Nothing-to-See-Here Happy Nuclear Disaster Thread

That last thread was getting full, so here’s a new one.

While we’re waiting to see if the Hail-Mary seawater-and-boric-acid cocktail works, here’s a piece on the largely-pointless Catastrophe Rating Game. Notice that TEPCO at some point was blaming the reactor building explosion on a large earthquake aftershock, although it’s now pretty clear it was caused by an explosion of hydrogen gas. Hey, they tried.

Here’s a decent Bloomberg article summarizing what’s known at the moment, and considering the event in the larger context of Japan’s economic recovery.

And here’s my vote for Most Criminally Misleading Headline yet. [H/T Hunger Tallest Palin]

[UPDATE:] Drudge is bulldogging the “MELTDOWN” angle, even though we knew last night that one of the reactor fuel assemblies had lost coolant and suffered damage (i.e., partial melting, deformation) as a result. That’s why they’re trying to drown it with seawater and boric acid. Drudge’s insistence on leading with the tabloidiest link he can find isn’t helping anyone to understand what’s going on. 

[UPDATE:] Reuters is reporting that the Daiichi Unit 3 has now lost its cooling system and would probably like to take a big seawater bath ASAP.

[UPDATE:] TEPCO is going to vent gas from the Unit 3 building in hopes of avoiding a repeat of the Unit 1 explosion.

Posted by StrangeAppar8us on 03/12/11 at 02:12 PM • Permalink

Categories: Geek SpeakNews

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For Official TWPCO news written & translated to Official bureaucrateze, here’s their newsroom. ex-e.html

I’m somehow reminded of this:

“the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage”

Comment by trollhattan on 03/12/11 at 02:36 PM

Er, make that “TEPCO”

I’m glad I’m not the only one glued to this scary situation.

Thanks for all this information, @Strange!  Grim and scary though the topic is…  That was some quality commenting by you and others on that last thread.  From now on, this is my go-to internet diner whenever I crave a PUMA snark & nuke reactor design combo platter.

I’m now prowling the intertubes to rejuvenate my rusted & dust-covered memories of boron chemistry, neutron capture efficiencies of B-10 vs. B-11, etc.

@Twinky P—I’m riveted, because this is my first real-time encounter with catastrophic N-plant failure and equally catastrophic information management. It’s also the best opportunity since the “nuke the BP oil platform” flap to observe how the Web feeds insane/inaccurate memes.

@meep—My pleasure, as always.

@trollhattan—Yes, I think it’s fair to say that Daichi Unit 1 has experienced a sub-optimal operating event, and is not at present performing to our expectations.

Has the Phelps clan released a statement yet?

(Not trying to be glib especially, but WTF can we do from this end but watch and worry, y’know?)

Oh, Larry Kudlow did have a response:

CNBC’s Larry Kudlow expressed his relief in terms that seemed to appall even his fellow cheerleaders for capitalism: “The human toll here,” he declared, “looks to be much worse than the economic toll and we can be grateful for that.”

Well, we could raise a Cone of Power, in hopes of deflecting the impacts of the Supermoon.

“The human toll here,” he declared, “looks to be much worse than the economic toll and we can be grateful for that.”

Yeah, well, you can always go out and make new talking meat-bags. But replacing infrastructure and restoring market confidence is a right royal bitch.

How can I possibly have missed the SuperMoon stuff all this time? I feel like I wasn’t aware of an internet tradition somehow.

this is my first real-time encounter with catastrophic N-plant failure and equally catastrophic information management.

I think I understand; you hope to never experience something so horrific, but when it happens, it’s something to study.

Larry Kudlow proves once again that he is a sociopathic fuckhead who really shouldn’t be accepted into civilized society.  Whatsamatta Larry, all out of coke/Koch?

“The human toll here,” he declared, “looks to be much worse than the economic toll and we can be grateful for that.”

I am simultaneously trying to hang on to my belief in non-violence, thinking random murderous thoughts re Mr Kudlow, and crying a river. Any way of sending Mr Kudlow to northern Honshu for a prolonged vacation/clean-up duty with no booking in a 5-star hotel?

Thanks for all your imformative comments Strange - they’ve been really helpful, Mr Truly Smartypants.

CNN is going with “we may have a meltdown” now.

I can’t but agree with Ms. YAFB~ we’re greatly privileged to have Strange, the only snarkmeister/nuke industry expert in all the internets, right here watching this awful series of cataclysms with us.

And all these attempts at hail marys and desperate measures are being tried while the area is still undergoing further quakes. Lord help them.

Thanks, Polly. But in a lifeboat situation, I think you’d be better off with our knowledgeable visitor Neutron Flux from the previous thread.

And, yes, Lord help them all…and forgive me for focusing on this small piece of a much larger human tragedy, which the N-plant saga is sadly overshadowing.

From CNN (per Mrs. Polly), some things you never want to hear from a Japanese nuclear expert:

“There is a possibility, we see the possibility of a meltdown,” said Toshihiro Bannai, director of the agency’s international affairs office, in a telephone interview from the agency’s headquarters in Tokyo. “At this point, we have still not confirmed that there is an actual meltdown, but there is a possibility.”

“We have some confidence, to some extent, to make the situation to be stable status,” he said. “We actually have very good confidence that we will resolve this.”

Translation: “I do not fully believe that your house is on fire, although it gives the appearance of being engulfed in flame.”

Strange, sorry I didn’t pick up on your earlier posts. Busy mving my stepdaughter, but also running out of nails to chew off.

I’m a PWR guy too. From what I can see these are Gen 1 GE BWR designs from the early 70’s. They don’t have an entirely passive design as the rods have to be drive UP into the core. Not a gravity feed down like I was used to. I also wonder if they are old enough that they need more than one rod to go subcritical. (aka SL-1)

Clearly the issue is decay heat. They’ve already started pumping seawater so the reactors are permanently FUBAR. What I can’t get my head around is why they can’t get enough water in their. I am wondering if it’s primarily a power issue.

I find myself wondering why they can’t helicopter in some traincar sized diesel generators. Is this a case of pride and “leave us alone, we’ll do it ourself?”

sorry for the Bristol like spelling in the last post.

If these cores are still kicking out Hydrogen it means they are hot enough to disassociate water, which if I remember correctly is about 2000F. Just below the melting point of steel.

The reactors I worked on had the fuel cladded in Zirconium, and I am not familiar in their design, but this tells me they are not in any way in control of this situation. After 48 hours if the reactor was truly shut down the decay heat should be dissipating. So this tells me there is some fission going on. So most certainly core deformation.

Good questions, Len. Who knows what kind of shape the generator interconnects are in, or if the wave swamped the power panels, too. We also don’t know how they’re piping the water in. In fact, we don’t know shit about the situation on the ground.

I think these are zirc-clad, as well. And obviously operating way above routine operating temp, which is about 550 degrees F.

I want to cockpunch Wolf Blitzer. He keeps trying to tease people into using the world “meltdown.”

Heh, 550? You gave yourself away as a civilian. Military reactors operate at a different Tavg.

Unit #3 now has problems. From what I am reading #1 is a GE design and #3 is Toshiba.

Just took a look and saw that Plutonium Page is feeling healthy* enough to tweet on all this, and she’s posting links to a bunch of folks she thinks are worth following on this disaster.

Comment by meepmeep09 on 03/12/11 at 06:53 PM

They just started emergency cooling of unit #3.

Good luck with that. There are now unconfirmed reports that Unit 6 is fucked.

I’m really getting the feeling we’re getting a dose of Baghdad Bob here. What they are reporting isn’t adding up.

Len, I was citing BWR temp, which is lower.

and forgive me for focusing on this small piece of a much larger human tragedy, which the N-plant saga is sadly overshadowing.

Those of us in the PNW who are now thinking of ourselves as downwind from Japan certainly care a lot about this facet of the story.

Mike, it’s really not likely there would be a significant atmospheric release that would effect the PNW. If there was I’d be bundling my family in a car.

For you West Coasters, here’s a wind distribution map I absolutely cannot vouch for, because I can’t locate the original source and model assumptions. Grain of salt required.

Strange, the map is horseshit. Look at the Rad levels. Complete BS.

A complete fabrication.

Seemed a little extreme to me, too, Len—more like a 100-megaton nuclear blast.

Follow-up Googling reveals it’s just that—a fabrication.

In fact, if you Google “nuclear fallout pattern” you’ll find that image hosted on all the best conspiracy sites. Duh.

OMG, CNN has a farking weatherman describing how a reactor works. He seems to think criticality means meltdown.

His analogy was leaving popcorn in the microwave too long.


Another reason I’m glad I don’t have cable.

I know that many here are also there, but I’ll link to Comrade Mary’s comment at BJ that has the text of a message from the American Nuclear Society.

Comment by MikeJ on 03/12/11 at 09:33 PM

Unit 3 uses plutonium fuel. What are the practical implications of that?

Comment by Nervous on 03/12/11 at 09:34 PM

Thanks, Mike. That’s the most hard information I’ve seen. Very helpful.

@Nervous—Sorry, I didn’t see you there earlier.

MOX fuels work essentially the same way as conventional uranium fuel pellets, but I assume the added concern mentioned here is the potential release of plutonium particulates, which are pretty singularly toxic.

If I remember correctly Plutonium has the added issue of being chemically toxic. It has a rather long half-life so if it gets launched into the atmosphere it isn’t as bad radiologically as some other isotopes.

Just watched the Japanese PM speak, and they are in full “Baghdad Bob” mode.

“Meltdown is such a s strong term. There has been some deformation of the core”

“The radiation release is no more than three chest x-rays and a round trip flight between Tokyo and New York.”

When I was in the Navy one flight from NY to Scotland would be more than my entire occupational dose for a three month patrol. If some idiot kept his dosimeter on the plane he got enough of a dose he was done for a year.

Spin, spin, spin. They’ve lost control of this.

Meanwhile I am going to kill Wolf Blitzer.

THREE chest x-rays?

OK, everyone in Japan take:

A giant step AWAY from the reactors.
Some iodine tablets.

If I remember correctly Plutonium has the added issue of being chemically toxic.

@justlen, I remember hearing this too over the years. I tried tracking this down last night, and felt like I was getting lost in a swamp. It looks like there was a huge amount of work done on toxicology and biological effects since the 40s, but despite that, questions remain.

The general conclusion seems to be that Pu is chemically/biologically quite toxic - folks should be worried if they see it coming their way (assuming that is even a plausible scenario; I simply don’t know) - but not as dramatically so as its past reputation would indicate; i.e., Pu or Pu-oxide particulates would not be the Particles of Instant Death that this element’s common reputation implies. A few references said it was a “bone seeker” like radium - that’s certainly bad.  References also said that it was not readily absorbed by the body (good news), but also not eliminated quickly, once absorbed (bad news).

The kind of studies that would best answer remaining questions definitively - testing on live humans - would of course be insanely cruel and unethical.  In fact, some of the early studies did involve human subjects, and such research would now be absolutely forbidden in the U.S.  So we are left with a lot of animal studies, and reports of clinical work from accidental human exposures, and a few unethical human exposures.  Despite the remaining ambiguities on the degree and nature of its toxicity, I actually think we know enough to say hey, this is really bad shit! Let’s take every precaution to avoid environmental release, mmkay?

Some excerpts from far & wide:

Under the heading “Toxicity and health effects” at this link:

Despite being toxic both chemically and because of its ionising radiation, plutonium is far from being “the most toxic substance on Earth” or so hazardous that “a speck can kill”. On both counts there are substances in daily use that, per unit of mass, have equal or greater chemical toxicity (arsenic, cyanide, caffeine*) and radiotoxicity (smoke detectors).

*on the reference to caffeine, meep arches his unibrow skeptically, noting the lack of a citation and wondering just how they made this particular connection

Under “Toxicity” at this site:

  All isotopes and compounds of plutonium are toxic and radioactive. While plutonium is sometimes described in media reports as “the most toxic substance known to man”, from the standpoint of actual chemical or radiological toxicity this is incorrect. When taken in by mouth, plutonium is less poisonous than if inhaled, since it is not absorbed into the body efficiently when ingested. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates the increase in lifetime cancer risk for inhaled plutonium as 3*10^(-8) pCi^(-1) (this means that inhaling 1μCi, or about 2.5μg of reactor-grade plutonium is estimated to increase one’s lifetime risk of developing cancer as a result of the exposure to 3%). When plutonium is absorbed into the body, it is excreted very slowly, with a biological half-life of 200 years.

From a purely chemical standpoint, it is about as poisonous as lead and other heavy metals…

This link leads to a 5MB scanned (but searchable) .pdf of a 1976 bibliography, Biology of the Transuranium Elements.  And it’s just that, a 200+ page bibliography that lists many, many journal citations.  Putting “plutonium” in the search box returns a very long list of hits.

Finally, Wikipedia is usually a good starting place for technical questions of general interest - the page for Plutonium is here - but as with any site that has limited editorial control and/or overworked/understaffed editorial staff, caveat lector and all that.

Comment by meepmeep09 on 03/13/11 at 04:53 PM

Thanks for the research, meep. I have less fear of Plutonium now, but I’m still disinclined to roll it up and smoke it. ;->

@Nervous—Plutonium toxicity aside, I’m looking through some online references that suggest that some people (Greenpeace, anyway) aren’t real fond of MOX fuels as a class, citing quality control issues in the manufacture and possibly lower resistance to thermal deformation in a failure situation than standard fuel rods.

I’ve also seen indications that MOX-fueled reactors may be much trickier to shut down rapidly, and may also pose statistically greater health risks in a major accident scenario (according to unnamed failure-impact models).

Still looking for something authoritative, and I’ll post it here if I find it.

Still looking for something authoritative, and I’ll post it here if I find it.

Thank you. Thus far, I am not exactly thrilled with the candor of Japan’s government, or the Tokyo utility, or of the various nuclear types in the U.S. who are using this crisis as an opportunity to tell us that this situation shows how successful nuclear power is.

p.s.: And no, I not a tin-foil hat wearing sandalista, either. Just sitting here thinking that no one is really telling it like it is.

@nervous—It’s maddening, really. The government statements are sketchy, and you then you find an “expert” write-up on the Web (like this one) by someone who isn’t anywhere near Fukushima, but who obviously knows the technology and offers up a credible timeline and marvelous amounts of understandable detail…yet, while admitting he doesn’t know the extent to which the site infrastructure and plant systems have been compromised, confidently announces that the emergency is over and all is well.

Then, you find another “expert” who tells you with equal confidence that the shit has yet to hit the fan.

And while it wasn’t on the radar yesterday, the MOX issue is getting more play in the press and on Twitter today.

Meanwhile, the government keeps extending the zone of evacuation, no matter what’s being reported.

Misinformation, disinformation, breathless news coverage and competing agendas are really mucking up the water. Certainly, both the government and TEPCO have excellent—and not necessarily totally sinister—reasons to play this close to the vest. (The Nikkei, for example, is down 4.5% on fears of the economic impact of the earthquake, which could only be made worse by more bad news about the nuke plants.)
Oh, and look—the Daiichi Unit 3 containment building just blew up.

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