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Japan Power Hardware

Things Get Worse at Fukushima 1122

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the good-luck-out-there-guys dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Radiation levels are skyrocketing around Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant as reports indicate that a radioactive core has overheated and melted through its containment vessel and onto a concrete floor. Radiation levels inside reactor two were recently gauged at 1,000 millisieverts per hour — a level so high that workers could only remain in the area for 15 minutes under current exposure guidelines."
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Things Get Worse at Fukushima

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  • by WhitetailKitten (866108) on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @02:52PM (#35656404)
    This is part of the planned failure mode of the reactor. To be sure, it's fairly far on the "stuff is breaking" scale, and there are definite consequences (such as fears of leakage into groundwater). But this is not going to be a Chernobyl-level catastrophe.

    However, fingers crossed that nobody else dies. Japan's already had enough fatalities this month.
    • by The Grim Reefer2 (1195989) on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @03:02PM (#35656602)

      But this is not going to be a Chernobyl-level catastrophe..

      I really hate that the above statement is becoming the bright side at Fukushima. No matter what corporate greed or human error is uncovered in the coming years/months, the masses are going to remember the hysterics of this tragedy and remain opposed to nuclear energy for some time.

      Amazingly the damage and deaths caused by Deep Water Horizons and the rigs burning in Japan don't get near the hype. And the number of deaths caused by coal are virtually ignored.

      • Nuclear has few operational issues, but significant failure issues.

        Coal has significant operational issues, but few failure issues.

        Both have significant 'waste' issues

        We *can* filter the coal exhaust to remove the things that cause the more direct deaths. CO2 is perhaps a bigger issue but something that mitigation may be able to handle.

        As we're seeing, there simply isn't anyway to 'mitigate' failure of a nuclear reactor. Sure we can take some steps, but when the definition is failure, some of th
        • by lgw (121541) on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @03:59PM (#35657628) Journal

          Coal has significant operational issues, but few failure issues

          Coal mine fires [wikipedia.org] are a huge problem, and have killed more people and left more land uninhabitable. As a kid I lived not so far from the Centralia fire, which started burning in 1962 and is still burning - and all my friends will back me up that none of us started it. And then there's the Door to Hell [wikipedia.org].

          The energy stored in the fuel of a nuclear reactor is high, but small compared to the energy stored in large fossil fuel deposits.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      This is part of the planned failure mode of the reactor.

      Apparently earthquake and tsunami's were part of the planned failure modes of the reactors as well. We've all seen how well things have gone so far. Why should we believe the company now? How do we know that this is really all part of some planned failure scenario and not simply another unexpected disaster beyond their control and indeed understanding?

      But this is not going to be a Chernobyl-level catastrophe.

      They say there's no danger of a Chernobyl s

      • by AGMW (594303)

        Apparently earthquake and tsunami's were part of the planned failure modes of the reactors as well. We've all seen how well things have gone so far.

        Well, to be fair the reactors were built to withstand an 8.5 (or so) earthquake and it was hit by a 9.0 ... I've also seen footage of a 10 metre high 'tsunami' wall being breached by a 10 metre tsunami because (and you might want to sit down for this one) Japan sunk about a metre. That sort of thing can seriously play havoc with your disaster plans!

        Now, sure, in hindsight they could have built to withstand a bigger earthquake and someone could have decided 10 metres wasn't enough (actually, I don't know

      • by vlm (69642) on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @03:59PM (#35657626)

        They say there's no danger of a Chernobyl style catastrophe, but what credibility do they have? These people--and quite a few nuclear proponents around here--told us all that there was "no danger" of any major leak in the days after the tsunami hit. Three weeks later the reactor is a molten puddle on a concrete floor,

        They don't need any credibility at all. BWRs are not a zillion ton charcoal briquette like Chernobyl. You can't light the worlds largest charcoal briquette on fire and vaporize the works... if there is no charcoal briquette. From a credibility standpoint, sure with security theater you could sneak out the BWR and sneak in a RBMK and no one would notice (snicker) but lets be realistic here...

        If the reactor is puddle on the floor, thats good, compared to Chernobyl where the briquette vaporized it for us to breathe... I'd much prefer it melted in a containment structure there, than vaporized here in my air.

    • by catchblue22 (1004569) on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @03:49PM (#35657458) Homepage

      Construction on the Fukishima reactor began in 1967 (wikipage). It is easy to forget that Plate Tectonics was only accepted as a reasonable explanation of geological phenomenon in the 1960's. According to this excellent New York Times article,

      "After an advisory group issued nonbinding recommendations in 2002, Tokyo Electric Power Company, the plant owner and Japan’s biggest utility, raised its maximum projected tsunami at Fukushima Daiichi to between 17.7 and 18.7 feet — considerably higher than the 13-foot-high bluff. Yet the company appeared to respond only by raising the level of an electric pump near the coast by 8 inches, presumably to protect it from high water, regulators said."

      The tsunami that overwhelmed the plant recently was 46 feet high, far higher than anything they seemed to expect. If you read the NYTimes article, you get a sense that the nuclear safety bureaucracy hadn't adequately integrated modern plate tectonic theory into its safety programs. The 18 foot high maximum tsunami prediction is symptomatic of this.

      From the article, it seems that Japan had based its tsunami predictions on historical records, instead of predictions from Plate Tectonic Theory. Computer simulations of plate movement would have given far larger predictions for maximum tsunami heights, predictions that would have agreed with the height of the recent tsunami. I think a strong argument can be made that Japan's nuclear bureaucracy had not taken into account modern Plate Tectonic Theory in its safety practices. They seem to have instead relied on past records of earthquakes and tsunamis. I am not suggesting that individual people were unaware of Plate Tectonic Theory, but instead that their bureaucratic rules didn't seem to acknowledge it. Since construction on the reactor began in 1967, planning of the reactor must have begun much earlier. It is easy to imagine that the initial reactor designers were unaware of the Theory of Plate Tectonics and its implications.

    • by hey! (33014) on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @07:16PM (#35660332) Homepage Journal

      Well, I'm not freaking, but I'm not happy either. When the hydrogen explosion killed some of the workers on the roof, that was a failure that had been anticipated in the design: the outer building bad blow away panels to limit the damage from a hydrogen explosion. It wasn't the hydrogen explosion per se that bothered me, but the fact they had guys on the roof when there was significant hydrogen gas below them. That made me doubt the operators' ability to assess the state of the situation in real time.

      I'm sorry to say that events since then have not improved my estimation of how accurate and timely TEPCO's picture of the situation is. There have been a series of alarming, unexpected events, almost too many to list. Until the situation stops generating nasty surprises, I'd say all bets are off as to how bad this situation *might* get. I say this fully recognizing how effective the defense in depth safety features have been so far at preventing a Chernobyl scale incident. I don't *expect* such an incident to occur, but the unexpected is the characteristic feature of this crisis. If I were a Civil Defense planner, I'd be quietly preparing for a much worse than I'm hoping for.

      It is absolutely true that compared to the tsunami, the Fukushima reactor situation has been relatively minor, but that's not exactly the benchmark I'd want to set for nuclear power safety (don't have an accident as bad as a magnitude 9 quake followed by a coast length 10m high tsunami). There is a potential for a one-two-three punch here: quake, tsunami, radiological disaster. Japan is on the ropes. It's people are valiant, but they are vulnerable. In this situation a radiological disaster wouldn't have to be anywhere near as bad as Chernobyl to be psychologically and economically crushing.

      I'm not anti-nuclear by any stretch of the imagination. The problems in this situation are (a) the obsolete design of the reactors and (b) TEPCO management. It is clear that the combination of these two has produced a situation of such complexity that nobody can say with any certainty what is going on, or what is going to happen. You don't have to be an anti-nuclear fanatic to see this. This system continues to behave in *majorly* unexpected ways. Yes, even in an acceptably safe design there are surprises, but the surprises appear to be cascading, and that shouldn't happen in an acceptably safe design. There's really no way of getting around that. This design isn't good enough, this company wasn't good enough, and the regulation of these reactors' operation wasn't good enough.

  • No!!! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @02:52PM (#35656406)

    Wait! I learned everything I know from Slashdot, and Slashdot says nuclear power is safe and no one will get hurt.

    None of this leaking stuff can be happening. La-la-la-la . . . I can't hear you!

    • Re:No!!! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Dan667 (564390) on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @02:54PM (#35656452)
      the oil and coal lobby certainly want you to fear nuclear so the can continue to kill you slowly with coal plants that emit radiation and smog. Oh, and the wars for foreign oil.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Power is not safe. Period. Anyone who says that is simplifying the truth.

      The question is how dangerous (as in injuries and deaths per unit of energy) the various ways of producing electricity are. I'm not so sure that this accident will make any qualitative change to the picture. Nuclear is still going to be the safest option. Wind is also quite safe, but wind needs to be supported by hydro and natural gas (AKA fossil gas) and those are neither safe nor good for the environment. Wind would be a good alterna

  • "Containment vessel" (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dr. Cody (554864) on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @02:53PM (#35656430)

    Just to be clear, they are absolutely not implying it has melted through the containment, but, rather, the reactor pressure vessel.

    • by Solandri (704621) on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @03:42PM (#35657322)
      TFA seems to have forgotten that reactor #2 suffered a hydrogen explosion inside containment [world-nuclear-news.org]

      Enough hydrogen was also produced within the reactor vessel by the interaction between water and hot fuel to cause an explosion at each unit when this was vented to the secondary containment. For units 1 and 3 this removed the top part of the reactor building. At unit 2 this may have taken place in the torus, causing damage there.

      They've been suspecting they have a containment breach in reactor #2 for about two weeks now, in or near the torus / suppression pool which is connected to but sits beneath the main containment vessel. So the presence of highly radioactive water underneath it isn't really a surprise. No need for the core to melt through the steel containment vessel for that to happen.

      The mystery right now is the burns the three workers suffered a few days back. They were working on reactor #3, not #2. #3 was also suspected to have a leak in containment, but their latest readings say that the containment vessel is not losing pressure, which would seem to imply there is no leak. So where did that radioactive water come from?

  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @02:54PM (#35656456)

    They've set back nuclear energy for decades, at a time when we most need it.

    Guess we had better get used to more carbon dioxide.

  • Media Hysteria? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Frosty Piss (770223) * on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @02:57PM (#35656506)
    There are, as well, media sources that say this *isn't* so, and that this is mostly a Media Hysteria. For example: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/03/29/tv_news_goes_hollywood/ [theregister.co.uk]
  • by wiredog (43288) on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @02:57PM (#35656508) Journal

    Or, from the Beeb:

    Theories for the leak centre on two possibilities: steam is flowing from the core into the reactor housing and escaping through cracks, or the contaminated material is leaking from the damaged walls of the water-filled pressure control pool beneath the No 2 reactor.

  • Nuclear technologies (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MetalliQaZ (539913) on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @02:57PM (#35656512)

    This disaster will very likely change the way that nuclear power generation plants are approved and evaluated in the future. Unfortunately, a promising technology will almost certainly be set back, perhaps irreparably. The silver lining, however, is that alternative nuclear technologies may finally get a fair shake. Alternate fuels and reactor types offer so many possibilities to possibly exceed the efficiency and safety levels that we put up with today but have thus far been unable to obtain funding compared to the currently developed reactors. That confidence in our current strategy is being eroded rapidly. This isn't some second-rate system like Chernobyl, it is close-to-state-of-the-art.

    • by WhitetailKitten (866108) on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @03:06PM (#35656680)
      Here's the thing: The reactors at Fukushima are ~40 years old and contain a design flaw that essentially caused this to happen. Newer designs for water boiler reactors have the water flow in via gravity feed instead of requiring manual pumps running on external power. While it's certainly possible that other problems might've caused a newer reactor to suffer potential meltdown, it's very likely that we would've never seen this occur if Fukushima Daiichi had a gravity-feed water cooling system. The takeaway should be that nuclear power plants need to be upgraded to keep up with the times, but unfortunately I think you're right, and the takeaway will be "OMG NUCLEAR BAD."
    • by shadowfaxcrx (1736978) on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @03:06PM (#35656684)

      The reason they've been unable to obtain funding is because they've been unable to obtain authorization to build it. If you come up to me asking for money to build a plant that is illegal to build, I'm not going to give you any money.

      And the reason it's illegal to build safer plants is because the public lumps ALL "nukyulur" into the same "oh shit it's dangerous" boat. It doesn't matter what tech you use, or how safe it is: to the public, you're building Chernobyl Mile Island Daichi and must therefore be run out of town.

      Hell, when they started irradiating food to kill bugs that could kill people, they found that they couldn't sell it. They had to coin a new marketing word (picowave!) so that the mouthbreathing morons that make up most of the public wouldn't think someone had slipped plutonium into their frozen peas.

      So until we get the public over its irrational fear of anything radioactive, we will never see nuclear technological advancements applied. Ever.

      And as I said yesterday, once we get the public over that fear, we still have to address the *real* problems of Nuclear: What to do with the waste, and how to stop cheap bastard energy corporations from cutting safety corners in the name of profits.

      • by 0WaitState (231806) on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @03:15PM (#35656842)

        The reason the public lumps all nuclear power technologies into the same hopper is that they are all run by the same corrupt management culture. Management cuts safety margins, defers upgrades, miscategorizes more frequent natural disasters as once in 1000 years, all the while paying themselves performance bonuses for having improved operating margins. Then the "nobody could have foreseen" event happens, and we the taxpayers have to spend 10s to 100s of billions cleaning up the mess. If the nuclear industry had to post an insurance bond against their future screwups there would be no nuclear industry.

        This isn't a technology problem, it's a regulatory and human problem.

    • by Iskender (1040286) on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @03:12PM (#35656778)

      That confidence in our current strategy is being eroded rapidly. This isn't some second-rate system like Chernobyl, it is close-to-state-of-the-art.

      I see your point about investigating alternative reactor technologies. However, the Fukushima reactors are certainly not state of the art. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advanced_boiling_water_reactor [wikipedia.org] reactors for instance are already in operation. Generation III reactors are currently the state of the art of reactors in operation, and the Fukushima reactors are firmly in the generation II category.

      The Fukushima reactors have no doubt had safety upgrades during their lifetime, but there's only so much you can do when the fundamental reactor design is antiquated.

  • by toppavak (943659) on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @02:58PM (#35656520)

    "The indications we have, from the reactor to radiation readings and the materials they are seeing, suggest that the core has melted through the bottom of the pressure vessel in unit two, and at least some of it is down on the floor of the drywell," Lahey said. "I hope I am wrong, but that is certainly what the evidence is pointing towards."

  • by gatkinso (15975) on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @02:59PM (#35656540)

    This is what I see on this board.

    It is an interesting mix to be sure.

    The situation seems very bad, but headlines screaming "radiation at 10,000,000 times the safe limit" (which turned out to be wrong) are not helping.

    Worse seems to be the nuclear fanboys ignoring the fact that that plant is fsked, in precisely the manner that antinuclear folks said could and eventually would happen.

    • by PyroMosh (287149) on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @03:23PM (#35656980) Homepage

      The plant is fucked. But it's been hit by a disaster beyond what was even planned for. And how many have died?

      The point isn't that nuclear is perfectly safe. It's that it's better than many of the alternatives out there.

      Look at how many people did as a result of coal and oil operations. Then factor in the pollution that those technologies spew into the atmosphere.

      Now compare that to Nuclear. Including this disaster. Some people who work in the plant have been exposed and been hurt. I recall reading a week ago about 3 killed in a hydrogen explosion at the plant (I've not seen this confirmed). But what will the eventual impact be? ARe we talking about a 50 mile exclusion zone where a big chunk of Japan will be uninhabitable? Thousands geting sick with radiation poisoning?

      Or are we talking about a 1% increased risk of cancer for folks who worked and lived in the immediate vicinity during the month after the incident?

      Because if the eventual results are the latter, I'd rather have a nuclear plant in my back yard than a coal plant.

      Coal WILL pollute the environment.
      Coal WILL increase my risk of various diseases.
      Coal often kills people in it's extraction process.

      Nuclear MIGHT pollute the environment if something goes very, very wrong.
      Nuclear MIGHT increase my risk of cancer if something goes very very wrong.

      If that's the choice, then it's clear to me which one I support. The question now is will the disaster kill / sicken lots of people, or not?

      It's not denial, it's an analysis of the options. It seems to me that the disaster is being sensationalized because nuclear is somehow "spooky". Again, we'll see.

  • by Kensai7 (1005287) on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @03:01PM (#35656576)

    Most probably Fukushima Daichi will have to be sealed. The nearby communities will eventually be safe. But uncertainty about nuclear power travels FASTER than the nuclear fallout in all cases. A state election in a premium German state was lost by the reigning government because it supported nuclear power plants...

    It's a bitter sweet evolution, if you ask me. Yes, current last generation plants are unsafe and should be closed down the sooner the better, but this will definitely hurt industrial research for future IV generation power plants which are definitely safer than any other form of major power generation...

  • Nuclear Energy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by should_be_linear (779431) on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @03:03PM (#35656632)
    Nuclear (and coal) energy always seemed to me like old mainframe computers and renewables like Internet (distributed), modern, interesting, R&D. We just need to jump to new and abandon old. It will be difficult, but I think it is FAR from impossible. I know there are lots of people here on /. hypnotized by how great nuclear is. but I just prefer distributed everything better (including risks) as opposed to centralized.
    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      Funny thing is that IBM is still selling mainframes and making a mint out of it. They have even stopped making PCs. Oh and giant cluster computers like Google runs on are also big large installations. Plus things you depend on like your bank, power company, telephone network, insurance companies all tend to run on bit mainframes. BTW those big mainframes have uptime's measured in years and decades and really don't fail.

      So you want a power grid with the reliability of twitter?

      Distributed systems for power is

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @03:05PM (#35656652) Journal

    Radiation levels inside reactor two were recently gauged at 1,000 millisieverts per hour — a level so high that workers could only remain in the area for 15 minutes under current exposure guideline."

    So the right thing to do would be to change the current exposure guideline. Right?

  • by sirwired (27582) on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @03:13PM (#35656804)

    This is speculation by ONE guy in an article in the Guardian, hardly a bastion of calm, rational, journalism. NONE of the other usual online sources have corroborated this at all.

    An actual meltdown, with the core sitting on the floor of the building, would be front page news across the world, yet only this one article says this is the case.

  • by 1zenerdiode (777004) on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @03:22PM (#35656960)
    The article above seems to be fear-mongering. This washington post [washingtonpost.com] article discusses what seems to be a more plausible failure mode. Apparently there are gaskets around the control rod penetrations in the bottom of the vessel, and the temperature may have increased enough to damage them allowing primary water to escape into the concrete containment structure. There are also many other penetrations in the vessel for plumbing that may have been damaged during the quake.
  • by jeroen8 (1463273) on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @03:24PM (#35656988)
    Our sun, a nuclear fusion source which is already working reliably for more than 5 billion years, produces an extreme amount of energy. Within 6 hours, deserts on Earth receive more solar energy than we use in a whole year globally. Why do we keep ignore this most power full energy source? For the world energy demand (18.000 TWh) we need only a surface area of 188 x 188 square miles with Concentrated Solar Plants. This is a small thumbnail on the map of Africa. Germany has seen the light and is investing 500 billion euro's in Desertec [olino.org]. A CSP plant runs 24 x 7 hours on full power (even when the sun is away because it can store sun heat in molten salt). These CSP plants can easily replace nuclear and coal power plants.
    • by kimvette (919543) on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @04:50PM (#35658356) Homepage Journal

      You might displace some garden snails, scorpions, or spotted owls by putting up a solar farm.

      Don't put up a wind farm, because old-style high-rpm windmills that aren't even used for large-scale electricity production was known to kill birds every now and then, so all wind power is bad. Off the coast is even worse because senators do not want to put up with the eyesore as they cruise around in their yachts.

      Hydroelectric? you can't dam up any rivers; red squirrels might lose their homes and have to relocate to a new tree.

      There is always an argument against everything. Environmentalists are more BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone) than NIMBY.

  • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @03:25PM (#35657012) Homepage

    And they probably don't know either.

    The reactor may have melted through the base of its pressure vessel, but it's hard to tell. The high radiation levels could either be from a melt-through or from a leak as attempts are made to force water into the reactor pressure vessel. The latest JAIF status report [jaif.or.jp] contains almost all the hard data that's coming out. Everything else is secondary speculation based on that limited data.

    No data seems to be available about pressure or temperature inside the reactor. That's listed as "unknown" for unit 2. The sensors involved were probably destroyed in one of the fires, explosions, or building collapses. Pressure in the containment vessel for unit 2 is listed as "low", whatever that means.

    A full meltdown is now a real possibility. The JAIF chart has been showing "Fuel rods exposed partially or fully" for units 1, 2, and 3 for ten days now. Reactor pressure vessels are tough, as are containment structures, but ten days of no core cooling is well beyond design limits.

    Understand that the water spraying operation refers to the containment structure, which is normally dry. Inside the containment is the reactor pressure vessel, which is a boiler. Getting water inside there, which is needed to cover the core and achieve cold shutdown, requires forcing it in against steam pressure. This has to be done in a highly radioactive environment, in a fire-ruined building where the walls and beams have collapsed, the pumps are damaged, and valves which are usually operated remotely have to be operated by people turning handwheels. Some people are trying very hard to do that. Some of them will probably die. If they succeed, there will be a local mess, but it will be manageable. If they fail, there will be a meltdown.

  • by Culture20 (968837) on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @03:47PM (#35657428)
    Paraphrased since it was hours ago and I was driving... "Traces of plutonium have been found around the Fukushima site, and although the amounts discovered were no higher than if the soil samples were taken from any random soil around the world, the scientists determined that the specific isotopes of plutonium found were from the plant." They then continued to explain why it was super dangerous.
    What I heard was "DANGER DANGER! The soil around the Fukushima site is identical to the soil in your backyard. That's not a good thing! You must Fear It! Fear It!"
  • by Noughmad (1044096) <miha.cancula@gmail.com> on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @04:01PM (#35657670) Homepage

    The only way to ... Oh wait.

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