Emergency in Fukushima.

mmghosh's picture

Disclaimer:

 

I generally follow the nuclear electric industry through the Brave New Climate site, strongly pro-nuclear.  This is something I would tend to agree with, though cautiously, as with everything sold as a panacea without addressing the need to decrease consumption.

 

But, bad news continues to come out of Fukushima.

Radioactive groundwater at the Fukushima nuclear plant has likely risen above an underground barrier meant to contain it, presenting an "emergency" that its operator is not addressing properly, a watchdog official warned on Monday.

 

This water is likely seeping into the sea, exceeding legal limits of radioactive discharge , Shinji Kinjo, head of Japan's Nuclear Regulatory Authority task force, told Reuters. He said a workaround planned by Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) will only forestall the growing problem temporarily.

"Right now we have a state of emergency," Kinjo said, adding there was a "rather high possibility" that the radioactive wastewater has breached the barrier and is rising towards the ground's surface.

One of the problems with Japanese reporting is the hyping of problems and the phlegmatism of the people happening simultaneously.  Plenty of emotive descriptions such as "tainted" thrown around in the article.  

 

Especially worrying in all this scenario is the fact that the Japanese, of all people, are concerned about the quality of their engineering, presumably with some of the world's best engineering facilities on-site. 

 

We, also, have constructed a nuclear facility on a site facing the coast struck directly by the Great Asian Tsunami of 2004.  We also have a People's Movement opposing this, although they appear to have been neutralised for the moment.  Nuclear power, together with an active anti-nclear movement to hold the government's feet to the fire at all times seems to be about the right mix.  But only if Fukushima stays safe. 

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This was apparant to anyone who read a bit

(#307153)

on Fukushima for months now. There were quite open in saying they were pumping water in to cool the rods and a lot of that was going missing. There was alaos the problem of capacity in the holding tanks.

 

We're far from out of the woods here. The structures are precarious and full of fuel rods. Another explosion or large quake and things get a lot uglier very quickly. Probably not on a national scale but locally. I don't see that there is much that can be done until the waste cools down enough. 

The radioactivity hasn't got significantly worse

(#307156)
mmghosh's picture

leak-wise, that is, and its a little hard to separate the hype from reality.  Yes, things could go wrong.  But it isn't helpful assuming that they will go wrong, inevitably.

Well, here are some quotes from the beeb:

(#307157)

Tepco admitted for the first time last month that radioactive groundwater had breached an underground barrier and been leaking into the sea,

If the underground barrier is breached, the watchdog warns, the water could start to seep through shallower areas of earth.

Once it reaches the surface, it could start to flow "extremely fast", says Mr Kinjo.Contaminated water could rise to the ground's surface within three weeks, the Asahi newspaper predicted on Saturday.Tepco admitted for the first time last month that radioactive groundwater had breached an underground barrier and been leaking into the sea,

 

Tepco admitted on Friday that a cumulative 20 trillion to 40 trillion becquerels of radioactive tritium may have leaked into the sea since the disaster.
It has been clear for months now that the operators of the Fukushima plant are in deep trouble, says the BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes.
The only course of action, he continues, is to pump water out. But this has to be stored, and more than 1,000 giant holding tanks surrounding the plant are nearly all full, he adds

 

Now I agree with you. I've seen hype at every level right up to global extinction event, but never-the-less, the reality is that things already have gone badly wrong and there are events that are coming with certainty that are bad. For example at some point they will run out of storage for the low grade radioactive waste water. The'yre generating 500 tonnes of it a day. At some pount they will have to either get it off site (probably by dumping to sea) or let the cooling pools boil dry and let the 1500 nuclear fuel rods burst into flame and vaporise into the prevailing weather.

 

There are also event s that are likely but not certain, like the missing cooluing water leaking to the surface and turning the place into a radioactive swamp. That will complicate any attempts to get anything done on site (including the management of the 600000 spent fuel rods that are on site in the other buildings and the common storage pool).

 

Finally there are events which are unlikely, but possible and catestrophic. For example, an explosion in building 4 or an earthquake that puts a hole in the bottom of the cooling ponds. Then all the water leaks out and in a few hours the whole 1500 assemblies light up like a roman candle. Or maybe an earthquake bad enough to collapse the whole building. How bad would either of these be? I'm not sure, I've seen mention of quantities of fallout equivalent to about 10 chernobyls. 

 

So, I don't think we're in the realms of wild-eyed hysteria. We know for certain things will get worse at the site. There is a good chance that they will get much worse. 

 

Anyway, I think it's important to keep it front and center because I already see articles in serious newspapers about how Fukushima isn't so bad and so that proves what a good idea nuclear is. It took us 20 years to get to that nonsense with Chernobyl.  Nuclear might be a part of the next phase of human energy generation but we should tread very carefully and in full view of the facts.

Have the Rods Fused? Why Can't they Individually be Removed?

(#307154)

...I initially followed this moderately closely and never got a fair sense that this was going to work out well...there were going to be substantial difficulties further down this road...but as I think about this...can't the fuel rods be removed and stored?

 

Traveller

They're too hot to handle.

(#307155)

Usually the rods are moved from the reactor to cooling ponds where they are stored for a few years till they cool down (radiologically). The pools are kept cool by pumping fresh water in and out. The rods are moved in and out by automatic cranes.

 

They're also a few floors up, not at ground level. 

 

That's normal operation. Now, imagine the situation where you have hundreds of tonnes of hot waste in cooling pools several floors up and you fill the building with hydrogen gas, blow it up and melt a reactor core down inside it just for good measure. Throw in a few serious earthquakes for good measure.

 

The pools need to be fed with water, which comes out radioactive, they are inaccessible due to wreckage and radioactivity. Even robots have problems operating there due to their electronics getting fried. All of this is in a teetering tottering building. One big earthquake or hydrogen explosion and the whole lot comes down spilling the waste everywhere.

Epidemic of faked safety certificates to the west of Fukushima

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brutusettu's picture

Now, a snowballing scandal in South Korea about bribery and faked safety tests for critical plant equipment has highlighted yet another similarity: experts say both countries’ nuclear programs suffer from a culture of collusion that has undermined their safety. Weeks of revelations about the close ties between South Korea’s nuclear power companies, their suppliers and testing companies have led the prime minister to liken the industry to a mafia.

(snip)

Last year, the government was forced to shut down two reactors temporarily after it learned that parts suppliers — some of whom were later convicted — had fabricated the safety-test certificates for more than 10,000 components over 10 years. But the government emphasized at the time that those parts were “nonessential” items and that the industry was otherwise sound.

"Jazz, the music of unemployment."

 

Frank Zappa

Ha!

(#307149)

Since Fukushima, anybody proposing an ocean coast site for a nuclear power plant should be summarily fired and barred from holding positions of responsibility in any entity, public or private.

 

I don't generally think we should rush to close all existing plants, as this would be a huge waste of existing infrastructure that would simultaneously result in higher CO2 emissions. I'll go further and say that, in some cases we should even build new plants.

 

But, broadly speaking, fission is not where the world should deposit its energy hopes and, especially, its financial resources and risk subsidies. Investment in a varied portfolio of renewables, plus a stronger backing of fusion, is the right way to go.

This was clear enough to Larkin, whose patriotism rested on the notion that England was the worst place on earth with the possible exception of everywhere else.

Why?

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mmghosh's picture

Ocean coast are generally regarded as good sites for nuclear plants - plenty of water for cooling and as a diluent.

 

Outside tsunami and earthquake zones, naturally.

Huh?

(#307165)

Outside tsunami and earthquake zones, naturally.

 

And where is that? Tsunamis can happen pretty much anywhere, even quite far from earthquake zones.

This was clear enough to Larkin, whose patriotism rested on the notion that England was the worst place on earth with the possible exception of everywhere else.

IIRC. . .

(#307168)
M Scott Eiland's picture

. . .the tsunami wasn't the real problem--it was the very nearby 9.0+ quake that spawned it, which exceeded even the rather impressive earthquake proofing standards that the Japanese built according to. Of course, the combination created additional complications at Fukushima, but is there any reason to believe that a reinforced concrete nuclear containment vessel would be damaged significantly by a tsunami if there was no accompanying earthquake?

The universe may well have been created without a point--that doesn't imply that we can't give it one.

The containment vessel would survive

(#307191)

the tsunami easily, as Fukushima's did.  The problem is the support infrastructure.  Nuclear plants need active cooling even after shutdown to remove decay heat.  You can't put all the fragile equipment inside the vessel, so there's a risk it will get damaged.

 

The critical flaw at Fukushima was not protecting the backup diesels from flooding.

That's Definitely A Head-scratcher

(#307193)
M Scott Eiland's picture

It's not like Japan is bereft of competent architects and engineers who should have been able to diagnose the risk with negligible effort and deal with it with little additional expense as compared to the billions already needed to build a nuke plant. Even looking through it through the "stupid greedy capitalist" goggles I borrowed from the Big Orange Satan doesn't make it make much sense.

The universe may well have been created without a point--that doesn't imply that we can't give it one.

No, It Was The Tsunami

(#307172)

And obviously bad design.

 

The tsunami flooded the backup generators, which were actually located below sea level. The plant had gone off the grid due to the earthquake, but had not itself been seriously damaged.

 

Normally when off the grid, cooling pumps get their energy from batteries for a few hours, then from the backup generators. But the generators flooded with salt water...

This was clear enough to Larkin, whose patriotism rested on the notion that England was the worst place on earth with the possible exception of everywhere else.

Sound Like It Was The Combination

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M Scott Eiland's picture

And yes, one that Japan should have been ready for, but the same is not true for all locations. For example, even if Cumbre Vieja let go, there would be several hours to react on the East Coast, which is horrifyingly inadequate to evacuate everyone but should be enough time to enact emergency shutdown procedures when power is otherwise up and running for both primary and secondary sources.

The universe may well have been created without a point--that doesn't imply that we can't give it one.

True but...

(#307175)

...active cooling is still required even in a stopped reactor, and even in the spent fuel pools.

 

Otherwise temps rise, water evaporates, and the rods catch fire.

This was clear enough to Larkin, whose patriotism rested on the notion that England was the worst place on earth with the possible exception of everywhere else.

Lousy Design Choice There

(#307176)
M Scott Eiland's picture

Particularly since there are certainly nuclear reactor designs that *don't* have that little problem. If total loss of power will inevitably lead to disaster, one should definitely make sure that total loss of power is made impossible to the maximum extent possible (which was certainly not the case at Fukushima, given what we know happened).

The universe may well have been created without a point--that doesn't imply that we can't give it one.

Which Problem?

(#307177)

All current nuclear reactors need active cooling and depend on circulating water to do it.

 

There are passive designs that have been developed, but none in production or deployed, to my knowledge, at power plant scales.

 

If you mean the below water level generators, then yeah, that's not universal. And it can be corrected in existing facilities.

This was clear enough to Larkin, whose patriotism rested on the notion that England was the worst place on earth with the possible exception of everywhere else.

The America's East Coast...

(#307171)

... is potentially subject to a very large tsunami from instability in the Iberian peninsula coastal shelf the Cumbre Vieja volcanic island that Scott mentions, off the coast of Iberia. Essentially, the scenario is an underwater mudslide that would displace a few dozen cubic kilometers of water in a few dozen seconds.

 

The probability of this happening is low at any given time (actually it is currently unknown), but consider that if it did happen and a lot of nuclear power plants were unwisely placed on the coast, they would all be impacted together, in the middle of a natural disaster event of significant proportions.

 

Also, you might have heard that the East Coast of the US and Caribbean islands are subject to hurricanes, followed by their storm surges.

 

Finally, someone like you who understands climate change should also be aware that sea level rise will continue for the foreseeable future at accelerating rates.

This was clear enough to Larkin, whose patriotism rested on the notion that England was the worst place on earth with the possible exception of everywhere else.

Unlikely But Not Impossible

(#307169)
M Scott Eiland's picture

Tsunamis from the legendary 1755 Lisbon Earthquake struck as far west and south as Martinique and Barbados. Plus, Cumbre Vieja would like to have a word with you.

But yes, tsunami risk is not a major concern for nuclear power plant safety, at least in regions where major earthquakes are not happening nearby. The combination is very bad, which makes me wonder why the Japanese didn't add a little extra money to the huge amount they spent to EQ proof that plant to survive an 8.0 quake to set up emergency shutdown measures that would work in the not completely unlikely event that an even larger quake might hit, along with anti-tsunami measures that would deal with the very likely scenario that one would occur if a quake big enough to overwhelm the anti-EQ measures hit.

The universe may well have been created without a point--that doesn't imply that we can't give it one.

We can all agree that Fukushima was/is bad.

(#307201)
mmghosh's picture

Yeah, sure...

(#307205)

But that and $2.50 will get you a cup of coffee.

 

Everybody can recognize bad design after. But we aren't really so go at that before, especially with regard to design for infrequent events. The experts too often give bogus statistics. It's not just Fukushima. There was TMI, Chernobyl, and outside of nuclear, the "man rated" Space Shuttle, etc.

 

As I said, I wouldn't go around hysterically shutting down every plant. I might even think building a few new ones can make sense in some locations, but fission simply has too many, let's call them "design vulnerabilities", not just at the reactor but with fuel storage, transport, etc. Then there is the proliferation problem, which fusion also lacks.

 

It makes no sense to pursue major investment in fission.

This was clear enough to Larkin, whose patriotism rested on the notion that England was the worst place on earth with the possible exception of everywhere else.

Very complex systems made in very small quantities

(#307206)

are always going to be especially susceptible to design mistakes.  It'd be nice if very careful planning could account for every possible thing that could go wrong,  but really a lot, maybe most, of design improvements come from making mistakes and observing failures.  With something like cars or PCs there are a few million "experiments" running all the time and any given failure mode, even a rare one, is going to become apparent within one design cycle.