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Power Japan Science

Japan To Create a Nuclear Meltdown 222

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the suddenly-godzilla dept.
Taco Cowboy writes "Japanese researchers are planning an experiment to better understand what transpires during a nuclear meltdown by attempting to create a controlled nuclear meltdown. Using a scaled down version of a nuclear reactor — essentially a meter long stainless steel container — the experiment will involve the insertion of a foot long (30 cm) nuclear fuel rod, starting the fission process, and then draining the coolant. The experiment is scheduled to take place later this year."
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Japan To Create a Nuclear Meltdown

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  • Great (Score:5, Insightful)

    by StripedCow (776465) on Thursday January 09, 2014 @10:08AM (#45906453)

    What could possibly go wrong?

    By the way, didn't they have to hand in their license to do nuclear stuff already?

    • Re:Great (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Stargoat (658863) <stargoat@gmail.com> on Thursday January 09, 2014 @10:10AM (#45906471) Journal

      What could possibly go wrong?

      I believe that's what they want to find out.

      • Re:Great (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Sarten-X (1102295) on Thursday January 09, 2014 @10:16AM (#45906513) Homepage

        And, it should be noted, they want to find out in controlled conditions with sufficient protective equipment in a facility explicitly configured for this kind of situation. This is science.

        • Yeah, the OPs attitude was my first impression, and yours is where I settled, quite quickly after reading the summary.

        • Re:Great (Score:5, Insightful)

          by ebno-10db (1459097) on Thursday January 09, 2014 @10:25AM (#45906635)

          This is science.

          The problem is that it should have been done decades ago. You're supposed to test failure modes before you declare something safe. That's doubly true of something as potentially dangerous as nuclear meltdowns.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by jalopezp (2622345)

            The problem is that it should have been done decades ago.

            Well at least we're getting round to it now. Nuclear energy was deployed well before it was ready to produce electricity in such scale, and the insecurities we built into the plants because our engineering wasn't up to the task yet produced many violent and unfortunate accidents. But we're going to have to embrace nuclear energy in one form or another if we plan to have a cheap source of clean and reliable energy in the coming centuries. It's best research into preventing nuclear core accidents and preventi

          • Re:Great (Score:5, Informative)

            by KDN (3283) on Thursday January 09, 2014 @11:13AM (#45907063)
            Actually the US did conduct such tests back in the 70's and 80's. Look up the LOCA (Loss Of Coolent Accident) test program done by the NRC. If memory serves, they scaled it up to 10% reactor capacity. Note: I believe these were what was assumed to be worse case accidents: reactor going full power and suffering a double gullotine cooling pipe failure. I don't know if they ever tested a reactor that has been SCRAM'ed, but still generating heat from short lived isotopes. That is what happened in Japan.
          • Similar has been done decades ago. The BORAX experiments for a start.

            • by cellocgw (617879)

              Similar has been done decades ago. The BORAX experiments for a start.

              Followed more recently by the LORAX experiments, which turned out far worse. At least so far as Wall St. was concerned.

          • Re:Great (Score:5, Informative)

            by brausch (51013) on Thursday January 09, 2014 @11:50AM (#45907479)

            It was done decades ago.

            Pacific Northwest National Laboratory conducted in-reactor experiments that involved total fuel failure in a controlled environment. The series of experiments took place in the Canadian research reactor NRU located at the Chalk River Laboratory in Ontario. There were a series of experiments over about a six year period in the 1980s.

            Three Mile Island's accident was the trigger for this research program. There was financial support for the project from the US, Canada, Japan, Germany, and a consortium of around 20 other nations.

            The most severe of the accidents that we simulated involved simulating a Loss Of Coolant Accident (LOCA) that resulted in fuel rod cladding failure (including melting in the worst cases) to try to recreate the near total blockage of coolant flow in the fuel bundle. There were around 200 thermocouples in the test rig, along with lots of flow meters, etc. The idea was to gather enough detailed data to allow the regulatory agencies to properly evaluate the computer programs developed and used around the world that would try to predict the test results.

            We actually used full 12-foot commercial reactor sized fuel rods. The reactor had only a 3-meter long core so our experimental containment actually stuck out the top and bottom of the regular core. We had a tiny bundle of rods, fully instrumented, inside a specially designed containment and the whole thing was then inserted into a process tube inside the reactor.

            You can do a Google (or other) search using the words "pnl nru loca" and you can find a lot of information.

            I was the lead programmer for the data acquisition and control system for the experiments.

          • by Ravaldy (2621787)

            True of Justin Bieber too.

          • by jafac (1449)

            It was done. Many times, and most recently in the 2010's by Argonne scientists.

        • Re:Great (Score:5, Funny)

          by Nemyst (1383049) on Thursday January 09, 2014 @10:40AM (#45906779) Homepage
          The lizard pen of that facility is apparently really cool. A bit big for the lizards, though, and I'm not sure why it's so close to the reactor...
        • by bitt3n (941736)

          And, it should be noted, they want to find out in controlled conditions with sufficient protective equipment in a facility explicitly configured for this kind of situation. This is science.

          Hopefully the researchers have purchased a sufficient quantity of GI Joe figurines and toy tanks to deal with the inevitable tiny Godzilla they will create.

    • by loufoque (1400831)

      You realize Japan is a sovereign nation, right?

    • by dcw3 (649211)

      What could possibly go worngg?

      FTFY

  • WTF? (Score:3, Funny)

    by TWX (665546) on Thursday January 09, 2014 @10:11AM (#45906481)
    I mean, didn't they see all those Godzilla movies?
  • by MiniMike (234881) on Thursday January 09, 2014 @10:12AM (#45906487)

    Can't wait for this mini meltdown to lead to its inevitable ultimate conclusion: MiniGodzilla!

  • Good Idea (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 09, 2014 @10:14AM (#45906505)

    It seems so obvious to me now, having seen the idea in print. This is not the sort of thing that is easy to analyze. A test is really a good way to understand the phenomenon. The paradigm where engineers attempt to make sure it never happens has its limits. Looking at what happens during the failure will allow engineers to develop meaningful "defense in depth" measures.

    Regards,
    Jason C. Wells

    • Re:Good Idea (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ebno-10db (1459097) on Thursday January 09, 2014 @10:28AM (#45906659)

      The paradigm where engineers attempt to make sure it never happens has its limits. Looking at what happens during the failure will allow engineers to develop meaningful "defense in depth" measures.

      That was understood decades ago, and has been SOP for that long in other safety critical applications like aircraft. The fact that it wasn't done before this is extreme negligence.

      • The paradigm where engineers attempt to make sure it never happens has its limits. Looking at what happens during the failure will allow engineers to develop meaningful "defense in depth" measures.

        That was understood decades ago, and has been SOP for that long in other safety critical applications like aircraft. The fact that it wasn't done before this is extreme negligence.

        To test a meltdown scenario is to admit that it is possible. This is not something that big power ever wanted to do, until it happened of course.

        • I don't think "big power" ever claimed a melt down was impossible.
          What they claimed is that it would be kept 'contained' in the 'containment vessel'
          In other words it would not get into ground water etc.

    • Re:Good Idea (Score:5, Interesting)

      by DeathToBill (601486) on Thursday January 09, 2014 @10:29AM (#45906687) Journal

      I'm curious how much they'll be able to infer, though. Nuclear reactors (and reactions) are viciously non-linear. If you make it too small, you'll get no (self-sustaining) reaction at all. From that point up, the nuclear reaction scales with volume, thermal transfer probably scales with surface area, and other material properties and deformations will scale anything from linear to fourth power (at least).

      So trying to infer anything about full-scale reactors from this is going to rely on a lot of modelling to tell you how the results will be transformed into real-world performance. Since it's that model that you're trying to investigate, there are lots of potential pitfalls.

      • by SirGarlon (845873)
        Given the potential consequences of a nuclear meltdown, perhaps the plan is to start with small-scale experiments and use the findings to inform larger-scale and eventually full-scale trials.
      • by Sockatume (732728)

        If they're doing what I think they're doing and modelling the early stages of a meltdown when individual rods are overheating, then the nonlinearity shouldn't be an issue. The fuel rods in a reactor are, at that stage, reasonably independent of one another. It won't tell you much about what happens when the fuel all melts and starts pooling at the bottom of the reactor of course.

        • by BigT (70780) on Thursday January 09, 2014 @10:54AM (#45906907)

          It won't tell you much about what happens when the fuel all melts and starts pooling at the bottom of the reactor of course

          They already did that experiment, but it was poorly instrumented.

        • The fuel rods in a reactor are, at that stage, reasonably independent of one another.

          Independent in what sense? As in, individually there is no self-sustaining reaction and no meltdown, but put them together and they produce enough heat and radiation to melt?

          I know that's asked sarcastically, but I'm genuinely interested in what way the fuel rods behave independently of each other that would be interesting.

          • until the rods reach the "puddle at the bottom of the reactor"stage they can be modeled seperately (sort of maybe)

          • by Sockatume (732728)

            I was thinking more like "the rod's basically just a unit experiencing a certain neutron flux from the rest of the reactor and is at a certain temperature" but you're right, it's not a reasonably independent state.

      • I'm curious how much they'll be able to infer, though. Nuclear reactors (and reactions) are viciously non-linear. If you make it too small, you'll get no (self-sustaining) reaction at all.

        This is not "let's melt down a core and we'll learn all about meltdowns." They are probably looking for a few specific data points to help their modeling.

  • Just give it a little time folks. You will have your answer just like the rest of the world, only sooner.

  • by qwijibo (101731) on Thursday January 09, 2014 @10:18AM (#45906543)

    Are they going to do this in already contaminated areas, or are they going to potentially screw up some new place?

    It's not unreasonable to want to know more from a scientific standpoint, but hopefully someone is asking "what if this goes worse than expected?"

  • Hmm, contractors lie about it and do a crap job and the government lies about it and does a crap job. That's what my simulation of a Japanese nuclear meltdown resulted in.
  • Redundant? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheBilgeRat (1629569) on Thursday January 09, 2014 @10:21AM (#45906577)
    Don't they have an open-air experiment going on already? Just take a day trip to Fukushima.
  • They need to make sure they do this somewhere where if it all goes wrong, nothing of value is lost, like maybe Croydon.

  • by xtal (49134) on Thursday January 09, 2014 @10:28AM (#45906669)

    The situation with the imports of coal and oil / gas is not sustainable.

    Renewable sources are part of it, but they do not have the energy density for baseload required to run a modern society. Japan is a nation with limited resources. Their power options are limited. Import of power from neighbors isn't a great long term move for sovereignty.

    This puts them between a rock and a hard place, so to speak. Mark my words though, those reactors will be fired up, because they need to be. They should build more.

    The scale of the amount of energy consumed by modern civilization is head-spinning. Nuclear is our only real option. Existing technologies should be deployed, and new ones researched. No politician in the west has the balls to do that, so we're going to burn every drop of oil instead, largely because nobody ever looks at the numbers and amount of energy required. (I however, did.)

    Thankfully, China may save us.

    I just hope the nuclear option picked isn't the one with the warheads. That will fix the problem too. There is some quality black humor and irony there.

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      Unfortunately free markets roll downhill, and while nuclear isn't as far to climb as solar or wind, it's still uphill.

    • I agree with xtal that one or the other of the "nuclear options" is not unlikely. But I doubt that nuclear in its existing implementation is a solution, in that the more existing-style plants there are, the more accidents there will be, the more public resistance there will be, and the more likely the plants will be permanently shut down.

      What is needed, and I'm not saying it's about to happen, is to rearrange economies so that energy is priced at or higher than its real cost to the environment. I don't kn

    • Renewable sources are part of it, but they do not have the energy density for baseload required to run a modern society.
      Hint: read up what 'baseload' means.
      http://www.thefreedictionary.com/base+load [thefreedictionary.com]
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Base_load_power_plant [wikipedia.org]

      Every plant is 'baseload able'. And it certainly has nothing to do with "energy density"

      Nuclear is our only real option Sure, because a GW made nuclear is so superior to a GW made with wind or wave or solar.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Mark my words though, those reactors will be fired up, because they need to be. They should build more.

      Bad idea, did you learn nothing from Fukishama? Japan is one of the most earthquake-prone places on Earth, and places prone to earthquakes are terrible places to site a nuke. It would be worse than a nuke sited on the San Andreas fault in California; that's just madness. Japan simply is a bad place for nukes, they're stuck with whatever green energy they can extract and the rest will have to be carbon. No

  • first, they have three meltdowns because they can't get things right in the face of a storm. now, the Japanese seek a meltdown just... because. those Ninjas have the curiosity of a 3 year old...

  • If it's controlled, it's not really a meltdown, is it?

    • by fisted (2295862)

      what part of "meltdown" don't you understand, or where do you pull an implicit 'uncontrolled' from?

    • You're confusing the nuclear engineering word "meltdown" with what it has come to mean in standard speech. In nuclear engineering, a meltdown occurs when the fuel reacts with enough heat to melt itself. Once your fuel is melted you have much fewer options to bring the reactions under control because you no longer control the geometry of the situation, you can't just insert control rods or even inject a neutron absorber.

  • Better yet, use nuclear power designs that can't melt down to matter what. Plenty of them. Still, more knowledge on a subject is almost always a good thing. SCIENCE!
    • nuclear power designs that can't melt down to matter what. Plenty of them.

      Such as? No sarcasm there - I'm interested. MSR's have always seemed great, but unfortunately we've lost 40 years of time in which they could have been developed. Pebble beds have proven to be troublesome for other reasons.

      • by KDN (3283)

        nuclear power designs that can't melt down to matter what. Plenty of them.

        Such as? No sarcasm there - I'm interested. MSR's have always seemed great, but unfortunately we've lost 40 years of time in which they could have been developed. Pebble beds have proven to be troublesome for other reasons.

        MSR: Molten salt reactor? The one with the fuel chemically mixed with the salt? While interesting, I was never really a fan of that one. If you mean molten sodium, interesting, but kind of reactive. One I liked was a molten lead reactor. Easy to use coolent (if you can imagine using lead as a coolent). Self shielding (Its lead). High boiling point (compared to water), so low pressure primary system.

        Use of thorium as a fuel instead of uranium. Because it emits 1.3 neutrons as opposed to uranium's 2,

  • When considering fissionable materials they better get their destructive testing planning right the first time. I don't think they'll get another chance to repeat it. Much like the NASA/FAA crashing the Boeing 707 (720) in 1984 [wikipedia.org] to anti-misting agent in the fuel.. Unfortunately the plane didn't land as they had planned but ultimately it showed that the anti-misting agent didn't work but because of smoke, they estimated that only about 23%-25% of the 113 passengers would have survived.

    As a result of analysis of the crash, the FAA instituted new flammability standards for seat cushions which required the use of fire-blocking layers, resulting in seats which performed better than those in the test. It also implemented a standard requiring floor proximity lighting to be mechanically fastened, due to the apparent detachment of two types of adhesive-fastened emergency lights during the impact. Federal aviation regulations for flight data recorder sampling rates for pitch, roll and acceleration were found to be insufficient.

    So out of a somewhat

  • I seem to recall a story about some place in Russia that just had to simulate a "worst case" scenario. Something about the machines safe guards to prevent the very scenario they were trying to cause forced them to dismantle a significant portion. I think something important happened. Maybe one of these researches could look it up, and explain why this isn't a similar stupid procedure.
    • by Sockatume (732728)

      You're misremembering Chernobyl I think. They disabled various safety systems in order to perform some tests that did not strictly require that those systems be disabled. It was never their intention to allow the reactor to enter an unsafe state, though. And in this instance, they're not working on a living reactor.

      • by KDN (3283)
        Chernobyl also had a few design issues. One of the big ones is that the reactors were close to prompt neutron critical and had a positive reactivity thermal coefficient.

        English translation: prompt neutron critical. Reactors need neutrons to keep going. There are two kinds, prompt and thermal (slow). Reactors are controlled by taking neutrons out of the mix using mechanical means (control rods, slow) or chemical means (boron in the water,slower). Both assume that the reaction is dependent on thermal n

  • I am not a nuclear physicist, so I really don't know the answer to this. Hasn't a controlled meltdown been done in a lab experiment before though? If so, what is different with this one in comparison to past experiments?

    It certainly sounds useful - if for no other reason than because we likely have much better detection equipment (and hence should get much better data) than we likely did the last time something like this was done.
  • If only they already had some kind of meltdown that had already happened that they could learn from.
  • of, what, 8 dozen anime stories?

  • by macpacheco (1764378) on Thursday January 09, 2014 @03:29PM (#45910449)

    The nuclear accident at Fukushima has been greatly overblown.
    My family owns a condo in the city mentioned in Pandora's Promise (Guarapari-ES-Brazil), where a Geiger counter reads 20 micro sievert/second, while a half mile away from Fukushima Daichi plant it reads about 4 micro sievert/second these days. That spot isn't isolated, it's in a beach right in the downtown area, people have been sunbathing right there for generations. hundreds of thousands of people flock every summer to the beaches there.
    There has been studies and studies trying to find a pattern of elevated cancer in that city. There's none !
    The real problem isn't radiation per se. It's the leak of radioactive materials (that in turn produce radiation), mostly Cesium.
    With the containment areas and everything, you'd need to actually ingest that material in order to get sick (in large enough quantities).

    People mix up the hydrogen gas explosions (which is not radioactive), trying to make the case that it is.

    The interesting fact is should the plant operators decided to keep it going, the accident would have been prevented.

    Radiation is everywhere. Our body produces radiation from Potassium and other elements that have naturally radioactive isotopes in small concentrations.

    It's possible in the days right after the accident it was dangerous, but the risk now is beyond tiny considering the area they relocated people from.

FORTRAN is a good example of a language which is easier to parse using ad hoc techniques. -- D. Gries [What's good about it? Ed.]

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