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Japan Power News

Japan Battles Partial Nuclear Meltdown 769

Hugh Pickens writes "Japanese nuclear experts are working to contain a partial meltdown at an earthquake-stricken nuclear power plant north of Tokyo, as fears grow that the death toll from Friday's massive quake and tsunami could reach the tens of thousands. A partial meltdown, experts said, would likely mean that some portion of the reactors' uranium fuel rods had cracked or warped from overheating, releasing radioactive particles into the reactors' containment vessels. Some of those particles would have escaped into the air outside when engineers vented steam from the vessels to relieve pressure building up inside. Adding to problems at the site, hydrogen was building up inside the Number Three reactor's outer building, threatening an explosion like the one that blew apart the Number One reactor building's roof and outer walls on Saturday. However, it remains unclear how far radiation has spread from the facility. Some local residents and health workers were diagnosed with radiation poisoning in precautionary tests, but they show no outward symptoms of distress. 'Even if you have a radiation release, although that's not a good thing, it's not automatically a harmful thing. It depends on what the level turns out to be,' says Steve Kerekes, a spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, a US industry group, adding that a person exposed to the highest radiation levels measured at the Fukushima site would absorb in two to three hours the same amount of radiation that he would normally absorb in 12 months – a significant but not necessarily injurious amount, especially if exposure time was short."
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Japan Battles Partial Nuclear Meltdown

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  • Considering ..... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 13, 2011 @10:05AM (#35470826)

    I think it's incredible how safe their reactors are and when you consider what has happened, I think this should calm many people's fear of nuclear energy.

    Now, the disposal of the waste ....

    • Re:Considering ..... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by sycodon ( 149926 ) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @10:10AM (#35470864)

      Tens of thousands of people were probably killed by the quake and the resulting tsunami.

      But anti-nuke activists will consider this the worse tragedy and use it at every chance to fight against the building of more modern and much, much safer designs.

      • Re:Considering ..... (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 13, 2011 @10:16AM (#35470902)

        Indeed. I'm this guy [], an irrelevant mathematics graduate with postgrad focus on the history of science and mathematics (so I'm not a nuclear power station worker but I'm not completely uneducated in the topic).

        I tried to prompt a discussion on the Greenpeace blog about their sensationalist - and, especially yesterday, entirely unsubstantiated - banner.

        My contributions were removed.

        • Re:Considering ..... (Score:4, Interesting)

          by GNUALMAFUERTE ( 697061 ) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .etreufamla.> on Sunday March 13, 2011 @04:04PM (#35473824)

          I know this might be just Paranoia, let me get something straight first: I'm not a conspiracy theorist. I'm not saying I'm right, I'm just saying I have my doubts.

          Have you noticed how Greenpeace seems to be an appendage of the big oil industry? I mean, they attack oil all the time, sure. But how effective are they against oil? Not effective at all. They haven't managed to make a single dent in the oil proliferation. On the other hand, they have attacked every single change we got at alternative energy sources very effectively. They are mostly responsible for keeping the population scared regarding nuclear power. They are the ones that have equaled nuclear power plants with nuclear weapons, even though the two are mostly unrelated (a nuclear reactor is far, far away from a nuclear bomb). Find anyone and tell them "Nuclear Reactor" and they'll think of a mushroom cloud and dead kittens, and other things unrelated to nuclear power. They attack battery production, and all kind of industries that can provide us with real alternatives.

          Nuclear power as we know it today is not the final solution, but it's certainly better than Oil, and we could be running 100% on Nuclear Power and electric vehicles powered by said energy if it weren't for this tree huggers. Follow the money.

      • by Kupfernigk ( 1190345 ) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @10:21AM (#35470934)
        Part of the problem seems to be that when the reactors were planned, Japan was in a seismic lull. Since then, activity has been increasing, and this put into doubt some of the safety features of the reactors, but nothing was done.

        This is an argument, not against nuclear power, but in favour of transparency in the design, planning, build and monitoring processes. That, however, would demand equally grown up behaviour from the antis. I do feel that part of the problem with nuclear power has been the culture of secrecy fed by, to be frank, the scientific and engineering ignorance, emotionalism and sometimes near-hysteria of the antis.

        In the early days of railways and canals there was similar "anti" hysteria - clergymen claiming that canals would be destroyed because it was blasphemy for men to ape their Creator by making rivers, idiots claiming that travelling at speed would prevent people from breathing - but the benefits were so enormous that people largely ignored them. The problem with nuclear power is that most people are not equipped to understand the potential benefits, so all they hear about is the potential downsides.

        • by iserlohn ( 49556 ) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @10:28AM (#35471000) Homepage


          Nuclear is also among the most expensive power generation methods available. I'm not sure what the potential upsides are.

          • by sycodon ( 149926 )

            The expensive is driven mostly by lawyers.

            • Citation needed. On the other hand, here's a citation of my own: Nuclear power is Hooked on Subsidies []. And China, France, India, and Russia do not have the US's lawyers or environmental laws.


          • by MaWeiTao ( 908546 ) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @10:41AM (#35471098)

            Did you actually read through the link you posted?

            Nuclear is somewhat more expensive than coal and gas, but cheaper than nearly all alternative energy sources; wind, solar and tidal.

            • by iserlohn ( 49556 ) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @12:22PM (#35471898) Homepage

              Did you read the whole page? The only (levelised) study that shows nuclear to be competitive it the UK study (and only by a relatively small margin). In everything else, nuclear trails on-shore wind.

          • by Draek ( 916851 ) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @10:43AM (#35471122)

            Much, much cleaner than Coal, Gas and Oil and more easily implemented at large scales than Wind and Solar, not to mention considerably cheaper than the latter.

          • by Dan667 ( 564390 )
            how expensive is it to clean all the pollution coal and oil cause?
          • Wow, that would be insightful if you weren't outright lying ... even the link you posted actually shows otherwise.

            "I'm not sure what the potential upsides are."

            Nuclear power is very clean. And inexpensive.

        • by westlake ( 615356 ) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @11:24AM (#35471438)

          In the early days of railways and canals there was similar "anti" hysteria - clergymen claiming that canals would be destroyed because it was blasphemy for men to ape their Creator by making rivers, idiots claiming that traveling at speed would prevent people from breathing

          But it is useful to remember that American railroads fought tooth and claw any of a dozen long-overdue reforms.

          Use of the telegraph for traffic control
          Steel passenger cars with steam heat.
          Automatic coupling.
          Air brakes.

          Useful to remember as well that the canal and the railroad could spread an epidemic disease inland with frightening speed. Cholera rides the rails.

        • The underlying problems with nuclear fission power are two-fold, and parent post touches on one of them.

          As parent post implies, one major problem is that humans are involved, and humans make mistakes. They make mistakes in following procedures; they make mistakes in writing procedures. They screw up when implementing blueprints; they mess up when doing design. They can royally fuck up when choosing design specifications, as parent post describes. Humans are imperfect beings that cannot do anything for any

      • by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @10:39AM (#35471082)

        But anti-nuke activists will consider this the worse tragedy

        If one of these reactors ends up totally failing, it will be considered the worse tragedy by nearly everyone. Why? Because judging such events is a subjective process. That's why one baby trapped in a well is a huge crisis, whereas 100 people dying on the road each and every day doesn't even warrant news coverage. That's the way the human mind works, and you can't just brush it off.

        If they were to end up with a Chernobyl-style exclusion zone around the plant for decades, then the meltdown would be remembered around the world long after the tsunami itself has faded from memory.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Mr. Slippery ( 47854 )

        But anti-nuke activists will consider this the worse tragedy

        Nonsense. No one is going to consider this worse. Rational humans, however, will consider it more under human control. We cannot prevent earthquakes and tsunamis; we can eliminate the threat of nuclear meltdowns entirely by not building uranium or plutonium fission reactors.

        There is, of course, a cost to that choice. We would either have to reduce energy usage (either by efficiency or austerity), build more dirty, CO2-spewing fossil fuel plants,

  • what progress? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 13, 2011 @10:08AM (#35470838)

    Despite all the tech developed since 1986, coverage of the progress of the cooling of the Daiishi plant has been absolutely atrocious in terms of speculation and lack of, well, at least one independent person , organisation or government (i.e. not this press release site, now down []) providing reports containing hard facts, e.g. telephoto / satellite imagery, radiation count, etc.

    To repeat myself from yesterday:

    Fact 1: this was an old nuclear reactor without a satisfactory containment solution;

    Fact 2: this was an old nuclear reactor without passive safety: i.e. power is required to prevent meltdown, rather than meltdown being prevented by design;

    Fact 3: backup generators and batteries were supposed to deal with Fact 2;

    Fact 4: you can only have so many on-site backups;

    Fact 5: Chernobyl's failure was the result of a very dangerously planned and even more dangerously aborted attempt to test what would happen if Facts 1 to 3 applied;

    Fact 6: while everyone's learnt the lessons leading to Chernobyl's failure, older reactors have not tackled the problems which led to Chernobyl deciding that tests in Fact 5 were necessary in the first place.

    Fact 7: one side of the debate will conclude that nuclear power is universally evil; the other side will claim that circumstances were so shockingly unlikely that they could not have been planned for, ignoring in particular Facts 1, 2, 4 and

    • Re:what progress? (Score:5, Informative)

      by siddesu ( 698447 ) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @10:40AM (#35471084)

      There is no lack of information in Japan. There has been 6 or 7 press conferences on the topic by the management of the power station today, both before and after every development that happened at the station during the day. All the conferences had a pretty reasonable technical explanation of the steps, and report upon execution. All conferences were broadcast fully on several TV channels.

      There are three problems with the coverage. First, western media have been extremely sensationalist in their coverage. Second, journalists, both in Japan and in elsewhere ignore the presentation (e.g. one journalist complained that she doesn't understand the explanations, and that there isn't "enough information" in the same breath on live TV), and press with "hard" questions, which end up to be only one: "When is this shit going to explode?". Three, which is a failure of Tepco, they put forward people who cannot explain shit eloquently. The explanations make sense if one listens patiently and makes sense of a ton of stuttering, stammering, repeating, verbal mistakes. Of course it ain't working when every journalist has to tweet within 25 seconds of the start of the explanation.

      Finally, the big problem in Japan now is getting help to the people in the affected areas, not the meltdowns in Fukushima that may, or may not be happening.

      But I guess some journalists have to make a living.

    • Re:what progress? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by grumling ( 94709 ) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @10:41AM (#35471094) Homepage

      Imagine you live in Rome. You are a civil engineer, in charge of building the first bridge. You build it the best you can, based on observing trees that fall across small streams. It is very dangerous, but effective for a few years. Several other people copy your design and build their own bridges using tree trunks.

      Meanwhile, someone else looks at your design and determines the bridge could be built much safer if you use an ads to flatten out the top, so that people can walk on the flat area, and some ropes along the sides at hand level let people keep their balance. You try it out and find it works very well. Meanwhile, people all over Rome are falling off the "Gen 1" bridges. People protest bridges to the Roman Senate and elect people who won't allow new bridges to be built, even with the safety features.

      To make matters worse, the existing bridges are now rotting. Several bridges have fallen into the creeks and many are too fragile to let more than one person across at a time. The tree bark, which provided at least some grip for people using the bridges is now gone, and when it rains the bridges are incredibly slippery. The Roman Senate funds a study to look into building "Gen 3" bridges. The engineers come back with designs for stone bridges, using the latest in geometry (the arch). The engineering community thinks this bridge will last for years, be incredibly strong and safe. But because the public has such a bad memory of the existing bridges, they want nothing to do with them. Meanwhile they demand the Senate fund more ferryboats for river crossings.

      • Re:what progress? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Frekja ( 982708 ) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @12:22PM (#35471896)
        Your metaphor lacks one detail: all the bridges are toll bridges, and the Gen I bridges are still making money for their owners. As a result, they're reasonably happy to keep charging people to cross while they pay PR companies to promote newer, more exciting bridges which they aren't choosing to build (but could be persuaded to do so if Government helped them to pay for these spanky new bridges).
      • Re:what progress? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by rtfa-troll ( 1340807 ) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @02:24PM (#35473018)

        The step you are missing is the bit, just after paragraph 1, where you advertise your new bridge as providing "safe and limitless river crossing for generations; so cheap nobody will even think to impose tolls". Then, when people start getting washed away you build fences to make sure that only one person crosses at a time so nobody can tell who the washed away people are. Later, you publish studies showing that due to the unavoidable risk of waterfalls all river ferries are incredibly dangerous and much more expensive than anybody ever knew. Finally you start accusing everybody who ever claimed your version 1 bridge was unsafe of knowing nothing about water and that if only they all learned about the theory of swimming they would know that nobody will be killed by water in future.

        perhaps you are right and nuclear is now safe. It's just very difficult to believe it just because the nuclear industry says it's true.

    • by strack ( 1051390 )
      could not have been planned for? could not plan for a tsunami, a word invented in the country the reactor is on the coast of, a coast off which lies a major fault line that has spawned devestating tsunamis and earthquakes in the past?
    • But had their license extended 10 more years. I guess that the officers that did this now must be contemplating suicide at the moment. If I were in their shoes, I would.

      An additional systemic problem, that I expect that government officers and utilities managers from Japan at last tackle in view of the current emergency if politicians can stop the stupid political bickering that goes at the moment, is that the country has 2 separate electrical grids, one for eastern Japan and one for western Japan, working

  • by hsmith ( 818216 ) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @10:09AM (#35470852)
    All around. al jazeera/bbc have been decent, but still - not what it needs to be. Fox, CNN, MSNBC have all been sensationalist garbage - as usual. What else is a decent source of news anyone else has been following?

    Hopefully this turns out to be nothing as bad as it could be. The reactors are dead, but lets hope that is the least of the issues.
    • by rAiNsT0rm ( 877553 ) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @10:31AM (#35471024) Homepage

      I mainly read and watch Deutsche Welle for my news. AJ/BBC are usually decent though. How sad is it that we have ZERO real news in America? Not even NPR which is as close as we come. We need a real news channel and outlet, not political or sensational bullshit. Just news.

    • The following are my news sites of reference:

      World Nuclear News [] This site is fantastic.

      Nuclear Energy Institute's site []

      Atomic Insights Blog []

      An Engineer In DC []

      But I'm a little biased for the last one ... that's me.

  • by Co0Ps ( 1539395 ) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @10:23AM (#35470956)
    AFAIK just getting high levels of radiation isn't that harmful. Some cells will die and if you survive that you'll recover. Radiation is just electromagnetic emission. The real danger is the radiation emitting particles. If they get out in the air and contaminate the biosphere you'll end up with an area nobody can live in like Chernobyl and thousands of people dying from cancer and other diseases related to long exposure to radiation can lead to. So the question is how much of these particles have escaped.
  • Better news source (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bender_ ( 179208 ) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @10:30AM (#35471012) Journal

    I found this to be a good source for uncommented information: []. I cannot vouch for the veracity of the source, but it does not seem to be very biased.

    Unfortunately the nuclear accident seems to have overshadowed reports on the real human tragedy - the tsunami and the earth quake. Especially in Germany, media are instrumentalizing the incident and are plotting doomsday scenarios. The worst of all seems to be "Der Spiegel", which I held in much higher regard until yesterday.

  • Good technical info (Score:5, Informative)

    by wjwlsn ( 94460 ) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @10:32AM (#35471028) Journal

    The following document is a good source of info regarding the situation at the Fukushima reactors. See the section titled "BWR 3/4 Perspectives", including the parts regarding station blackout (SBO), transients with loss of coolant injection, and transients with loss of decay heat removal (DHR). (The remaining parts of the BWR 3/4 section don't appear to apply.)

    Core damage frequency perspectives for BWR 3/4... []

  • by Megane ( 129182 ) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @10:43AM (#35471120) Homepage

    It's not getting much press, but the Unit #1 reactor was scheduled to be closed [] in two weeks. [] (Those links don't show the exact date, but I think it was March 22.)

    It's sort of like the old cliche about a cop getting shot in the month before his retirement.

  • Why not to worry (Score:5, Informative)

    by NieKinNL ( 690492 ) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @10:52AM (#35471186)
    Dr Josef Oehmen, a research scientist at MIT, has written his take [] on the events, and why he's not worried about it.
    I haven't finished reading this story yet (it's quite a few pages), but it's pretty interesting so far.
    • by rotide ( 1015173 )

      Just pointing this out, but from the comments on that article he's not nearly qualified to make any real comment on the situation at the nuclear plants:

      "Dr Josef Oehmen studied Mechanical Engineering at the Technical University Munich and received a PhD, also in Mechanical Engineering, from the ETH Zurich. While working in industry, he obtained an MBA degree. He is currently employed as a Research Scientist at MIT. His major researchinterest lies in risk management along the engineering value chain and the

      • by anagama ( 611277 ) <> on Sunday March 13, 2011 @02:17PM (#35472958) Homepage

        Part of the problem the nuclear industry has is people just like Dr. Oehmen who seem to have a extreme confidence but then say things that don't make sense.

        For example, at one point he says that the cooling system failed because onsite generators were flooded, so they operated on battery power till they could get some portable generators moved to the site and operating. OK so far. Then he says that once they got the portable generators there, they couldn't use them because they came with the wrong plugs. (!) WTF -- chop the plugs and receptacles off and wire the damn things together directly.

        After that he says stuff like only radioactive nitrogen was in the steam and it decays in seconds. OK -- so why are people being admitted to the hospital with radiation sickness? Maybe because there was a release of cesium?

        He concludes that the system is totally safe and nothing bad can possibly happen.

        It is people like this who cause our problems because they allow confidence to overcome foresight.

    • by mindriot ( 96208 )

      Thanks for the link, this was indeed well-written and, even if the guy might not be the world's expert #1, this text goes a lot further than any media outlet would care to go.

      What I'm still not quite clear about: Some amounts of Caesium-137 and Iodine-131 are said to have been released. Here his report is a bit weak: While Iodine isotope poisoning can be averted by giving Iodine tables (this is currently being done), and half-life is about eight days, Caesium-137 has a much longer half-life (about 30 years [])

  • Engineering Success (Score:5, Interesting)

    by displaced80 ( 660282 ) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @11:06AM (#35471302)

    Now, I'm not a huge fan of nuclear power. Not for the usual "GAAAH! RADIATION! WASTE! YOU'RE MAKING GAIA CRY!" reasons, but because humanity (and more precisely, human bureaucracy) is often far too gaffe-prone to be trusted. Running a nuclear plant isn't amenable to cost-cutting or tight-fisted cost-benefit assessment.

    But the way the affected reactors and their operators have performed has been almost perfect. Consider the fact that the buildings themselves are intact after what nature just threw at them. Pretty astounding. Sure, by the look of it, we've already breezed through several failure modes, but reaction has been halted and sea-water is readily available to keep the thing cooled without the core making a bid for freedom. Still, as I understand it, worst-case is the core splurges itself over the inner containment floor and eventually cools anyway.

    Of course, there'll be a post-mortem over why standard cooling couldn't be restored, the results of which will be interesting (and no doubt, instructive).

    • > but because humanity (and more precisely, human bureaucracy) is often far too gaffe-prone to be trusted. Running a nuclear plant isn't amenable to cost-cutting or tight-fisted cost-benefit assessment.

      Exactly. Imagine the fiscal debate around replacing pre-Chernobyl reactors. Current US gov arguing about cutting tsunami warning systems the day of the Japanese tsunami. Now imagine a 9 earthquake in LA with our, shall we say, post-modern approach to regulation. There's a reason Tokyo didn't fall down and

    • Of course, nuclear power also suffers from the same PR problem as air travel: It may kill far fewer people in the long run, but when there is a catastrophic failure it can kill a lot of people at once.

      "Nuclear plant explodes, hundreds dead!" is a lot more (*ahem*) newsworthy than "Coal power still in use, air pollution still high, low levels of radioactive elements still being dumped into the atmosphere, risk of lung disease and cancer still elevated, global warming could still cause problems decades from

  • I just want everyone in the New York City area to rest comfortable tonight with the knowledge that they built the Indian Point Nuclear Facility RIGHT ON TOP OF THE RAMAPO FAULT LINE. []


    Fault Lines never die, they just fade away. So while they have a big one in Japan or California every 100 years, it might be every 100,000 years for the Ramapo Fault Line. So we could get a big one tomorrow, or in a thousand years. No one knows. But its not like you even need an Earthquake for something awful to happen at Indian Point: its old and crumbling. It has frequent safety violations and infrastructure failures. Any number of problems could happen. From human error to just plain catastrophic failure due to age.

    I'm not against nuclear power. Modern Pebble Bed Reactors are extremely safe: you can stand up and walk away from them, nothing happens. But the Indian Point Nuclear Facility is ancient, crumbling, outmoded technology, and it needs to be shut down ASAP. Just like the one in Japan that is failing:

    Its like an old car: if you insist its time to get rid of the junker, it doesn't mean you are against all cars.

    Listen carefully, those who are for more nuclear power, as am I: you have to understand the greatest enemy of wider use of nuclear power is not tree hugging hippies, but old nuclear reactors, based on technology that requires constant monitoring, in decrepit states. Because when, not if, they fail, all of public opinion moves against nuclear power. We need to shut down the old shoddy Indian Point Nuclear Facility NOW.

  • by thrill12 ( 711899 ) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @11:44AM (#35471614) Journal
    Even if your pro- or con- nuclear power: the fact that Japan lost 10 GW with this disaster is something that should shake some people up. Even with the most safest nuclear power plant designs, safety is often based on a (partial) shutdown of the facility. This would mean that for large powerplants of several GW the impact when this happens (for whatever reason, not just huge disasters) is huge.
    By using distributed and smaller power plants, this problem can be more or less avoided. Provided that the infrastructure takes into account a possible partial loss of power, that is. And that is a big plus for alternative energy sources, like wind or solar: these can be setup distributed.
  • by Dcnjoe60 ( 682885 ) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @02:11PM (#35472904)

    a US industry group, adding that a person exposed to the highest radiation levels measured at the Fukushima site would absorb in two to three hours the same amount of radiation that he would normally absorb in 12 months

    I understand the US industry group not wanting to panic people about nuclear power as what is going on in Japan already has a negative impact on their industry, but they should be promoting how safe nuclear power is (ie even after a massive earthquake, the system worked mostly as it should) instead of the B.S. like the above.

    Saying that the dosage is just what you would have absorbed normally in 12 months is like saying that a drowning victim only consume the same amount of water they would have in three days. Radiation is more than just how much you receive over a long period. It also has to deal with the amounts received in a short period, too.

  • I wonder what the environmental community will say when/if Japan decides to close down their nuke plants and replace them with oil/coal/gas based power stations (there is no feasible way considering astronomical cost to use wind/solar/hydro to replace the output from all those reactors).

    As far as safety, less people are killed per year from nuclear power generation vs fossil fuel generation (even adjusting for the difference of each respective production capacity). It may be a bit simplistic to use that as complete justification for the safety of nuclear vs fossil fuel but it definitely should not be blown off (no pun intended) and ignored.

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"