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Blow-By-Blow Account of the Fukushima Accident 259

Posted by Soulskill
from the caused-by-late-tps-reports dept.
An anonymous reader writes "In the first few days of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, no one outside the power station knew what the hell was happening. In the 9 months since, information has come out in confusing bits and pieces. Now, finally, we have an authoritative account of exactly what went wrong in the first 24 hours of the accident. It's a harrowing tale of creativity, heroism, and catastrophe. One thing I hadn't realized was just how close workers came to averting the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl."
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Blow-By-Blow Account of the Fukushima Accident

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  • by Sperbels (1008585) on Tuesday November 01, 2011 @03:19PM (#37910986)
    Is anyone else besides me annoyed that Fukushima keeps on overshadowing this incredibly catastrophic tsunami?
    • by Dunbal (464142) *
      To be expected really from the popular media. Ignore the tens of thousands killed, the hundreds of thousands made homeless/jobless by the tsunami, but hype the shit out of Fukushima because it's "rah-dee-oh-act-iff", people don't understand it, and maybe a dozen people will get cancer from it in 40 years.
      • by sjames (1099)

        And the best part for the media, there's no way to prove that any particular cancer that shows up in 40 years wasn't from the accident.

        • by Jawnn (445279)
          Riiiiight. And the dramatically higher cancer rates don't mean a thing if you can't prove that any given case is directly attributable to the radiation exposure that was caused by the event. Do you really, I mean really, believe such a bullshit rationalization?
          • by sjames (1099)

            The dramatically higher rates where?

            • by ChatHuant (801522)

              The dramatically higher rates where?

              Rather early to see them in Japan - the poster probably meant the Ukraine and Belarus, after Chernobyl.

              • by sjames (1099)

                That would be my best guess, though it's not as if anyone here ever suggested Chernobyl; wasn't a problem.

          • Riiiiight. And the dramatically higher cancer rates don't mean a thing if you can't prove that any given case is directly attributable to the radiation exposure that was caused by the event. Do you really, I mean really, believe such a bullshit rationalization?

            Yes we expect you to believe such a rationalization because that is the definition of rational. Are you proposing that we base science and policy on emotion and fear instead?

      • Radiation is a manifestation of one of our most primal fears: The invisible killer. You can't see it or stop it, it just kills. That is extremely scary to people. Even more so because people understand the phenomena so poorly. Most people don't have the necessary science education to have a good grasp on how it works.

        A Tsunami, though fearsome, is perfectly understandable. A big ole' wall of water comes and smashes things and drowns people. Fearsome, but easy to understand.

      • by cartman (18204)

        Ignore the tens of thousands killed, the hundreds of thousands made homeless/jobless by the tsunami, but hype the shit out of Fukushima because it's "rah-dee-oh-act-iff"

        This isn't really the media's fault though. The meltdown at Fukushima was seat-of-your-pants action. Everyone would have their eyes glued to TV screens all around the world (of course, I did too).

        Granted, it's disproportionate. Fukushima may kill 2000 people from eventual cancer deaths, whereas we have the equivalent of 20 Fukushimas every y

      • Meanwhile, starting next week workers at Fukushima Daiichi will stop the use of face masks except in the work areas around the crippled units:
        Change to the Rules of Wearing Full Face Masks at the Site of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station [tepco.co.jp]
        Still it didn't stop people to post stupid things in this CNNgo article: Journeys to the edge: Tourism in Fukushima makes more sense now [cnngo.com]
        Being worried about radioactive iodine from Fukushima Daiichi makes the same sense of being worried about wild siberian tigers in New

    • by PIBM (588930) on Tuesday November 01, 2011 @03:41PM (#37911254) Homepage

      It's a Tsunami; whatever we did, we could not change the existence of the Tsunami, while the Fukushima problems could all have been solved /prevented a lot of different ways.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by khallow (566160)
        In other words, blame is a popular game. Second guessing always happens after a major disaster. I think it's worth recalling the lesson of the IEEE article, "learn by disaster" (more accurately termed "learn by mistake"). One sometimes has to experience disasters and mistakes in order to know what the real problems are.
      • by tp1024 (2409684)
        The tsunami problems could have been solved/prevented simply by building sufficiently high seawalls (about 10m higher than the ones that were build after the 1896 and 1933 tsunamis) or not settling on the coastal plain. It would have also helped if people had not gone berserk with tsunami warnings after the 2004 tsunami [wordpress.com]. (I put this on my blog to avoid cluttering up the comments.)
      • If nature wants to wreck your nuclear reactor or hydroelectric dam or coal plant, theres a limit to how much mitigation you can do, I think is the most salient point. Yes, there is more that could have been done, but those conversations tend to spin off into how this must be proof that nuclear is inherently unsafe. Funny that noone ever mentions that about hydro dams, even though FAR FAR more people have died from burst dams in the last ten years than have died to nuclear disasters in the last 50.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anne_Nonymous (313852)

      In the long run, a drastic change of direction of the energy policies of the world's industrialized nations may be a bigger news story than 19,000 deaths.

    • Is anyone else besides me annoyed that Fukushima keeps on overshadowing this incredibly catastrophic tsunami?

      Only the contrarians trying to distinguish themselves.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Probably, but not me. The Tsunami didn't spew radioactives into the atmosphere which were picked up by the jet stream and distributed around the world, including the hot spent fuel that was stored right there.

      • by hawguy (1600213)

        Probably, but not me. The Tsunami didn't spew radioactives into the atmosphere which were picked up by the jet stream and distributed around the world, including the hot spent fuel that was stored right there.

        If only the Japanese had a comprehensive storage plan like the USA, we'd all be better off.

        http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42219616/ns/business-us_business/t/us-storage-sites-overfilled-spent-nuclear-fuel/ [msn.com]

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          If only the Japanese had a comprehensive storage plan like the USA, we'd all be better off.

          Yes, when our crappy old reactors go tits-up and pollute the rest of the world then they can yell at us. I'm not saying we're great. I'm saying that the Tsunami doesn't have quite the global impact that the failure at Fukushima Daiichi does, and that's all.

          • by hawguy (1600213)

            If only the Japanese had a comprehensive storage plan like the USA, we'd all be better off.

            Yes, when our crappy old reactors go tits-up and pollute the rest of the world then they can yell at us. I'm not saying we're great. I'm saying that the Tsunami doesn't have quite the global impact that the failure at Fukushima Daiichi does, and that's all.

            Sure, what possible ill effects could come from 18 million tons of trash floating in the ocean!?

            http://www.speakupforblue.com/everything-ocean/what-do-you-do-when-18m-tons-of-plastic-arrive-on-your-coast [speakupforblue.com]

            Trash is good for ocean life, right? It gives them something harmless to nibble on while they search for real food.

            • by drinkypoo (153816)

              Trash is good for ocean life, right? It gives them something harmless to nibble on while they search for real food.

              At the rate we're shitting on the ocean with phosphates, CO2, and oil, it's fairly irrelevant, though unfortunate.

      • The radiation [wikipedia.org] hasn't killed anyone.

        "...Further, the radiation exposure resulting from the accident for most people living in Fukushima is so small compared to background radiation that it may be impossible to find statistically significant evidence of increases in cancer.
        As of September 2011, there were no deaths or serious injuries due to direct radiation exposures. Cancer deaths due to accumulated radiation exposures cannot be ruled out, but, according to one expert, might be in the order of 100 cases."

        While the tsunami [wikipedia.org] killed over 15,800.

    • by PNutts (199112) on Tuesday November 01, 2011 @08:22PM (#37914636)

      Is anyone else besides me annoyed that Fukushima keeps on overshadowing this incredibly catastrophic tsunami?

      You should ask again after the Fulushima disaster ends. If Fukushima was a tsunami the water would still be rising.

  • How long are we going to be using the phrase "worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl"?
    • by eyrieowl (881195)
      Also, did they avert that? It seems like this is, in fact, the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Perhaps they averted it being the worst nuclear disaster ever, including Chernobyl, but it would have needed to be a lot less disastrous to not be the worst since. So...unless something worse than this but not as bad as Chernobyl comes along, I suspect we'll keep using it for this event for a long time...but there's a good chance the next disaster will be the "worst nuclear disaster since Fukushima" ins
    • by Baloroth (2370816)
      Well, considering that Chernobyl was the only [wikipedia.org] catastrophic nuclear power plant accident in human history until Fukishima, hopefully forever.
      • by msauve (701917)
        Seems that you're simply defining "catastrophic" to mean what you want it to mean. Three Mile Island, a core meltdown, seems pretty catastrophic to me, even though it didn't result in much of a radiation leak. I'd count other meltdowns as catastrophic, too, since they effectively destroy the affected reactors. Your own citation says "Serious nuclear power plant accidents include the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster (2011), Chernobyl disaster (1986), Three Mile Island accident (1979), and the SL-1 accident
      • Well, considering that Chernobyl was the only [wikipedia.org] catastrophic nuclear power plant accident in human history until Fukishima, hopefully forever.

        For varying degrees of 'catastrophe' sure. If I were a shareholder in the utility that ran Three Mile Island, I might use that word.

        And, unfortunately, it is very unlikely that this is the last major nuclear plant disaster. For fun, look to see how many generation 1 nuc plants sit in a geologically active zone.

        And how few generation 2 or 3 nuc plants are being built....

        And how many generation 1 plants are running well past their design lives.

    • I wonder why they use the past tense, since Chernobyl is still an ongoing problem.

      http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2067562,00.html [time.com]

      The fall of the USSR couldn't have happened at a worse time for the people of the Ukraine...

    • by mosb1000 (710161)

      At the present rate, 30-40 years. But that that could change dramatically depending on what they decide to do with aging nuclear power stations.

    • by Jonner (189691)

      How long are we going to be using the phrase "worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl"?

      Obviously, that phrase will be used until a disaster worse than Chernobyl happens. I hope that phrase never goes out of style.

  • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday November 01, 2011 @03:28PM (#37911104) Homepage

    All this was known previously, but you had to read through long reports to get the whole picture. This is a more dramatic summary.

    The real issue with Fukushima is that the reactors survived the earthquake and tsunami. What caused the meltdown was loss of electrical power to reactors that required active pumped water cooling and valve control.

    • The real issue with Fukushima is that the reactors survived the earthquake and tsunami. What caused the meltdown was loss of electrical power to reactors that required active pumped water cooling and valve control.

      Not really. The REAL issue is that multiple risk factors where known to TEPCO and the Japanese government and they failed to mitigate those risks. Risks spanning decades of time.

      The main reason for same: Economics.

      That's the real lesson. Nuclear Power can be engineered safely. Whether or not it is depends on a host of factors. As I mentioned before, there are a number of first generation nuclear plants with these and other risks that continue to be run because of economic and political pressures.

      • by Jawnn (445279)

        Not really. The REAL issue is that multiple risk factors where known to TEPCO and the Japanese government and they failed to mitigate those risks. Risks spanning decades of time.

        The main reason for same: Economics.

        That's the real lesson. Nuclear Power can be engineered safely. Whether or not it is depends on a host of factors. As I mentioned before, there are a number of first generation nuclear plants with these and other risks that continue to be run because of economic and political pressures.

        Economics dictates that owner/operator of a nuclear plant will cut costs wherever possible. In the absence of some truly comprehensive government regulation, including enforcement measures with real teeth, nothing will change.

        • by AK Marc (707885)
          Or simply eliminating the profit motive by having the government run the plant directly. You don't need as much regulation when the goals are more aligned.
      • I find TEPCO specially to blame, since the Nuclear Power Plants from Tohoku Electric and Japan Atomic Power survived similar or worst conditions than Fukushima Daiichi or Fukushima Daini. TEPCO informed the government that the sea wall would not protect Fukushima Daiichi since they expected a tsunami up to 10 m, more than double of the height of the sea wall. They did know that since 2008 and informed of their study to the government 7th march 2011, maybe 3 years late.

    • by geoskd (321194)

      The real issue with Fukushima is that the reactors survived the earthquake and tsunami. What caused the meltdown was loss of electrical power to reactors that required active pumped water cooling and valve control.

      Actually, there is a growing bit of evidence [newscientist.com] That the meltdown was an inevitable result of quake damage, and the tsunami only hastened the disaster.

      If you dont like my link, Google Fukushima quake damage and see for yourself. The gist of the story is that certain radiation and instrument readings could only be the result of damage before the tsunami hit, and that those readings imply damage that would have eventually led to meltdown. The tsunami pretty much just sealed the deal, and guaranteed that ever

      • by cartman (18204)

        The point appears to be seriously disputed. The first paragraph of the article you cited claims: "Japan's nuclear safety agency today rejected a claim in British newspaper The Independent that the earthquake itself, not the subsequent tsunami, destroyed cooling systems"

        However, even if the claim is true, it's worth remembering that all meltdowns are not created equal. A meltdown which does not breach containment, is like three mile island.

        If systems had continued functioning at Fukushima then the sequence o

  • Coal or nuclear?

    Not that I want to present a false dichotomy, but if you were "preference voting", i.e., listing your preferences in order, aside from the rest of the options, how would you order these two relative to one another?

    • Nuclear first, easy question.

      My full preference set is wind, solar thermal, solar PV, geothermal, hydro, nuclear, diesel, natural gas, coal.

      • by mtudee (1015229)

        Nuclear first, easy question.

        My full preference set is wind, solar thermal, solar PV, geothermal, hydro, nuclear, diesel, natural gas, coal.

        Why diesel ahead of the cheaper and cleaner natural gas? We also seem to have lots more natural gas than oil.

        • Because getting natural gas involves fracking. Otherwise natural gas would be ahead of diesel. There is a similar caveat to geothermal, some plants operate in a way that brings underground toxins to the surface when the turbines are cleaned.

        • by Andy Dodd (701)

          Natural gas may burn clean, but it sure as hell doesn't extract clean.

          You clearly don't live on top of the Marcellus like I do.

          I'll take a nuclear plant a mile away from me over the commencement of fracking operations any day of the week.

          Much of it is due to a clear difference in attitude between the nuclear and gas industries:
          Nuclear: "If we fuck up, bad things will happen. So we are going to constantly improve safety designs to prevent bad things from happening."
          Gas drilling industry: "We're clean. We

    • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Tuesday November 01, 2011 @03:41PM (#37911248)

      Nuclear.

      Build them in job lots, and decommission 2 GW of coal plants for every 3 GW of nuclear we build.

      And pick a design or two and stick with them. Rather than making every single one of them unique. Preferably Fourth Generation, but Late Third would suffice.

      And seriously start looking at thorium designs. And breeder reactors.

      So better make that four designs - one conventional, on thorium, one that can be converted from conventional to thorium, and one breeder. Cover all the bases.

      And then try our best to make the people who complain about nuclear power sound like they're in favour of Global Warming continuing unchecked. Just like the anti-nuke knotheads act like people who favour nuclear power are in favour of more Chernobyls.

      • So better make that four designs - one conventional, on thorium, one that can be converted from conventional to thorium, and one breeder. Cover all the bases.

        Sounds like you want a CANDU reactor.

        They can run on natural Uranium,slightly enriched Uranium , MOX , U-233/Thorium , and for the case of Thorium and U-233 they can be run in a self-sufficient breeder mode.

        Personally I'm somewhat sceptical to thorium however. Margins on neutron economy are so tight that reprocessing would have to be done frequently t

    • Coal or nuclear?

      Not that I want to present a false dichotomy, but if you were "preference voting", i.e., listing your preferences in order, aside from the rest of the options, how would you order these two relative to one another?

      If the choices are only those two, then definitely nuclear.

    • Oh, coal, definitely, if we're burning it on MARS!

      Seriously, look at France's nuclear program, rewind the U.S. and rest of the world back to 1975 and take a different road - following in France's footsteps and building all new generating capacity from nuclear power. One might argue that we'd have had another nuclear disaster or two between then and now if we had built so many more plants, I'd counterpoint that if we had built so many more new tech based updated plants, we could have retired the ones that w

    • by Jonner (189691)

      Coal or nuclear?

      Not that I want to present a false dichotomy, but if you were "preference voting", i.e., listing your preferences in order, aside from the rest of the options, how would you order these two relative to one another?

      Since coal and nuclear plants can vary quite a bit regarding chance of and magnitude of potential disasters, normal pollution raters and various other factors, I think you have to compare specific plant designs rather than simply lumping all coal and nuclear plants into two groups. We don't have any good way to replace all coal plants any time soon, but I think we need new, safe nuclear plants as well as more wind, hydroelectric, and solar plants to minimize the need for coal ones. The Fukushima disaster wa

  • Three Mile Island sustained an explosion about ten times stronger than the explosions that blew apart the Fukushima Daiichi units. The Three Mile Island containment building involved in the accident sits completely undamaged over thirty years later.

    This is the benefit of containment buildings which were not only built to contain radioactivity but also built to survive impact by a Boeing 707.

    Why don't all reactors have strong, steel-reinforced concrete containment buildings? I see shattered, wooden studs on

    • by sjames (1099)

      I see shattered, wooden studs on those blasted-out Fukushima Daiichi buildings.

      And a good thing too. Sometimes the best thing to do with a hydrogen explosion is give its energy somewhere to go.

      • by kriston (7886)

        Sometimes the best thing to do with a hydrogen explosion is give its energy somewhere to go.

        Or not. See the OP.

        • by sjames (1099)

          What does the undamaged roof buy us?

    • by Baloroth (2370816)
      This is Japan. Since the reactor's weren't in the city, they probably figured they were safe from their #1 concern, which is Godzilla attacks.
    • ... you definitely need to read it. I will definitely plow through it soon.

    • by tp1024 (2409684)
      Look up what the Mark I containment looks like. The point is the following: the containment is inside a building. What exploded was the building around the containment - which unfortunately also housed all the plumbing and pumps that go into the reactor. A conceptional fault of both the BWR and RMBK (aka Chernobyl) designs. In all other kinds of reactors (PWR as in Three Mile Island, canadian CANDU reactors, British Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors, sodium cooled breeder reactors as the BN-800 and so forth ), n
    • by cartman (18204)

      I see shattered, wooden studs on those blasted-out Fukushima Daiichi buildings.

      Fukushima had a GE Mark I containment, which is far weaker than the containment at most PWRs. Mark I containment was controversial, and considered possibly too weak, even when it was introduced in ~1965 when safety standards for nuclear plants were vastly lower. (Some engineers publicly resigned from GE around 1970 and protested that Mark I was too weak; it was a big news item for awhile).

      Boiling water reactors generally have mu

  • ... or how close the designers came to creating the worst nuclear disaster ever?

  • Just how hard is it to put a radiation symbol right side up? What a good way to destroy the credibility of your journalism by implying that you've done so little research into this that you don't even know what the symbol for radiation is, let alone what radiation and radioactivity are.
  • It comes down to cost. Trying the plan for that last 5% of disasters that only happen 1% of the time is cost prohibitive. At some point, sad as it may seem, money does become more important than the consequences. I don't think Fukishama will be the last, nor the worst, disaster this population ever sees but it will make engineers a little more careful. For a while.

    • by geoskd (321194)

      It comes down to cost. Trying the plan for that last 5% of disasters that only happen 1% of the time is cost prohibitive. At some point, sad as it may seem, money does become more important than the consequences. I don't think Fukishama will be the last, nor the worst, disaster this population ever sees but it will make engineers a little more careful. For a while.

      Money is all important because it is a limited resource. Lets say you have the choice of spending 1.5 Trillion Dollars to avoid another Chernobyl (estimated death toll: 10,000, and overall cost of cleanup 100 Billion Dollars). Would this be worth it?

      Hint: This is a trick question. The answer is a resounding no. The reason is that with all things, the name of the game is risk management. You can spend that 1.4 Trillion and save 10,000 Lives, or you can spend that money on other things, like free mammogra

  • "One thing I hadn't realized was just how close workers came to averting the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl."

    It was the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. It was very close to being worse than Chernobyl.

    • by sjames (1099)

      That's a meaningless phrase though. A few days after the whole Chernobyl thing died down, I dropped an ionization style smoke detector on my foot. it was OMFG THE WORST NUCLEAR ACCIDENT SINCE CHERNOBYL!!!!!!!!!!!!

      It made me say ow and everything.

      As for WORSE than Chernobyl? Not really much chance of that. It could have been worse than it turned out, but it wasn't at all likely to be worse than Chernobyl.

    • by Yath (6378)

      "One thing I hadn't realized was just how close workers came to averting the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl."

      It was the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

      Yes, and that is what the anonymous submitter said. I don't think you parsed the sentence correctly.

    • by cartman (18204)

      It was the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. It was very close to being worse than Chernobyl.

      Do you have any support for this claim?

      From what I can tell, efforts to control things at Fukushima essentially failed completely. They had full station blackout; they were not able to restore power; no important systems worked other than power-less emergency core cooling at 2 and 3, and then only for awhile; generators brought in were of the wrong kind; etc etc. All they did successfully, was vent and spray w

    • by Thagg (9904)

      I read the summary as saying that it was almost *not* the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. But then, the TFA doesn't really say that -- there was very little that could have been done once the earthquake happened to prevent most of what came afterward.

  • How about redesigning reactor vessels so that rods would be physically separated by a sufficient distance when loss of power occurs?

    Perhaps a model where robotic arms push against giant springs to brings rods closer together, for the reaction to take place.

    loss of control , or loss of power would automatically cause the springs to push the arms back and separate out the rods in space, thus stopping the reaction.

    I am no physicist, and perhaps reactors would have to be gigantic for this to work, but it's an i

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