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Fukushima: What Happened and What Needs To Be Done 370

Posted by Soulskill
from the hide-in-our-caves-and-fear-the-mighty-atom dept.
IndigoDarkwolf writes "The sometimes confused media coverage around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant left me wanting for a good summary. Apparently the BBC felt the same way, and now delivers an overview starting from the earthquake and concluding with the current state of the troubled reactors."
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Fukushima: What Happened and What Needs To Be Done

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  • One minute every channel has the exact same thing, then a few weeks later you go "Wait a minute..." and its like it never happened or it would seem so. Good ol'BBC gets it though.
    • Not that the BBC's reporting is any good these days. I stopped reading it after they echoed the Israeli military's line on the boat raid last year. Hell, they were pretty much printing word for word the press release given by Knesset.

      I wouldn't trust this article either, it reads like a press release from Tokyo Electric Co. TEC have proven to be untrustworthy as they refuse to have best practice at the centre of their company doctrine - it's now known that they did everything on the cheap and thus why the r

      • by isorox (205688)

        Not that the BBC's reporting is any good these days. I stopped reading it after they echoed the Israeli military's line on the boat raid last year. Hell, they were pretty much printing word for word the press release given by Knesset.

        Doesn't sound like the reporting you'd get from Jeremy Bowen [guardian.co.uk]

  • by Antisyzygy (1495469) on Monday April 11, 2011 @05:13PM (#35786654)
    Japanese families are more nuclear than American families.
  • Persective (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11, 2011 @05:17PM (#35786696)

    Pity that the nuclear problems seemed to overshadow all the vastly more important and tragic aspects of the quake and tsunami.

    • Re:Persective (Score:5, Insightful)

      by couchslug (175151) on Monday April 11, 2011 @05:22PM (#35786740)

      What quake and what tsunami?

    • by Dan667 (564390)
      you cannot keep killing people slowly with coal and oil if there is a replacement so it was an opportunity to try and demonize it even though statics show it is safer on average.
    • >>Pity that the nuclear problems seemed to overshadow all the vastly more important and tragic aspects of the quake and tsunami.

      Indeed. Many people's lives were shattered. Corporations involved did what corporations do but I do not consider the handling of this situation any worse than BP's spill. Actually, I believe that the operators of the plant were more forthcoming and there was a lot of confusion going on related to what was screwed, where the problems were, etc.. Not to mention that knowing

    • Re:Persective (Score:4, Insightful)

      by hey! (33014) on Monday April 11, 2011 @08:18PM (#35788308) Homepage Journal

      Not really.

      The Japanese have a saying for situations like the earthquake, Tsunami and the immediate aftermath: "It can't be helped." There's nothing that can be done about the tens of thousands of people who were killed. For the most part everything that can be done for the survivors is being done.

      The Fukushima situation is not a misfortune on the scale of the tsunami, but it *is* an ongoing crisis. What sets a crisis apart from a misfortune is that it generates a never-ending stream of new and unexpected questions to be answered. What shall we do about the radioactive water when we don't know where its coming from? What should we do about the effect of radioactivity releases on the food supply? How are we going to put this situation to bed with a team that's been working in crisis mode for a month straight?

      Of course the immediate run-up to and aftermath of the tsunami was a crisis too, but now we no longer have a parade of new and unexpected problems, but rather a collection lingering and intractable ones. Those demand attention too, but that doesn't mean you can write off the Fukushima situation as something not meriting much attention.

  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Monday April 11, 2011 @05:20PM (#35786726)
    It's a generalization, but I can summarize what needs to happen in three words: "Evacuate, contain, bury."
  • There was a massive earthquake followed by an equally massive tsunami that buried the plant under 10 feet of water. That's what happened.

    Earthquakes of that magnitude are rare. There have only been 6 in the world since 1900, and none of those were in Japan.

    • by blair1q (305137)

      So we can expect one somewhere every 16-18 years. And we have hundreds of nuclear reactors worldwide. And we still run reactors that are built out of Jenga blocks?

      • by DeadCatX2 (950953)

        How many of the hundreds of reactors are along known fault lines?

        Of those, how many are susceptible to tsunamis?

        Remember...if not for the tsunami knocking out the diesel generators, Fukushima wouldn't have been a catastrophe.

        • by hawguy (1600213)

          How many of the hundreds of reactors are along known fault lines?

          Of those, how many are susceptible to tsunamis?

          Two are in California, near (but not directly on ) fault lines.

          One is on a high cliffside, so it's likely not susceptible to tsunami, but the other is close to the sea so is vulnerable.

          One plant was built to withstand a 7.0 quake, the other a 7.5 quake, but there's a good chance of a 7.5 or larger quake in California over the next 30 years. Oh and one plant had the entire reactor vessel installed backwards, and at the other plant the earthquake reinforcements were installed backwards.

          Neither plant uses the

          • by vux984 (928602)

            Ok... so you are saying we need to fix and/or refit two reactors to ensure they are more robust than they currently are.

            I don't think you'll find anyone here who will argue with you on that, except maybe whoever has to foot the bill of course.

            • by blair1q (305137)

              You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.

              Statistics are like that.

              • by MickLinux (579158)

                You can pay me now, or you can have a disaster later and let the taxpayers go farther into debt to foot the bill.

                Bailouts are like that.

                Shoot. Corporate presidents like that.

            • by hawguy (1600213)

              Ok... so you are saying we need to fix and/or refit two reactors to ensure they are more robust than they currently are.

              I don't think you'll find anyone here who will argue with you on that, except maybe whoever has to foot the bill of course.

              I'm not saying anything, just answering the parent poster's question.

              But since you asked, I doubt that retrofitting any additional safeguards into the current reactors would be cost effective, and you still end up with a 30 year old reactor that's a bit safer.

              If it were up to me, I'd say scrap the current reactors and replace them with a more modern design that is more intrinsically safe. Oh, and maybe move farther from the shoreline since if there ever was a big radiation release, the proximity to the ocea

              • by DeadCatX2 (950953)

                If it were up to me, I'd say scrap the current reactors and replace them with a more modern design that is more intrinsically safe

                I agree wholeheartedly. Newer reactors are better reactors.

                Too bad it's been...oh...about 30 years since a new reactor was built in the US.

                Although the ocean does provide a convenient and unlimited source of cooling water

                Another convenient fact about the ocean: no one lives there. A nuclear disaster will hurt fewer people, then.

              • by vux984 (928602)

                But since you asked, I doubt that retrofitting any additional safeguards into the current reactors would be cost effective, and you still end up with a 30 year old reactor that's a bit safer.

                If it were up to me, I'd say scrap the current reactors and replace them with a more modern design that is more intrinsically safe

                For sure. I'd said refit, but I'd be even happier with replace too.

          • by SETIGuy (33768)
            Fortunately the California quakes come from slip-strike faults that are unlikely to generate anything larger than an 8.3 or so. They're also on land for most of their distance, so tsunamis are unlikely. Of course the plants should be forced to revalidate their ability to withstand earthquake and tsunami. And every plant in the country should be forced to put containment around spent fuel pools or pack their spent fuel rods and move them to a storage site. (The president should be making an emergency dec
        • by timeOday (582209)

          How many of the hundreds of reactors are along known fault lines? Of those, how many are susceptible to tsunamis?

          Those are hindsight questions, not foresight questions. In other words, the question is NOT how many reactors are subject to the previously-understated risks that ended up causing the Fukushima disaster; the question is how many reactors have understated risks, of any kind.

          Of course, that's much harder to answer. Which is exactly the problem.

  • by BillyBurly (674193) on Monday April 11, 2011 @05:27PM (#35786792)
    http://nei.org/newsandevents/information-on-the-japanese-earthquake-and-reactors-in-that-region/ [nei.org] they have good daily updates. at the bottom of the current days update there is a link to the archives
    • by Formalin (1945560)

      Nuclear Energy Institute? Isn't that sort of like tobacco health studies from Phillip Morris?

      • by Tweenk (1274968)

        This is a complex subject, so I'd rather listen to someone who might want to cover his ass but actually knows what he's talking about than to a neutral person with a poor grasp of the issue.

        Yes, you should exercise caution when reading industry sources, but they're far better than the anti-nuclear people. The industry of course has an agenda, but at least it knows what it's talking about.

  • by DrJimbo (594231) on Monday April 11, 2011 @05:27PM (#35786794)

    The Japan Times [japantimes.co.jp] reports:

    The Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan released a preliminary calculation Monday saying that the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant had been releasing up to 10,000 terabecquerels of radioactive materials per hour at some point after a massive quake and tsunami hit northeastern Japan on March 11.

    The disclosure prompted the government to consider raising the accident's severity level to 7, the worst on an international scale, from the current 5, government sources said. The level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale has only been applied to the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe.

    If the levels they are reporting are correct then every hour (for a few hours) Fukushima was releasing roughly 0.1% of the total release from Chernobyl. If those levels were maintained for a day (which they were not), that would be almost 2% of Chernobyl per day.

    • by hoytak (1148181) on Monday April 11, 2011 @05:53PM (#35786990) Homepage

      This comparison is misleading, even if the raw amounts of radiation are comparable. The radioactive materials released from Fukushima Daiichi when those readings were taken have a half-life of minutes and don't pose a health hazard outside of the really close vicinity. The materials released from Chernobyl were much more dangerous, as they have a half-life of a couple hundred years, and only negligible amounts of those have been released from Fukushima.

      Bottom line: this accident is not at all like Chernobyl, even though the "OMG RADIATION SPEWING FROM REACTORS!!!!!!" media likes to think so.

      • by nojayuk (567177)

        The releases from the Fukushima reactors were nearly all highly-mobile radioactive elements such as iodine, a vapour at normal temperature and cesium, a low-melting-point metal dispersed during the venting of steam and hydrogen from the reactor vessels. The Tchernobyl releases included large amounts of everything in the burning core after the entire reactor vessel slagged down and exposed it to the world including strontium-90, a bone-seeker which usually has too high a melting point to be easily released f

      • by DrJimbo (594231) on Monday April 11, 2011 @06:52PM (#35787496)

        According to the Nuclear Energy Agency [oecd-nea.org] the majority of the radioactivity released at Chernobyl was in Xenon-33 with a half-life of 5 days. This was followed by Iodine-131 (half-life 8 days) and Tellurium-132 (half-life 78 hours). The next most active element released (measured in Becquerels) was only 3% of the Xenon released, and it has a half-life of 13 days.

        If I read the report from the NEA correctly then ISTM I was comparing apples to apples.

        Furthermore, unless one or more of the reactor cores at Fukushima has gone critical again after the shutdown then any direct product of the fission reactions that has a half-life measured in minutes was gone after the first day of the accident, well before the meltdowns and hydrogen explosions and measured releases of significant amounts of radioactivity.

        There are certainly very short-lived isotopes that are part of the decay chain of long-lived isotopes. Iodine-131 is a perfect example. The problem is that they will continue to be created for the duration of the longer-lived isotopes.

    • by Tweenk (1274968)

      Considering that Chernobyl released several percent of its core directly into the air through a graphite fire, and the reactor that exploded at Chernobyl was rated at 1000 MW (roughly the combined power of units 1 and 2 at Fukushima I), this can only be an extremely pessimistic upper bound.

      • by DrJimbo (594231)

        I hope you're right. Let's run some numbers. Say 2% of the Chernobyl core got released and let's say only one reactor at Fukushima is leaking and it has half the total radioactivity of Chernobyl. That would mean the Chernobyl release was 4% of the leaking core at Fukushima. The figures from the article indicate 0.1% (more accurately, 0.07%) of the Chernobyl release escaped from Fukushima per hour for two hours.

        This would be 4% x 0.0014 = .0056% of the core of one Fukushima reactor. Given that a si

    • by TopSpin (753)

      Oh, so we're not modding people that compare Fukushima to Chernobyl into the ground any longer? 35 scorn filled replies questioning DrJimbos's intelligence will not be written? DrJimbo is obviously a fear monger, right?

      Given the shear volume of damaged fuel involved in Fukushima it is undeniable that vast amounts of contamination has and will occur. Three venting cores and a burning spent fuel pool filled to the brim with waste. At this point the question is; how will the Fukushima exclusion zone compare

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11, 2011 @05:55PM (#35787008)

    Day 1 - pro-nuclear activists claim there's nothing wrong, there's no danger, containment is fine, no radiation will leak

    Day 2 - pro-nuclear activists claim there's nothing wrong, there's no danger, containment is fine, radiation leaks are minor

    Day 3 - pro-nuclear activists claim there's nothing wrong, there's no danger, containment breach hardly matters

    Day 4 - pro-nuclear activists claim there's nothing wrong, there's minimal danger
    ...

    Day N - pro-nuclear activists claim nobody could have predicted a Tsunami on the Japanese coastline

    • by Dan667 (564390)
      why are you posting anonymous then?
    • by SETIGuy (33768)
      I've never seen a pro-nuclear activist claim any of these things.
      • "I've never seen a pro-nuclear activist claim any of these things."

        Aside from the obvious Slashdot postings... the article here:
        http://mitnse.com/2011/03/13/modified-version-of-original-post/ [mitnse.com]
        Originally stated, in unequivocal terms, that "there will *not* be any significant release of radiation" (that's pretty close to an exact quote). It was widely circulated, widely quoted, and even posted on Slashdot (a few days late, of course). It has since been edited to remove such predictions, but you can find originals on the web.

        Your statement that you've never seen such cavalie

  • I've taken a very good look at each part of the picture, and I'm amazed how much damage was done to the reactor buildings. Each and every building you see on the picture is much larger as it appears to be on previous photo's and video's I saw. Just compare the cars sitting next to the buildings. Then take a good look at each building: every one of them sustained extensive damage. There is a huge pipe that has been broken outside the most damaged building (3 most likely) - some of the pipes seem to have been

    • by stevelinton (4044)

      Explosions are funny things. An explosion INSIDE a structure does huge damage to it, but an explosion outside a strong structure, especially one that has high pressure inside, does very little. The important structures here are the ones you can't see, the steel and concrete pressure vessels that contain the nuclear reaction. The hydrogen explosions mostly seem not to have damaged those.

  • I think we've learned that nuclear power has risks but is still much safer and efficient than most of the other possibilities.

    On a related note do nuclear plants have the capability to shutdown cleanly? Otherwise the upcoming zombie apocalypse means I need to get the fuck away from any nuclear plants since zombies usually don't make good nuclear engineers.

    • GE's AP600 [wikipedia.org] and AP1000 [wikipedia.org] designs will automatically trip and if they lose coolant flow and start to over-heat will automatically blow some explosive operated valves and start a shower of water falling on the steel containment building for 72 hrs without human intervention, which will maintain safe core temperatures. After 72 hrs you need to have somebody refill the coolant pool on the roof of the containment to keep things stable and it's a lot easier to pour water into a reactor coolant pool when the reactor

  • by EdwinFreed (1084059) on Monday April 11, 2011 @06:13PM (#35787148)

    It's nice that the Beeb has released this fairly calm and unbiased recap, but less sensationalistic coverage from the start would have been a whole lot nicer.

    I've been watching the coverage of this story on a bunch of different sites for the past few weeks, and this [mitnse.com] is the best I've found - the MIT nuclear science and engineering site. Well written factual articles about the situation, almost entirely devoid of speculation and fearmongering, along with background articles on stuff like how toxic Plutonium is, how radiation doses are measured, etc.

    Unfortunately Ivo Vegter [thedailymaverick.co.za] is entirely correct: Every mainstream journalist out there should hang their heads in shame in regards to how their profession has covered this incident.

    • by jd (1658)

      To be fair, TEPCO was saying almost nothing, the IAEA was scolding them and usually when that combination happens it's Big And Scary Stuff for real. The media had absolutely no meaningful facts to give and they had no scientists to ask because they were complaining about a lack of information too,

      This is as much a PR disaster as a nuclear one, probably more so. TEPCO should have given clear, honest, concise data at all times, damn any theories about panic (people panic when they're ignorant). They should ha

      • Hmm, I'm not that sure about your theory... I was following the news from Japanese sources and I was getting really good up to date coverage of what was happening and what were the next steps. I was also getting expert opinions and very good schematics of the reactor design, pinpointing what the potential problems were and what should be done about them.

        The US news were pretty much useless, reporting 24h old stuff as breaking news or plain making up stuff on the fly. A good part of the European news channel

  • by tchdab1 (164848) on Monday April 11, 2011 @06:40PM (#35787346) Homepage

    We need to accept that we are not capable of cutting through the BS and making clear decisions where highly toxic, unstable, and corrosive substances are handled in a complex manner for great profit (hundreds of millions of dollars).
    Put another way, we need trusted technologists to tell us if things are safe or not. Apparently these can be bought when there is lots of money to be made.
    At best, people don't think clearly. At worst, we are being lied to and as a result people die and whole regions are rendered toxic.

It was kinda like stuffing the wrong card in a computer, when you're stickin' those artificial stimulants in your arm. -- Dion, noted computer scientist

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