Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
May 20, 2011

Fukushima Update - May 20

Tepco today gave a big press conference announcing a loss of some $15 billion for this year. This does not yet include compensation for the people who were evacuated because of the Daiichi plant failures nor does it include cleanup costs.

In another announcement Tepco also said that reactor 1 to 4 will be decommissioned, which is obvious, and that the no 7 and 8 planned for that site will not be build. It did not mention no 5 and 6. Technically those could be reactivated and I believe that is Tepco's plan. But to assume that it will ever get a license to do so from the relevant local governments is crazy. It just shows how absolutely tone deaf to public opinion these big monopolists are.

As for the status of the plants the announcement include this bit which is the very first admittance of serious trouble in the no 4 spent fuel pool:

In particular, the melting of the fuel pellets inside Units 1 to 4 caused them significant damage.

The no 4 reactor was shut down and contained no fuel when the quake hit. Fuel pellet damage there then must be in the no 4 spent fuel pool.

On the status of the reactors:

No 1 is slowly cooling down. The core has left the reactor vessel and the primary containment is partly breached. It is likely that renewed self sustained fission, recriticality, occurred in no 1 probably some 12 days after the accident but has since stopped. How far the molten nuclear fuel and the molten debris from the reactor vessel it is mixed with, the Corium, has damaged the concrete floor of the containment vessel is unclear. One report I read back from 1981 assumed a melt-through of the core through seven meters of concrete within just about 12 hours. A newer simulation report says that the maximum concrete ablation would be 1.6 meters and lead to a significant cool down of the Corium. The calculations very much depend on the type of concrete used as well as the Corium configuration. The Corium and its reaction with concrete creates high amounts of explosive hydrogen. Tepco is pumping nitrogen into the no 1 primary containment to prevent a possible oxygen hydrogen explosion there.

No 2 and 3 have different emergency cooling systems than no 1 and are probably less damaged though both have experience a core meltdown and likely also a significant reactor vessel breach. Yesterday the first floor of the no 2 secondary containment was accessed for the first time. The radiation was high but survivable but the air was very humid and hot. (Why did they send in humans when robots could have done the measuring just as well?) Tepco is now trying to find a way to put nitrogen into the no 2 primary containment as there is still a chance that a hydrogen explosion could occur in its primary containment.

Since the end of April a temperature reading in no 3 was steadily increasing pointing to recriticality. Tepco then more then doubled the cooling rate in several steps and is now pumping 21 cubic meters of water per hour into the reactor vessel. It also added boron to prevent further fission. The temperature reading has now come down since to under 100 degree Celsius (this temperature reading does no say anything about the temperature of the Corium though, it is just somewhere in the upper part of the reactor vessel and the absolute value may be off.) Like no 2 no 3 is still in danger of another hydrogen explosion.

The spend fuel pools no 1 to 4 seem all to be stable for now and with declining temperatures as all get refilled with fresh water whenever needed.

The biggest current problem for Tepco is the immense amount of strongly contaminated water the cooling operations create every day. Currently about a 1,000 tons per day are added to the mess and a significant part of that may get into the ground water and the sea.

Another problem is the debris around the site. A current map shows up to 150 milliSievert activity on the surfaces of some of the debris parts there. Too high to let workers get near those.

Further general information:

For a bit of history on the nuclear industry the Adam Curtis film A Is For Atom explains how serious safety issues were known but neglected when the construction of nuclear reactors commercialized. The reason for this was and is that nuclear energy is NOT competitive with other forms of energy generation if the same level of safety is applied.

Also of interest may be this Tepco 27 minutes image film from 1985 about Daiichi which also shows the construction of the first reactor there part 1, part 2.

On en email list I am on I had a little fight with an nuclear scientist. She claimed even on May 13 that my talk of "meltdown" and containment failure was overblown. Three days later Tepco admitted the meltdown and reactor vessel failure for no 1 and said the same was likely to have happened for no 2 and 3. Hehe ... you can imagine my schadenfreude.

But I wonder how a nuclear scientist could claim no meltdown when all the research available on the issue says that a Station Black Out (SBO) event in a BWR, a total loss of electric power and cooling in a nuclear plant, is certain to lead to a core meltdown within some six hours. All three reactors in Daiichi had a core meltdown and all reactor vessels and primary containments (drywells) were breached. The only remaining question is how big the breaches are and that will only be answerable in a decade or two when those beast get taken apart. A nuclear scientist not acknowledging this lets me fear that the safety culture in that industry is bad and that we will see further accidents.

For the record I was pretty sure about my judgment because, over the last two month, I read through a bunch of papers of simulations of the accident sequences in a Boiling Water Reactors (BWR) like the ones in Daiichi. These papers were written as part of official U.S. research throughout the 1980s and, as I have found no further significant updates to them, I assume that they are still valid. In case anyone is interested in the pdfs here are the links to my sources:

Additional resources:
AllThingsNuclear Union of Concerned Scientists
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
Atomic power review blog
Digital Globe Sat Pictures
IAEA Newscenter
NISA Japanese Nuclear Regulator
Japan Atomic Industry Forum (regular updates)
Japanese government press releases in English
Kyodo News Agency
Asahi Shimbun leading Japanese newspaper in English
NHK World TV via Ustream
Status reports for the German Federal Government by the Gesellschaft für Reaktorsicherheit in German language

Posted by b on May 20, 2011 at 16:32 UTC | Permalink


Way over my head, for the most part. Thanks for the synopsis b, this site is my only source of information about fukashima.

Posted by: ben | May 20 2011 20:18 utc | 1

Seconded, b. I'm not specialist enough to comment intelligently about the Fukushima updates you have been providing, but I have been reading them. I am not finding much else in the MSM about it, and absolutely none of it with this level of depth and detail. You have my gratitude for your efforts, as always.

Posted by: Monolycus | May 21 2011 5:18 utc | 2

Incidentally, although I can't speak to the physics of the situation, I thought it was odd that you posed the question "Why did they send in humans when robots could have done the measuring just as well?" when you already had your answer more or less at your fingertips: viz."...nuclear energy is NOT competitive with other forms of energy generation if the same level of safety is applied."

Robots are expensive and humans are cheap and renewable. If concern for the welfare of humans was ever of the slightest consideration, we wouldn't be analysing much of this situation in the first place.

Posted by: Monolycus | May 21 2011 5:45 utc | 3

They would never lie to us, with impunity, right?

Texas Drinking Water Radiation Cover-Up Top Gov Officials Knew And Kept Silent

I posted of this kind thing before in that it isn't always about money -though that is a welcome side benefit- but often about ideology denial and beliefs. These fucks are anti-science and believe jesus is gonna fix it all.

Posted by: Uncle $cam | May 21 2011 8:17 utc | 4

The robots had already gone in earlier but the camera lenses got fogged with steam so had to turn back. Humans have gloved hands to use as wipers for steamed up goggles. The heat and humidity made the excursion less than 15 minutes.

Their current stated plan of cooling circuits in the pool does not sound like it will reduce the humidity all that much. Having a roof not blown off by hydrogen may not be all that fortunate in this instance. They need to bring in air conditioning.

Posted by: YY | May 21 2011 8:20 utc | 5

Thank you for continuing the regular updates, b.

Posted by: Quin | May 21 2011 8:48 utc | 6

@YY - Humans have gloved hands to use as wipers for steamed up goggles. The heat and humidity made the excursion less than 15 minutes.

Rather the radioactivity did. An hour in there would have meant the maximum yearly dose ...

Radioactive debris hampers efforts to cool reactor

Tokyo Electric Power Company on Friday found debris releasing 1,000 millisieverts per hour in an area south of the Number 3 reactor building. It is the highest level of radiation found in debris left outside.

Materials emitting 900 millisieverts of radiation per hour have also been found in the plant's compound. These materials are believed to be part of the large amount of debris contaminated with radioactive substances that had been blown off in hydrogen explosions.

$50,000 question - where did the radioactive stuff come from? Fuel pool or reactor core? (No 3 has some MOX fuel elements in the core --> Plutonium)

Posted by: b | May 22 2011 4:12 utc | 7

Hmm, not sure what to make out of those reports:
Sources: Kan halted cooling day after quake (Japan Times)

Kan halted seawater injection / Operations stopped for 55 minutes over fears of 're-criticality' Yomiuri Shimbun (biggest newspaper in Jpn, conservative, opposition)

The second link obfuscates the 'on advice of Nuclear Safety Commission'

Posted by: Philippe | May 22 2011 7:08 utc | 8

There are multiple stories and interpretations of what the stop and go of the cooling consisted of. It is becoming political fodder, though it should occur to critics that Kan could not be so stupid as to make decisions or give directives on technical matters absent expert advice. There seems to be instances where there is no current communications with the government about Tepco's actions so it may be that they decided to reverse things they started because they did not tell anybody. I'm inclined to be cynical about the first reports on this having seen the reporters connect the dots quite wrongly in the past. No doubt in a week or two we will have more complete picture.

The debris will become clearer as the press seem to think this is worth pursuing. With #3 storage pool looking the way it does, it is no surprise that there may be pieces of fuel strewn about.

Posted by: YY | May 22 2011 7:28 utc | 9

b, while the radioactive nature of the facility limits various chores, the excursion into #2 was just an inspection tour. We're also talking about 40C 99% humidity wearing overalls goggles and breathing through air tanks. I'm surprised that they spent the claimed 14 minutes in there, because there really is no point in going in, just because the robots couldn't. There was a moment of humor in the original robot excursion, where Tepco person was explaining the limited exploration, saying that they couldn't afford to send in rescue team if they got lost.

Posted by: YY | May 22 2011 7:40 utc | 10

Before I say what I am going to say, let me explain a little about my background. I spent a number of years as one of the head trainers in what at the time was the second largest oil refinery in the western hemisphere. In that capacity, I trained operators, and wrote training manuals of the type that b has linked too. More specifically, I oversaw the preparation of refinery-wide emergency procedures for final FEMA approval and licensing of our refinery. In that role, I interfaced with the relevant senior operators and supervisors in reviewing, and in most cases, revising or rewriting hundreds of individual unit emergency procedures. I was expected to be the one who asked the "What If? questions, and foresaw unplanned events. In this role, I was required to read the classic text on industrial accidents, "What Went Wrong," and digest the historical record on oil refinery accidents. I played a key role in dealing with accidents at our plant -- and there were many -- though obviously none even approaching this in magnitude. I held certifications on a score of different units and worked on about fifteen different types of refining units. I have and have had friends who were/are certified nuclear plant operators. Additionally, my father was a chemical engineer who worked on Oak Ridge. I grew up with the blueprints of a number of reactors covering my father's workshop walls. My uncle, also a chemical engineer, worked for Exxon, then moved to AIG where he insured large industrial plants.

I consider that I know a lot about industrial accidents from a number of different angles, and can certainly read blueprints, piping and instrumentation diagrams, etc. I know a lot about emergency procedures and how they are formulated and understand whaat really goes on during accidents. Obviously, I am not an expert on nuclear power, per say.

One thing I know for sure, all accidents are political events and financial events involving gargantuan corporations. The larger the event, the truer this is. The safety of workers and the public is subordinate to those facts. That is simply how things work on the planet at this point in time. Workers lives may be insured for $250k and it may be cheaper to "expend" a number of workers, rather then use an intermediary device. It is simple cost-benefit analysis, made simpler if the tax payers are now picking up the tab.

Lest anyone think otherwise after saying this, I am against nuclear power categorically. The fact that a "cold shutdown" requires "hot powered" circulation pumps is Orwellian. An entire oil refinery can be rapidly shut down. Everything is designed with a failsafe mode. In other words, I reject nuclear power from a design point of view even before I consider radiation contamination such as we are seeing, or the geologically long-term unsolved issues of waste storage.

Nevertheless, I have nothing but the utmost respect for the operators, maintainence crews, engineers and other employees of nuclear power plants. I believe that until you get up to the corporate management level, all employees have the safety and best interests of the public, as they see it, at heart.

With that said, this is what I have learned from this accident.

While I trust informed people to make decisions about political issues and the adoption/rejection of technologies like nuclear power, they are simply not qualified to make operational decisions. This should be obvious. Could you manage a car in an accident if you didn't know how to change gears or that there was a brake pedal?

The first place I went after the accident was to the nukeworkers forum. The operators were very optimistic after the SBO, but after the prolonged loss of cooling spirits quieted down. One point brought up there, and numerous other places, was that small incremental changes in piping line-ups existed between what, on paper, were identical units. These small changes can have large implications when it comes to emergency procedures and what is possible when you are forced to dig deep. Even identical units can behave in radically different ways for unexplained purposes. The same with a more established technology like oil refineries. Therefore, I would be loathe to give advice even on a unit I was certified on, but had never worked on, much less a technology I never worked on.

Even the most simple unit in an oil refinery takes a minimum of an entire month of full-time work and study to pass the lowest level of certification, essentially meaning you are qualified to walk around when everything is hunky-dory with a clipboard under your arm and a hardhat on your head. Nobody would dream of leaving you alone to change a lineup, or switch pumps or compressors for several months more. Since the normal state of process operations is fairly uneventful, to become an expert on a unit requires a minimum of 5-10 years of work as an outside operator, board operator and supervising operator through numerous start-ups, shutdowns, and emergencies. That's oil refineries. Nuke plants are more complex, dangerous, and so the requirements are accordingly tougher. To become a shift supervisor for a plant -- that is, the person in charge of that entire plant at that point in time, perhaps $1B or more in capital -- takes 20-30 years of experience and many skill sets. I am not lying or exagerating when I say that it is easier to become a brain surgeon.

To think that some political minister knows more about what to do in a crisis than the shift supervisor is ludicrous. It is like imagining that Bush or Obama understands more about warfare than Sun Tzu or Otto Von Bismark. That is why Japanese nuke laws empower the plant managers in the case of an accident.

Now, these experts don't just shoot from the hip. They have emergency procedures, tons of them, which they are drilled on incessantly. General emergency procedures, then if things go more wrong, there is another set of charts, and finally there is a set of charts for catastrophic events like those we have recently witnessed. That doesn't mean that some action could not be changed, but one better have a very good reason, and it would only be done in careful consultation with other senior operators and engineers.

Deep and broad knowledge, experience and emotional calmness are far more important in emergency situations than intellectual brilliance. Before I learned that lesson, I got burned a number of times. You see, I thought I was smarter than anyone else around. And while I may have been more literate than any of the 700 other operators and managers (and I emphasize the word "may"), I discovered that there were quite a few brilliant and wise minds with far more experience than I, who had far better judgement than I in crises.

This is why I learned never to say "Why don't you do this?", but rather, "I don't understand why you are not doing this?", or "Do you think that doing this would help?" Invariably, the sugestion had been considered and rejected by those who knew more.

Now, what happened at Fukushima quickly went way beyond the purview of plant operations: all actions soon required a team of operators, engineers and scientists. Scientists to calculate what exactly was happening and might happen (because we are largely in the realm of historically uncharted events on this planet), engineers to figure out how some change might be effected, and operations to rule on whether such actions were physically possible. As we have seen, in an accident of this magnitude, Safety's usual trump ruling has been entirely disposed of.

All of this is perhaps a long explanation of why I stopped posting after my second disagreement with b. Now b is obviously very bright and talented, and puts a great deal of work and research into this blog. And perhaps it is more of a language problem in how questions are phrased, as I noted with myself above. And I have no idea what b's background is. But all my life experience has taught me that when someone consistently believes they know more than the experts, to put it politely, they don't.

Our first disagreement was when I stated that the reactor had to be scrapped after the introduction of salt and b disagreed. The alloys that go into building pressure vessels are very specific technical specifications for very specific conditions. In addition to my refinery background, one of my friends teaches the course on metal alloy failure at the Coast Guard Academy in New London (think nuclear subs) -- a course I have assisted with. To keep it in lay terms, a number of internal pressure vessel parts already have long covered-up histories of embrittlement and even failure. The minute you introduce salt into the chemistry, this problem grows exponentially. Additionally, every valve, gauge and pump would have to be replaced. I could go on, but I think the point has been made.

Now let me turn to the ultimate reason why I knew that the reactors were scrap.

I'm glad that you, b, have finally had your "Road to Damascus" moment and realized that all the internal damage was done within the first 15 hours or so. I was hoping you would finally come to this conclusion, I have watched it slowly develop, and I had decided that it wasn't worth publishing on this thread until basic reality was acknowledged about the actual level of failure, before it was even a story, really.

The SBO was the first shot across the bow; but two other factors were the dispositive ones: A) Quake-based damage to the plants vessel and piping infrastructure, specifically welds, flanges, instrumentation, pipe hangers, check, block, and orbit valve integrity, etc., which even at this time might not be fully known, effecting vessel integrity and the ability to cool down the units. B) Loss of cooling.

In other words, either an SBO, as happened at Vogtle, would be hairy, or a loss of cooling. The three concurrent problems together simply overwhelmed the designed coping capacity of the system.

Reactor-based damage as I have described in the briefest way above would be beyond the ability to deal with in the necessary timeframe. Xray equipment and technicians are not on site. Just to walk through a unit with full lighting and carefully visually inspect an entire unit would take several hours minimum after this level of event. As it turned out, at least one major weld -- at a point where there is little pipe flexibility -- did fail.

Now let's examine what the implications of this awakening means in retrospect.

A. If you have finally figured this out -- when the reactors began melting, you must presume that everyone who knows anything about Nuclear Power knew this immediately. (Unless you think that you are smarter than them; see above) Therefore, they (the plant operators and the government) knew the unprecedented magnititude and danger they were facing within several hours of the earthquake. Therefore, all news, accusations, finger pointing, disclosures, intentional contradictions of story, official lies, etc. have been managed from the start as political events of the highest import by the highest levels of power. For example, say you want to evacuate people from a radius of twenty kilometers around the plant. If you said that initially, you would create general panic leading to many deaths. So you start with two k, bump it up once the core has evacuated, and then repeat as necessary. That is exactly what they did.

Repeat: All news is political. As in the Bin Laden assasination, and all disinformation campaigns, creating contradictions and ambiguities encourages people to accept the basic assumptions: In the former case, that Bin Ladin was actually alive; in the later, that events were unfolding incrementally, rather than that the entire scenario was envisaged from the start and therefore had to be managed.

B. This is what I tried to explain from the start. You can go back to the official timeline, and the Japanese legal regulations (which I did before posting my second criticism) and see that -- especially considering the magnitude of the event and the number of plants that TEPCO had concerns with -- all communications with the government were timely. The legal regulations REQUIRE the plant operator to seek permission from the government in the case of severe emergency. The granted permission has many implications, liabilty, etc., but specifically empowers the plant operators to take whatever measures are necessary. This makes sense as they are the ones who know what is happening in real-time at the site. Once granted authority, plant actions were taken in a timely manner. I don't have the government regulations in front of me to quote from (dead computer), but if someone wants me to reconstruct and quote regulations and timeline, I certainly can, I believe it was paragraph 64 or around there.

You misunderstood events, seizing upon a planted disinformation story of the government criticizing TEPCO, which as I pointed out contained no hard evidence and was a political document. Knowing, as you do now, that everyone knew an unprecedented series of meltdowns was underway and that therefore all information and ongoing narratives had to be managed, and that the government had ceded control to TEPCO, the story makes no sense, as I said. Yeah, the minister was once a big honcho at TEPCO, but that doesn't mean that he understands the intricacies of emergency procedures and vessel stress tolerances. Tom Kean, of 9-11 comission infamy, was a big honcho where I worked, but he didn't know a pump from a dump, much less metal fatigue tolerance catastrophic failure probabilities. (My boss at the oil refinery made a big name for himself in the industry by increasing throughput a mere 15% beyond design. Don't think that that small amount did not increase injuries and accidents, it did, but it still made money.)

When narratives are designed to manipulate public opinion we see:
1) Rosy scenarios: Someone here posted an industry article painting the fairytale that reactors were designed to completely safely melt down. Similar to: Iraq, Libya cakewalk. They know its not true, in fact they NEED a quagmire to permanently position troops there, but they can't say that, so the public is manipulated by rosy scenarios.

2) Blame game stories. As above, also as above on this thread. We will see more. Similar to the Bush being blamed for not knowing that there were no WMD false narrative, as oppossed to the real "US knew there were no WMD and that was why they felt safe to invade at that time" narrative. It is easier to find a fall guy then to have the public accurately assess the dangers and imperil the industry.

3) Contradictions in stories. Self - explanitory. Confuses public about details, while reinforcing general narrative.

4) Complete lies, with the truth leaking out much later after the mass of the public has moved on, and when a mass change of belief would simply be too threatening for most people.

This is why there have been so many actions that do not appear to make sense.... based upon the information they have told us. In situations like this one is better off trying to figure out what is really going on based upon what they are actually doing, rather than thinking you are smarter than them and that you know what they should be doing, an approach you take far too often. As they say in computer programming: Garbage in, garbage out. Their actions speak louder than the assumptions they feed you.

This is why so many of the things that you didn't understand why they were doing were actually easily explained. For instance, burying with concrete from above vs. groundwater contamination from below. The real problem was waiting until you were ready to make a paradigm shift in how you framed the accident.

C. You spent a lot of energy criticizing the sea water injection operations. But as you now know, by the time power was restored to cooling systems, the damage had already been done. This is proved by the fact that there is no correlation between when sea water injection (lagtime) was started and the later explosion times for the three units. The cooling would not have prevented the explosions. When you assumed they were incompetently managing for cooling, they were actually managing for vessel integrity against further explosions, knowing that there were three different meltdown scenarios underway. Again, someone even posted some pro-industry propaganda here early on which said that the reactors were designed to "safely" melt-down.

Finally, there are a minimum a 5 potentially fatal design flaws in these reactors that others who know more than me have detected, notably nitrogen blanketing systems, off gas systems, and fuel pool gate seals. But an examination of those issues is beyond the scope of this post and any free time I have available.

Posted by: Malooga | May 22 2011 13:17 utc | 11

Contaminated water removal to be suspended soon

Not good news. They are running out of space for all the contaminated water.

The operator of the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant is continuing the transfer of highly radioactive water from 2 reactor buildings to storage facilities within the compound, but the facilities are expected to become full within 3 or 4 days.

About 47,000 tons of contaminated water has accumulated in the turbine buildings and utility tunnels, hampering Tokyo Electric Power Company's efforts to bring the plant under control.

TEPCO is pumping a total of 14,000 tons of such water from the Numbers 2 and 3 reactors to the storage facilities. But one of the facilities is expected to reach its capacity in 3 days and the other in 4 days, forcing the transfer to be suspended.

TEPCO says it is studying whether it is possible for the storing facilities to accept additional radioactive water for the time being, until it starts operating a new facility.

So what to do now? The alternatives: a. stop cooling and risk more reactor vessel breaches or recriticality, b. dump contaminated water into the environment

This was totally predictable and this is one reason why I insisted and insist on a different cooling method, i.e. convection cooling

Posted by: b | May 23 2011 18:18 utc | 12

TEPCO confirming early meltdowns in all 3 reactors.

Biggest concern for Reuters reporter seems to be share price meltdown and need for gov. bailout.

Posted by: catlady | May 24 2011 4:14 utc | 13

If these monsters can control this, and the public and media let them, then, it really is all over, they have won. Complete meltdowns and the masses don't give a fuck.. well, not enough to storm the halls of control.

Posted by: Uncle $cam | May 24 2011 6:38 utc | 14

The comments to this entry are closed.