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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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  • 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 [tepco.co.jp]) 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 6.no-one

  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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: http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/ [world-nuclear-news.org]. 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.

  • by rAiNsT0rm ( 877553 ) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @10:37AM (#35471070) Homepage

    I work for a company that works with radioactivity, and the reality is shocking. I have been told that since there is no "standard" level deemed harmful, that they can get away with all kinds of shit. Because a small amount of radiation could cause cancer and some can be exposed to large amounts without issue, that they can do basically whatever they want. It was found that a wall that was supposed to be shielded was not and that workers on the other side of it had been getting nailed for years... they covered it up and covered their asses ASAP. I would trust NOTHING when it comes from a corporation or government agency on this subject.

    This is a real shame and greed once again rules the day.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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).

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

    by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @11:19AM (#35471394) Journal

    Many of the anti-nuclear lobby are cut from the same cloth. When I was at school, we had a visitor from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. We eventually got onto nuclear power, and he was opposed to that too, for some reasons that almost made sense. Then I asked him about fusion research and he was also against that, but his rationale became even more stretched.

    There are some real problems with nuclear power. In my view, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, but it's impossible to have a rational debate when one side refuses to even try to understand the underlying scientific and engineering issues. Unfortunately, in recent years, rather than seeing more rationality from the anti-nuclear crowd, we've seen increasing ignorance of science from the the pro-nuclear side, making the entire debate akin to an argument about sports teams.

  • 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.

  • 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 Omestes ( 471991 ) <omestes@gmail . c om> on Sunday March 13, 2011 @12:20PM (#35471884) Homepage Journal

    And then again the alternatives also have significant downsides that nuclear doesn't. Every source of energy is going to have some decent downsides, its just about what risks and and dangers you find acceptable.

    I'm not a 100% nuclear fanboy, but I do find it a shame that this is going to kill nuclear for another couple decades. Especially since there are some really good designs (low waste, low half life waste, safer, immune to problems like in Japan) in the pipeline. Not all nuclear is created equal.

    Also, as a denizen of the desert Southwest, I find the common theme of paving over the deserts with solar panels to be distasteful as they are also thriving ecosystems, and as valuable as forests and grasslands. Most solar schemes also depend on some rather nasty chemicals for their construction. Wind kills birds, is an eye sore, and has some decent potential risks, it also isn't the most dependable source of energy. Tidal energy is a bit better, but it isn't really that feasible for vast swaths of most continents, and isn't nearly high yield enough to meet demand.

    We're going to need a broad spectrum of power generation to wean us off fossil fuels. Nuclear probably should be in that bundle, since it is dependable, (with modern designs) safe, and high yield. Objectively looking at its track record, it still is pretty damn safe. If someone ran the statistics (Google didn't help, I tried) I'm guessing nuclear is safer than coal, oil, or gas. If it takes the largest earthquake in 100+ years to make it fail (and not dramatically like Chernobyl), I wouldn't say that is a damning thing. Hell, if it was just the earthquake (sans tsunami), they would probably still be running fine, or at least not in a state like they are... which is quite a statement when you think of it.

    Also... why is this getting more mind share than the far larger catastrophe? Yes, it is important, yes, it is somewhat frightening, but some perspective is needed as well. So far this reactor has claimed 4 lives, how many has the actually catastrophe claimed? This reactor, even in a worse case scenario, will claim fewer lives, and cause less destruction, than the earthquake and tsunami. Far fewer.

    Actually, so far, I've been very impressed with the Japanese. They've shown how to do earthquakes right... I find the whole thing rather hopeful.

  • by Kyusaku Natsume ( 1098 ) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @01:21PM (#35472440)

    Please have a look at this Japanese grid, they are isolated grids, based on this is what I based my observations:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Power_Grid_of_Japan.PNG [wikipedia.org]

    My bad for believing in Wikipedia. Thank you for your critic, it prompted me to research more the subject.

    A better map, more detailed that shows how really is actually the grid:
    http://www.geni.org/globalenergy/library/national_energy_grid/japan/graphics/japangridmap.gif [geni.org]

    They have 2 FC facilities able to exchange 1200 MW at best, but the exchange between the two grids goes around 7-8% yearly, both ways, far, far less than what is needed at the moment and what they could provide, I doubt that Japan doesn't have at least 15% spare capacity in both grids. The FC are only able to replace units 1 and 2 from Fukushima Power Plant. 1200 MW are nothing versus the demand of eastern Japan. The reason that eastern Japan blackouts will be more bad than needed and Tepco's problems with their nuclear power plants comes in this report http://www.ieej.or.jp/aperc/pdf/GRID_COMBINED_DRAFT.pdf [ieej.or.jp] from APEC:

    But power interconnections are far less developed between Japan’s electric service areas than within them. Thus, an issue has arisen with respect to what might happen to the reliability of power supply in Japan when a particular class of generating capacity has to be taken out of service. In August 2002, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) was required by the Japanese government to take all of its nuclear power plants out of service since the utility had failed to report technical safety violations at some of the plants as required by law. Although subsequent safety inspections revealed that none of the violations presented an actual threat to public safety, continuing public distrust meant that nearly all of Tokyo’s nuclear plants remained out of service through the summer of 2003 and beyond. (emphasis mine) Since summer is when Tokyo’s power demand peaks, and since TEPCO relied on nuclear power for 29 percent of its generating capacity and 47 percent of its electricity generation in 200117, there were real concerns that power demand might not be met.

    Normally, TEPCO would have had roughly 72 GW of generating capacity available to meet Tokyo’s needs during the summer of 2003, including 60 GW of its own capacity, 8 GW owned by Japan’s Electric Power Development Corporation (EPDC) and other generators in its area, and 4 GW from companies outside of its area. But with 13 GW of nuclear capacity remaining out of service (though about 4 GW of nuclear capacity had already been allowed to resume service), and with 4 GW of thermal power plants out of service for scheduled maintenance, the actual amount of generating capacity on which TEPCO could rely that summer was only around 55 GW. By comparison, the utility projected that peak demand would be around 61 GW if the weather were normal and 64 GW if the summer were hot. Hence, it had to plan for a possible 9 GW shortfall.

    TEPCO’s plans for filling the gap between available capacity and possible peak summer demand included a variety of supply-side and demand-side measures. On the supply side, the utility anticipated that it could obtain 2,190 MW by restarting thermal plants that had been shut down due to their relative inefficiency and high cost, 760 MW by accelerating the testing and start-up of new plants, 700 MW by rescheduling thermal plant repairs, and 1,660 MW through extra purchases from neighbours. Somewhat more alarmingly, the utility hoped to obtain 3,200 MW if necessary through emergency supply measures such as power drawn from the trial operation of thermal plants and requests for neighbouring utilities to raise the output of thermal plants above t

  • by crunchygranola ( 1954152 ) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @01:22PM (#35472456)

    Fast breeder reactors can burn that waste leaving material with a half life of mere decades.

    If only a working one could actually be built!

    The two principal nations using nuclear power - France and Japan - have both tried to build commercial fast breeder reactors: Superphenix and Monju. Superphenix was shut down after only being able to operate at full power for one 10 month stretch. Monju, project started 26 years ago, and first criticality reached 17 years ago failed to ever achieve full power operation. It is now been restarted and may start finally producing electricity in 2014 (barring more plant problems), twenty years after its first start-up. Japan is planning a second FBR now, which is planned to start-up in 2025, fourteen years from now.

    Perhaps commercial fast breeder reactors are the power source of the future, but it is turning out to be an incredibly difficult technology to perfect and have even larger capital costs than current nuclear power. There seems little prospect that we will have significant numbers in the next quarter century. If nuclear power is to have any significantly expanded role before mid-century it will have to be the advanced versions of current light water reactor technology.

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

    by MrNemesis ( 587188 ) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @03:51PM (#35473694) Homepage Journal

    It's an attitude I find strange as well. Personally, I'm anti-nuclear weapons, but totally pro-nuclear for terms of power generation - indeed, it was trying to understand how the hell a nuclear bomb could be so destructive that got me interested in physics.

    IMHO, it was the arms race that totally got nuclear power generation off on the wrong foot; too many reactor designs optimised for producing weapons-grade fuels, and then often dual-purposed to power generation almost as an afterthought. My parents lived through the Windscale disaster http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windscale_fire [wikipedia.org] and I remember my father explaining to me what a stupid design for a reactor it was, and how we were saved more by luck than judgement, and there were echoes of this in the RBMK/Chernobyl designs.

    Hence nuclear power was forever tarnished by the short-sightedness of everyone trying to build their own nuclear stockpile, which produced dangerous and inefficient reactor designs. Compare with modern designs like CANDU which, as far as I can tell, have been designed for power and safety first, with capability for weapons-grade loads very much an afterthought - if it's even possible. But nuclear power (both fission and fusion) won't shake the public stigma for decades, if not whole generations, because they're hard for the layman to understand even without the news going ARGH NUCLEAR!!!!! at the drop of a hat.

    Back on topic - I'm frankly amazed this whole thing with the Japanese reactors wasn't worse. Wikipedia currently has the total amount of energy released as 600 *million* Hiroshima-type atomic bombs, we've all seen the videos of the tsunami hitting the coast (and these stations were in a region closest to the epicentre); I was dumbstruck at the scale of it all. And yet despite near total failure of all cooling systems, there's been no massive release of radiation. It's a testament to Japanese engineering and professionalism that they're doing as well as they are - look at how few casualties there were due to structural failures (not to mention all those people already alerted by Japan's best-of-breed EWS and extensive training in how to deal with such a situation), in one of the most massive earthquakes on record. They're happily prepared to junk the reactor core - worth billions, especially when you factor in cleanup costs - in order to limit damage. What's happened in Japan is an utter catastrophe. The nuclear reactors are a tiny, tiny fraction of this but it receives disproportionate attention in the news because, judging by the reaction of a lot of my friends here in the UK, it appears to be something we (and, by extension, the news) care about more than all those already dead or missing, and the (hundreds of?) thousands homeless or without power or drinking water.

    Rant over. FWIW, I'm not a nuclear scientist but have a degree in geology, and nuclear power is one of my pet pipe dreams (don't get me wrong, I'm a big supporter of wind and solar plants as well, and the brother-in-law runs a biogas plant in Germany). I also have a bunch of friends in Tokyo, who are thankfully fine. Happy to receive criticism if I come across as overly optimistic.

  • 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.

What is algebra, exactly? Is it one of those three-cornered things? -- J.M. Barrie