about how these events will affect the public acceptance of nuclear power around the world. It's also undeniable that the public's ability to understand what's going on is limited, and the media isn't always helpful in that regard.

      But you've got to be careful about jumping the gun with all of the "I'm a nuclear engineering student and there's nothing to worry about, you idiot" posts we've been seeing since this crisis (yes, I'll call it that) started. As the crisis deepens, all they do is convince the public that people who are representing themselves as experts either don't know what they're talking about or are deliberately lying. A few days ago the radiation hazard from this plant was being compared to that from the K-40 in a bunch of bananas (and who would be afraid of bananas?), and the next thing people hear is that it's too dangerous to fly helicopters overhead.

      The problem the nuclear industry and its PR vendors will face after this won't be about the details of nuclear reactor engineering or radiation health; it will be about credibility. Better to look back on this afterwards as "less serious than we thought" than to show the public that the industry can't be trusted to anticipate, prevent, contain, or even be truthful about its accidents.
       

      • Re:Scare tactic (Score:5, Insightful)

        by radtea (464814) on Thursday March 17, 2011 @11:46AM (#35517482)

        Better to look back on this afterwards as "less serious than we thought" than to show the public that the industry can't be trusted to anticipate, prevent, contain, or even be truthful about its accidents.

        On the one hand there is an understandable desire on the part of those of us who know something of nuclear physics and nuclear engineering to put a damper on the more ridiculous speculations and lies that mass media are using to pump up fear and sell eyeballs.

        On the other hand, there should be a desire to educate the public about the genuine risks associated with nuclear power, which means breaking out of the ridiculous "OMG we are all going to die!" vs "power too cheap to meter".

        For the longest time the anti-nuclear movement was undebatable. There is simply no point in talking to anyone who thinks that Hellen Caldicot, for example, has anything useful or interesting to say about energy policy, enginerring safety or social policy. She and other like her are are simply noise-machines, drowning out all possibility of rational discourse.

        So ignoring people like that, what can we say about this accident so far?

        1) Core containment appears to be intact. Core containment is a bit like a building falling down. If you are doubtful about it having happened, it probably hasn't.

        2) Spent fuel storage adjacent to the reactor, outside the containment structure, is at risk of going critical. This would effectively place an uncontrolled nuclear reactor outside of any containment structure. Given the high tempratures and highly reactive envrironment this would entail, the possibility of the metalic components of such a reactor catching fire is non-zero. At this point the otherwise inflecitous comparisons to Chernobyl become unfortunately apt: the fire-driven radioactive plume from such a reactor would result in wide-spread atmospheric dispersal of actindes and fission products. With any luck, most of this would be washed out into the ocean fairly quickly, but on the islands of Japan itself the degree of surface contamination would almost certainly be quite significant.

        3) Errors only become apparent after they occur. Applogists for the nuclear industry will say "we can make sure that this won't happen again", and it may not. But something else will. This is a certainty. The energy density involved in nuclear reactors and nuclear fuel has been demonstrated time and again to be so high that relatively small errors have dreadful consequences, at least economically. We have seen this in carbon-moderated reactors, PWRs, BWRs and CANDUs. e cannot engineer out susceptiblity to the kind of small and apparently inocuous errors that have produced this disaster. I do not agree that with the accessment that "this is a crime": it is just that the sensitivity of nuclear reactors to relatively routine levels of error has been shown multiple times to be high.

        Coal-fired plants kill far more people than nuclear plants do, but they don't write themselves off when they do so. Nuclear plants don't kill as many people, but they become extremely expensive when people make the kind of mistakes that coal-fired plants forgive. This is not advocacy for coal, by the way, which is a filthy fuel. It is a reflection that fission power will always result in economic risks that are extremely high.

        4) Reprocessing is not risk free, even when spent fuel never leaves the site. It has long been argued by reprocessing advocates that it can be made safe, and one of the means of doing so is keeping everything on site. One can't help but ask, "How's that working out for you?"

        Once upon a time I expected to have a career in the nuclear industry. I trained as a nuclear engineer and went on, post-Chernobyl, to become a nuclear physicist. While I still have a fondness for the concept of nuclear power, it has become increasingly clear in the past several decades that even well-run, well-regulated nuclear industries have significant economic issues associated with them, and we should be at last cautious about building new nuclear plants without finding some means of providing genuine public evaluation of risk and oversight of constrution.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I have always been pretty pro-nuclear power. It doesn't suffer from almost all of the drawbacks that classic power generation suffers from, nor many of the drawbacks of 'green' power generation (works only with wind/sun or you need such a LOT of it to generate anything significant). I've never had anyone be able to present an argument against it that couldn't be picked apart easily - apart from "well, *I* wouldnt want to live next to one". But I must admit I am having to rethink my position. Maybe small, se

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      I would have to think that catastrophe on any scale affecting the classic generation would result in different types of harm to outside living in some way or another. If a coal plant goes up in flames then we have to deal with the massive air pollution and damage to anything that happens to be down-wind. If a natural gas plant goes up, same thing, except then we're dealing with toxic levels of gas on top of all the smoke. They all have their good points and bad points. I sill believe that nuclear power offe
    • by cyclocommuter (762131) on Thursday March 17, 2011 @09:49AM (#35515844)
      What this incident proves is that the chain is indeed as strong as its weakest link. If it is now obvious that nuclear power generation is a long complex chain, with each link requiring utmost planning and care. People may argue that newer reactor and/or containment designs may be safer and/or stronger but what about the other links like backup power, spent fuel storage, pipe fittings to withstand the tremendous pressures inherent in the generation of power from nuclear energy? Part of that chain is also the proper training of personnel not only to operate the plants properly and minimize human error but also on how to manage a crisis situation. They should be drilled every day on how to go about this during a plant blackout or plant fire scenario. The more complex the chain, the more there can be weaknesses. If plants are to be built in the future each of these links in the chain must withstand close scrutiny.
    • by skids (119237)

      My stance has always been: we can have more nuclear plants just as soon as we evolve a corporate/public culture that can guarantee their mature, responsible administration for the entire life cycle of the plant and its waste products.

      This doesn't help me persuade myself that that will ever happen -- Japan has much less "plunder and profit" mentality and yet still they allowed corners to be cut in this installation, and aren't exactly handling information flow in a spotless fashion.

    • by Lazareth (1756336) on Thursday March 17, 2011 @10:13AM (#35516150)

      The reactors were built to withstand a mighty 8-8.2 earthquake without issue. It was hit with a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and subsequently hit by a tsunami that flooded the plant. Stand back and think about just exactly how much the reactors has withstood at this point. Try to fathom it. Then realize that much of what is being spewed by the media currently is anti-nuclear propaganda and that the reactors at this point has survived for a number of days without catastrophic incident after the earthquake and that a powerline is currently being drawn to the powerplant to bring back online all the safety systems, at which point the whole thing will deescalate rapidly.

      What is basically going on now is manual coolant and damage control until the systems are back online. Meanwhile the media is getting days worth of "OH GOD IT AINT FIXED YET WE'RE GONNA DIEEEEEEE!". Imagine how happy they are at that, I mean can you ask for more profit? Sensationalism at its best. Meanwhile the actual emergency, the effect of the tsunami on the civilians, is getting less and less air time. The world is more interested in the action flick currently being played then they are of the relief efforts and tragedies.

      Return to the point about just how much the reactors has withstood. The seventh strongest earthquake in our memory, a 9.0 earthquake on a logarithmic scale when it was built to withstand a (mighty) 8.2 earthquake and subsequently being hit and flooded by a tsunami. If you can fathom that, I think you should be agreeing that it is pretty damn well built for 50 year old obsolete tech.

      • by shilly (142940)

        As the man says: "The Navy has no place for good losers! The Navy needs tough sons of bitches who can go out there and WIN!"

        The true measure of safety is not "see how much it withstood" but "it is still safe?" and the answer is....not so much

        I don't know what magnitude they should have prepared for, but it's clear that it was more than 8.2 and more than 9.0. That's the yardstick.

    • by grumbel (592662)

      The most shocking part in all of this for me is that they didn't seem to have any kind of backup plan for the worst case. They seemed to have worked under the assumption that power will be restored in time and cooling will work, but it didn't and as a result the buildings filled up with hydrogen and blew up, something that was known, but even with a day of warning not prevented. From there on things got worse and worse. Dumping water with helicopters onto the plant seems a kind of helpless act, not somethin

  • I would be concerned with where all that water went and what its state is?

    One would assume the containment ponds are leaking into the ground. How radioactive is the water? How long lived is its radioactivity?

    • by Orgasmatron (8103)

      It didn't leak out, it evaporated. The spent fuel is a heat source worth around a million watts or so.

    • They aren't leaking, they are being boiled away as steam. Normally they are kept chilled so that doesnt happen, but without power the temperature rose and boiled it off.
  • As reported in the NY Times [nytimes.com] - it looks like this is Japan's Katrina. From reading the article, I get a sense that this is worse than what happened with Katrina in the US. Any readers from Japan care to comment? It seems like, even if there are very dedicated and smart people working the problem, this wouldn't be something that can be handled simply by nuclear experts. Effective management of this as a crisis is needed, and the people in charge need to work together as a team to solve a national crisis. Neit

    • by musikit (716987) on Thursday March 17, 2011 @08:41AM (#35515006)

      i live in tokyo. since friday there have been daily earthquakes sometimes multiple with a magnitude of at least 3. i live in the akihabara area and businesses are doing their best to reduce all power consumption. people too are doing a good job of reducing power consumption. sections of the greater tokyo area are in scheduled black outs. trains are running at a 50%-75% schedule. as far what is happening up north.... i know what you know. where all my foreign friends have left i am still here. i went to shinagawa 2 times this week to get a reentry permit and the line the first time was 15hrs long. so i showed up the next day 1 hour before opening and the line was 2km or longer. as far as my japanese friends they are concerned however tokyo is still running, people still have jobs to goto and such.

    • Japan's Katrina x 100,000

    • by Colonel Korn (1258968) on Thursday March 17, 2011 @09:19AM (#35515396)

      As reported in the NY Times [nytimes.com] - it looks like this is Japan's Katrina. From reading the article, I get a sense that this is worse than what happened with Katrina in the US. Any readers from Japan care to comment? It seems like, even if there are very dedicated and smart people working the problem, this wouldn't be something that can be handled simply by nuclear experts. Effective management of this as a crisis is needed, and the people in charge need to work together as a team to solve a national crisis. Neither of which seem to be happening.

      The nuclear bit hasn't produced much in the way of damage, at this point, but the tsunami did far, far more damage to Japan than Katrina did to the United States. Katrina isn't even on the same order of magnitude. I've been shocked to see tv news sources suggesting that Japan wants to avoid a Katrina-scale disaster as if this weren't already ~hundreds of times worse.

      • by Yuuki Dasu (1416345) on Thursday March 17, 2011 @09:34AM (#35515614)

        The nuclear bit hasn't produced much in the way of damage, at this point, but the tsunami did far, far more damage to Japan than Katrina did to the United States.

        This. Speaking from on-the-ground here in Japan, the west is throwing a bit fit over nuclear scaremongering, but national news coverage is far more focused on the earthquake and tsunami. People within 30km of the station have evacuated, and that has its own problems, but the biggest difficulty right now is the mass destruction of homes and shelters, given the cold weather - it's currently -1C in Sendai.

        Nuclear winter makes for much sexier headlines, but it's the plain old regular kind that's of biggest concern right now.

    • by jasenj1 (575309) on Thursday March 17, 2011 @09:31AM (#35515558)

      Neither of which seem to be happening.

      Neither of which is being reported by US media.

      Tens of thousands of people have disappeared. Entire towns have been scrubbed off the earth. Japan has WAY more things to warrant its attention besides one nuclear power plant. The power plant is important, but there's only so many hours in a day. And 23 1/2 of them may be better spent focusing on immediate humanitarian relief and rebuilding. TEPCO is mostly on their own to work through this issue.

  • the big error was in having the diesel generators in the basement. they got swamped by the tsunami. lesson: put the back up generators on the roof. or one on the roof and one in the basement, if you are afraid of a terrorist rocket

    now the japanese are dumping water on the reactors with helicopters and fire hoses, which is amateur hour because apparently the pressure in the reactor makes it hard to get water in there. an analogy i heard is it is like trying to weakly push water into a balloon full of air (wi

    • by zarzu (1581721)

      therefore, the only real emergency solutions i see, correct me if i am wrong, is either: 1. get some new backup generators there asap, or 2. run some emergency electrical lines to the power plant asap

      Incidentally, this is what they are doing. But since power isn't restored just by clapping your hands, they're doing whatever they can to delay meltdowns and spread of radiation.

    • by Remus Shepherd (32833) <remus@panix.com> on Thursday March 17, 2011 @10:03AM (#35516010) Homepage

      therefore, the only real emergency solutions i see, correct me if i am wrong, is either: 1. get some new backup generators there asap, or 2. run some emergency electrical lines to the power plant asap

      3. Drown it in powdered boron, which is how they ultimately killed the Chernobyl fire. That seems to be the solution Japan is going for, but they have to get the boron from Korea. [japantimes.co.jp]

      Boron has two uses; one, it melts and then evaporates quickly, which sucks a lot of energy out of any fire it hits, and two, it's a neutron absorber, which kills any runaway criticality in the core. It's the right tool for the job. I just wonder why a country so dependent on nuclear power doesn't keep an emergency supply of boron on hand. Maybe it was hubris; maybe they thought things would never get this bad.

  • The fuel rods in these reactors are made from a zirconium compound. This compound is explosive above 2000 deg. There are tons of this stuff to go boom spreading the radionuclides from the tons of the spent fuel, into the atmosphere. Is this shades of "On The Beach"? But, not to worry, the government says we are safe just like they said the environment around the WTC was safe.

  • the media (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Charliemopps (1157495) on Thursday March 17, 2011 @09:23AM (#35515456)
    This disaster has destroyed what little faith I had left in the media. It's disgusting what they are doing right now.
    • by Inzite (472846)
      You're obviously consulting the wrong media.

      Some suggestions:
      * BBC
      * Russia Today
      * Bloomberg
      * The Guardian
      * The Wall Street Journal / The Financial Times
      * Al Jazeera (hit and miss - great coverage of Egypt/Libya/Bahrain, terrible coverage of Japan)
      * Der Spiegel

      Note: True financial publications like Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal (e.g., NOT CNBC) tend to get their facts straight because their readership is much more demanding. Financial publications aren't perfect (The Financial Times' co
  • by seyyah (986027) on Thursday March 17, 2011 @09:34AM (#35515624)

    It is amusing to see the comments here which excuse the problem at the Japanese nuclear plant because the earthquake was really big. You see to many people who don't have an automatic fear of anything nuclear, there remains the problem of the people running it. The technology might be safe but when those in charge aren't doing their jobs then there is basis for distrust.

    1. The earthquake was big: It's Japan. You can't not expect a big earthquake. Everything has to be ready for it.

    2. The tsunami unexpectedly washed out the generators: see point 1.

    3. It was an old plant, the new ones are safer: if this one wasn't safe then why was it running?

    The point to me is not that nuclear power is unsafe, but rather that unacceptable risks were taken in this case. Does the same problem exist are other sites in other countries? I have no idea (and I bet the armchair Slashdot crowd doesn't know either), but there is a serious lack of trust right now over how that risk is being evaluated.

    None of this excuses the sensationalism in the media or the fools in the US who are buying anti-radiation tonic in preparation, or even the foreigners who are fleeing the entire country of Japan over the threat of 'meltdown'.

    PS. What if all six reactors had been working?

  • by rubycodez (864176) on Thursday March 17, 2011 @09:37AM (#35515656)
    Japanese dispute claim of no water in #4, claim helicopter crew was able to see water but the level isn't known. Last night saw on HNK news the U.S. will fly unmanned drones to verify water level, as getting close to pools involves very high exposure.
  • I'm not happy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ciderbrew (1860166) on Thursday March 17, 2011 @09:43AM (#35515738)
    My wife is Japanese and most of her family lived in that area, some only 1km away from the Fukushima power plant.
    I've been so upset by the event and livid with the BBC and I'll not even talk about other news sources in the UK. I want a law to block the sensationalism I've been seeing. Keep that for guff filler shite celeb stories and film releases.

    It is harrowing and needs no build up. I can't watch another presenter, first being told by some expert that there is no threat, to only then ask the question "What about the worst case?". You’ve just asked him, you had your answer about the now and the future, and now you want guy to make up an answer? Well fuck you BBC. For balance, what is the best case? If this works, how soon can people return? Will the farms in the area be safe?

    The expert may be proved wrong tomorrow, but he gave his opinion about today. Why do you have the need to constantly push for the worst case?
    How is that the news? I can't read another statement about radiation going up 4 times and how awful that is, only to find out that the level is less than a scan at a hospital? Do these people have any journalistic pride any more? I've seen so many stories and write-ups pro and con that I now have no idea who to trust or what is really going on.
    So whilst the nuclear pro and con here spout the next 10 pages of stuff, I’ll be still no better off from their posts. ... ... And lots of other stuff too!!! / rant and vent over.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      What do you want, soothing words or the no-bullshit answer? If the fuel pools and reactors can't be cooled, then the reactors will be as good as their containment systems, which should mean a meltdown is not a problem. There is a hole in the containment system of reactor #2 (suppression torus) though, no one knows how that will impact the performance of the containment vessel around the reactor. An uncontrolled spent fuel pool fire would be the worst thing that could happen, would release more contaminat

    • My wife is Japanese and most of her family lived in that area,

      I know it's not much, but you have my sympathy. I hope your wife's family is safe. My thoughts go out to you, them, and the thousands of other people this calamity has claimed. If you ever need to vent or talk, you can feel free to e-mail me, or track me down on facebook or something. I use this same pseudonym just about everywhere on the net these days.

      Good luck.

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