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Fukushima Nuclear Disaster


view plume animation in a new window

Fukushima, 2011
The ongoing Fukushima disaster began less than a month after the Obama administration asked Congress for $54 billion in nuclear power credits and guarantees.
April 9. As it stands now, engineers have to keep pouring water over the reactors to prevent total meltdowns; but the water becomes highly radioactive of course, and eventually fills up all the storage pits; this radioactive water is then vented into the sea to make room for more incoming water needed to keep cooling the fuel rods... And how long is this expected to go on? How about 50-100 years?
And the ground is still shaking. . . The April 7 aftershock of magnitude 7.1 took out the power at two other nuclear plants. Luckily there was no tsunami to drown the backup diesel generators in these cases.

Gambling With the Planet
Joseph E Stiglitz, 06 Apr 2011
Japan's disaster and the global recession provide stark lessons on societies' failure to manage risks.
"Experts in both the nuclear and finance industries assured us that new technology had all but eliminated the risk of catastrophe. Events proved them wrong: not only did the risks exist, but their consequences were so enormous that they easily erased all the supposed benefits of the systems that industry leaders promoted." (article)



April 9: Fukushima plant was hit by 15-meter waves during March 11 tsunami
Tokyo Electric Power Company says the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was hit by a tsunami as high as 15 meters on March 11th., based on its survey of high-water marks left on the plant's buildings. The protective seawall was 5 meters high, and the company originally estimated the tsunami height at 5.7 meters. TEPCO confirmed that the 6 reactors at Fukushima Daiichi power plant had been under as much as 5 meters of water. (source: NHK TV)

April 8: Japan Aftershock: Two More Nuclear Plants Lose Power
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: "The impact of last night's earthquake: For the Rokkasho reprocessing plant and the Higashidori nuclear power plant, external power was lost and emergency diesel power saved the cooling capability. For Onagawa, three out of four external lines were lost, but one survived and maintained the cooling capability. None of the units were in operation, but cooling is needed for the spent fuel pools." (ref)
(Lucky there was no tsunami to drown the diesels in this one!)

April 7: 7.1 Aftershock off Honshu; emergency workers evacuated from the Fukushima plant; later return. (ref)

April 7: Radioactivity in the Ocean: Diluted, But Far from Harmless
"With contaminated water from Japans crippled Fukushima nuclear complex continuing to pour into the Pacific, scientists are concerned about how that radioactivity might affect marine life. Although the oceans capacity to dilute radiation is huge, signs are that nuclear isotopes are already moving up the local food chain. . ." - Elizabeth Grossman, at Yale Environment 360

Core Melt: NRC
April 6: US Nuclear Regulatory Commission: "Part of the Unit 2 core may be out of the reactor pressure vessel and may be in the lower space of the drywall." Danger of creep rupture and ablation of leak, possible pooling of liquified core and a resumption of chain reaction. (more)

The atomic forensics of Fukushima
Diagnosing the situation from afar. . . (NYT April 2)



The Future of Nuclear Power?
The quake and tsunami wrecked the Fukushima nuclear power plant less than a month after the Obama administration announced its plans to guarantee an $8.3 billion loan to build the first nuclear reactors in three decades. (ref)
In Germany: When current Chancellor Angela Merkel came to power in 2005 replacing a Green- SPD coalition which had begun to phase out nuclear power, she reversed the policy. Following the Fukushima disaster, regional elections on March 27 were won by a Green-SPD coalition vowing to once again to phase out nuclear power. Merkel has now announced a three month moratorium on nuclear power at which time her government will release an new energy policy for the country. Germany has 17 nuclear plants. See "Greens' growth in Germany spurs deputy chancellor's departure" Christian Science Monitor, April 4, 2011
The UK's plans to build a new program of nuclear power stations in England will be delayed by at least three months. In Italy, which had completely phased out nuclear energy after Chernobyl, suspended its recent decision to build new nuclear power plants. The European Union also announced that it will be carrying out "stress tests" on all 143 nuclear reactors in operation in the member countries.
France has 58 nuclear reactors, the most of any EU country, accounting for 80% of the electricity used, the highest proportion of any country. Along with the Fukushima crisis, a recent report from the Agency of Nuclear Safety cataloging 1000 accidents in the nuclear plants during the last year alone has clearly begun a shift in opinion concerning nuclear safety; The Green party leadership suggested the phasing out of nuclear power within 25 years.

*TEPCO, owner and operator of the Fukushima plant, is the largest electric power company in Japan, and the fourth largest in the world. As of last week, it's stock value had fallen by 80%, and the CEO, Masataka Shimizu, has suffered a nervous breakdown and is hospitalized. If Mr. Shimizu is following the news from his hospital bed, he might have noticed with interest a report that TransOcean, owner of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig which exploded and poured 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico last year, has given its top executives bonuses for achieving the "best year in safety performance in our company's history". CEO Steve Newman got a $374,062 "safety" bonus, bringing his total compensation for the year to $5.8 million.(ref)

Questions about Coziness between Nuclear Industry and NRC Echo Past Concerns
POGO on the NRC, Mar 31, 2011





March 23: Japan Quake/Tsunami: Now the Radiation Disaster

A monster earthquake, a devastating tsunami which wrecked hundreds of miles of coastal towns and cities, nuclear reactors in various stages of partial meltdown spreading radioactivity, Japan is still reeling from the March 11 disaster. As disasters go, this is a case study of the full range of crises that can follow a Big One in a developed country.

As of March 25: earthquake and tsunami toll: 10,000 confirmed dead, 17,000 still missing.
A quarter of a million people are still in refugee centers, many unheated and without adequate supplies; several dozen refugees have died in the centers from the cold and lack of treatment.
4 nuclear reactors at the Fukushima plant still dangerous, still periodically venting and exploding and releasing radiation. At least one reactor core has been breached.

March 25 radiation update: Japan's damaged nuclear plant in Fukushima has been emitting radioactive iodine and cesium at levels approaching those seen in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident in 1986. Austrian researchers have used a worldwide network of radiation detectors- designed to spot clandestine nuclear bomb tests- to show that iodine-131 is being released at daily levels 73 per cent of those seen after the 1986 disaster. The daily amount of cesium-137 released from Fukushima Daiichi is around 60 per cent of the amount released from Chernobyl. (story, NewScientist.com)

Related Resources:
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: Daily Updates on Japan Nuclear Plant
Scientific American: Special Coverage Japan Disaster

UCS Report on Nuclear Regulatory Commission
March 17: On Thursday, the Union of Concerned Scientists accused the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission in a report of allowing companies that operate plants to ignore, or delay repairs to, leaky pipes, electrical malfunctions and other problems that could escalate into something more serious. (download UCS report, PDF)
NYTimes: With U.S. Nuclear Plants Under Scrutiny, Too, a Report Raises Safety Concerns
SciAm: California Nuclear Power Plant Has Shaky Relationship with Seismic Surroundings

It Could Happen Here
". . . despite the 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has often been too timid in ensuring that America's 104 commercial reactors are operated safely. Nuclear power is a textbook example of the problem of "regulatory capture" - in which an industry gains control of an agency meant to regulate it. Regulatory capture can be countered only by vigorous public scrutiny and Congressional oversight, but in the 32 years since Three Mile Island, interest in nuclear regulation has declined precipitously." - Frank N. von Hippel, a nuclear physicist, is a professor of public and international affairs at Princeton and co-chairman of the International Panel on Fissile Materials (full article at NYTimes)

The above video shows large earthquakes in Japan between 9 March and 14 March. 1 realtime hour equals 1 second in the animation. The March 11 quake of 9.0 is around 1:17. Aftershocks up to 7.3 on the Richter scale have been continuing through this writing, March 23. (See USGS figures for last 7 days)








IAEA Fukushima Updates

Bulletin of Atomic Scientists:
Fukushima Updates

Sci Am: Japan Coverage

NHK online- incl. live stream

BBC Japan Updates

Russia Today coverage


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