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Fukushima 2013

By: lobster Wednesday July 10, 2013 11:22 pm

This will be a brief post, following the issued raised in this article in the NYT tonight. My summary of the findings discussed is simple: there is a direct underground connection between at least one of the damaged reactors and the Pacific Ocean.

The questions that occur to me are also simple: How would things look if at least one of the reactor cores, perhaps the core from Unit 2, had melted through all the containment, through the floor of the building, and down through the soil? What would we be observing if the core were resting on bedrock well below the reactor building?

The answers seem to be that the temperature gauges would not be registering high temperatures, because the hot core would not be close to them. Groundwater throughout the site, including in the basements of reactors five and six, could contain numerous radioactive isotopes, including short-lived isotopes that would have decayed to tiny levels if containment were still good. Radiation levels in the ocean near the stricken plant might not be low. With containment, they would by now be quite low, as the currents on the east coast of Japan are quite strong. Physical dispersion and radioactive decay would together have brought the levels way down, and only long-lived decay products would be observed.

These observations have all been made since early in the crisis. Some made sense — continuous cooling could have explained temperature gauges reporting reasonable temperatures (instead of temperature gauges reporting reasonable temperatures because they were far from the heat source(s)). We FDLers were puzzled at the radiation levels reported in the basements of Units 5 and 6 in particular. What was that all about? It has never been explained, as far as I know. As the article lays out, there is strong evidence that there is no containment for at least one of the cores.

Personally, I see no data suggesting that any of the core remains in the reactor building for Unit 2. If there is evidence that there is any containment whatsoever at this point, beyond deep self-burial (self-deportation?), surely it would be in the public record. I can find no reference to such evidence.

I do not know what the implications could be if the core has in fact already melted through the floor and out of the building for one or more units. Probably it simply means that cleanup is going to be even harder than anyone has yet articulated. I.e., there are probably no urgent, unappreciated risks associated with a core that is deep in the ground instead of in a wrecked reactor building — but I could be wrong. I do not have a good grasp of what the differential risks are for a situation like this. Before worrying about that, it would be interesting for someone with access to TEPCO to ask them why they believe the Unit 2 core is anywhere within the Unit 2 reactor building.


The Engineers’ View of Fukushima

By: lobster Tuesday November 1, 2011 8:25 pm
Fukushima #3 Steam Rising (Photo: daveeza, flickr)

Fukushima #3 Steam Rising (Photo: daveeza, flickr)

This is a must-read for those of you who have been following the Fukushima accident.  Authors from the Institute for Electronic and Electrical Engineers reconstruct the early days of the Fukushima accident with the latest public information.  As stated in the margin:

THIS REPORT is based on interviews with officials from the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the International Atomic Energy Agency, local governments, and with other experts in nuclear engineering, as well as a review of hundreds of pages of official reports.

Six key technical lessons are laid out, but the meat of the article is the reconstructed story of what was going on in the days leading up to the explosions at Units 1, 2, 3 and 4.  If there is interest, I’ll be around over the next couple of days to talk about the broader story in the comments section.


By: lobster Tuesday September 27, 2011 8:56 pm

Not many links and no radiation in this post.  Instead, I want to test a frame with my friends at FDL.

In 2008, President Obama ran on the Hope and Change platform, not as a liberal. It was clear enough then that he was a centrist, establishment candidate. He allowed people to see liberal “shadows” of his positions, but I do not recall ever thinking that he was advocating liberal ideas. That was an honest campaign. Voting for an African-American with the last name of “Obama” was liberating; voting for a intelligent, articulate and well-educated professional was a relief; and voting against the ditto-heads on the right was a necessity, but I do not recall ever thinking that I was voting for a liberal candidate. I voted against John McCain and You-Know-Who.

Three years later, Obama has governed more or less as Joe Lieberman would have done, even though it was already crystal clear that the Democratic Party would reject that kind of behavior. If voters want Republicans, they will vote for Republicans. The base of the party rejected Lieberman and Democrats voted against him in his independent Senate run; Short-Ride will never again hold elected office. This is the playbook that Barack Obama has been working from. He won the election, so that was his choice to make.

What I object to, and what I want to name and frame, is his current effort to pretend to be a liberal. This half-assed “jobs” bill is a joke, but just enough of a non-joke to make it hard for us on the Left to call him out. As far as I am concerned, it is too little, too late. We know who he is, what he has done, and what he is doing. He is polisquatting.

He has repeatedly, clearly and forcefully demonstrated his disdain for the “Professional Left”, yet now that the debt ceiling disaster that he engineered and encouraged in the ridiculous hope of obtaining his Grand Bargain of austerity, cuts for Medicare and Social Security, massive giveaways to the rich, and free money for financial elites (aka “miserable examples of humanity”) as far into the future as the eye can see (in the form of high real interest rates that go with nominal deflation); now that that total failure of a gameplan has made it clear to the country that his preferred bargaining technique of prepitulation is not even an attempt to protect the weakest Americans; now that his poll numbers are finally and probably irreversibly declining because it is finally clear to even the politically disengaged that he stands for nothing besides dropping freedom bombs on brown people and seeking harmony and Kumbaya singalongs with the very people who will do anything to America and Americans to emasculate him, to destroy the Left, and to impoverish their own parents as they try to crush all that is recognizably civilized in this country; NOW, when there is no chance of reducing unemployment before the next election, and after the tax cuts for the richest Americans are in the bank for another two years, NOW we are supposed to believe that he is actually anything other than Joe Lieberman’s long-lost brother.

Give us some credit, Mr. President. Run for reelection on who you are, and on the policies you really believe in. Win or lose next fall (and I suspect you will win) you are destroying what the Left stands for by squatting where Ted Kennedy proudly stood. Don’t pretend to care about the weak and the unfortunate while Tim Geithner is the Secretary of the Treasury. It is clear that you stand for corporate strength and bankster justice. Run on your record.  I dare you.


Learning from a near-death experience?

By: lobster Sunday September 18, 2011 5:55 pm

Tokyo (photo: Sprengben)

Here is the most startling couple of paragraphs that I have seen in the news this week:

Former Prime Minister [of Japan] Naoto Kan said in an interview with Kyodo News that he learned shortly after the nuclear crisis erupted at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant that around 30 million people in Tokyo and surrounding prefectures may have to be evacuated in a worst-case scenario.

Kan told Kyodo that he contemplated the chaos that would have ensued if such a measure had been taken. ”It was a crucial moment when I wasn’t sure whether Japan could continue to function as a state.”

The man who was Prime Minister of Japan just a few weeks ago, and (crucially) during the earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima accident, is telling us that the Fukushima accident was an event of the order of the Cuban missile crisis for the nation of Japan. Moreover, his fear was not confined to a single moment in time.

After the March 11 earthquake and tsunami damaged the plant, Kan instructed several entities to simulate what would happen in a worst-case scenario and received assessments that people living in areas located 200 to 250 kilometers from the power plant, encompassing a large swath of Tokyo, would have to be evacuated.

”I felt that the risk was at its highest during the first 10 days (after the disaster struck),” said Kan, who resigned last month as prime minister…

The anxiety extended for more than a week, no doubt involving a large fraction of the political, business and scientific elite of the country. How did they respond? What has been learned? I do not have answers to these questions. Here are some facts from the first six months after the accident which may offer hints.

o  The prime minister resigned under pressure. The new prime minister is the seventh in only six years. Is the government itself in charge, or are these rotating villains? How strong can the national government really be with this much rapid turnover?

o  TEPCO continues to exist as a weakly regulated monopoly utility, though it is trading at around one-fourth of the price pre-accident.  (See chart here, and go back one year.) Early calls to nationalize the company have faded. As far as I can tell, no one from the company has been charged with negligence, mismanagement, nonfeasance, or anything else.

o  The TEPCO CEO resigned a couple of months after the accident began, but his replacement is a TEPCO insider who has spent his entire career with the company. Rotating villain or reformer? Too soon to say.

o  TEPCO will sell about $2.5 billion worth of real estate in October to put toward compensation for the accident.

o  Most nuclear plants in the country are off-line. The new prime minister is worried about hysteresis in Japan (similar to Krugman’s fears of hysteresis in the US).

There will be more repercussions as time goes on, and we will learn more about what actually happened, too. As I said up top, the biggest news seemed to be that the government clearly recognized an existential threat to the country at the time.  That is worth remembering as the narrative continues to unfold.


By: lobster Friday September 16, 2011 9:32 pm
"God bless our brave oil billionaires" by Steve Rhodes on flickr

"God bless our brave oil billionaires" by Steve Rhodes on flickr

According to John Boehner, Job creators in America are essentially on strike because America isn’t a good place to do business anymore. I disagree. They aren’t on strike. They simply have nothing to offer America other than a great big “F*ck you!” when the president happens to be black. But let’s explore Boehner’s boner for wealthy strikers.

Chinese job creators are getting busy: the annual growth rate in China has come down to around 10% this year. So we know there is money to be made selling things in America. Job creators in India are doing pretty well, too: annual growth rate there is a mere 8%. Evidently American job creators have no lead left in their pencils. After all, they have direct access to a highly educated workforce; a compliant President willing to do their bidding (see here and here) or too weak to say no to Bill Daly; and Congressmen who will do pretty much anything for a little help in bed.

According to John Boehner, it is ok if wealthy Americans ignore the suffering around the country because they want deals like the one Paulson got for Goldman; they have the right to strike, whatever the consequences. It is ok for hedge fund managers to hide their money offshore even though they regularly get tax evasion amnesty and low tax rates, instead of investing that money in American ideas building American jobs. Boehner is cool with VC strikes.

If a fireman or a policeman or other public employee wants the right to strike, though, Conservatives howl in protest.

March 11, 2011

By: lobster Sunday September 11, 2011 1:39 pm

Six months ago today, a titanic earthquake rocked Japan and launched a catastrophic tsunami that topped 130 feet in some places.  20,000 people died or are still missing (16,000 dead, 4,000 missing). Today, while Americans mourn the deaths of 3,000 killed in the 9/11 attacks, the people of Japan are still struggling to comprehend the greatest challenge to their nation since World War II. It will take years to recover.  Take a minute to look through this moving slide show.

If Eric Cantor or Ron Paul were Japanese politicians, would they really be able to yell “F*ck you!” to the people they were elected to represent?  I can’t help but call out these two particularly callous bastards on a day like today.

The earthquake was one of the five largest in recorded history, but the damage it caused was small compared to the destruction wrought by the tsunami. Whole towns were washed away with little or no warning, and one nuclear power station in particular  – Fukushima I — was undone by the flood. In time, we will come to understand why other nuclear power stations in the area made it through the catastrophic natural disasters without melting down. In time, we will also come to understand the response of TEPCO and Japanese government to warnings about the vulnerability of Fukushima I to tsunamis in particular and to poor management in general. A longer time will pass before we understand the response of TEPCO, Japan and the world to the accidents themselves. Today is a day to remember the lives lost six months ago and perhaps also to write down what meaning there seems to be today.

From my perspective, the chain of meltdowns in an advanced industrial country, the widespread release of radiation, the evacuations completed (and the evacuations still to come) together portend big changes in how humanity is responding to the combined challenges of increasing energy demand, anthropogenic global warming, rapacious capitalism, and weak governments with powerful militaries.

Italy, Germany and Japan have each forsworn nuclear power in the last six months. Germany will run its existing plants for a few years and then decommission them without replacing them. Italians voted overwhelmingly never to allow nuclear power in Italy. The new government of Japan is on a path like that of Germany, committing to building no new nuclear power plants but running existing plants that are deemed safe by local governments. One year ago, 30% of Japan’s energy supply was nuclear. With only 18 of 54 nuclear power plants running today, and with several fossil fuel plants also damaged by the earthquake, Japan is operating with an astonishing 40% reduction in energy generation capacity. Great sacrifices are being made every day by the people of Japan as a result. How will this enormous societal tension be resolved? Will the government take responsibility for the safety of its people when the threats emanate from the fat cats that pay them to look the other way?

The chain of events unfolding in Japan since March 11, 2011, has all the drama and elements of the great challenges facing humanity globally. I’m watching to see what happens when the whole mess is supercharged by a major nuclear accident.

Responsibility is about who cleans up the mess, not about who takes the risk. Risk-takers today are celebrated and rewarded for their follies even after calamities they contributed to or caused outright occur. How can it be that TEPCO still exists? Why shouldn’t their shareholders have been wiped out?How can it be that Goldman Sachs still has its corporate charter? What about AIG? The great oil companies are not only thriving after Deepwater Horizon, they are thriving while “paying” negative taxes in the US, offshoring their profits, and cutting jobs in America.

Most national politicians today are weak-minded and without morals. In the face of unprecedented failures around the globe, politicians assign responsibility to the weak and the unfortunate [Evacuating cities! Cutting the safety net in the middle of a global depression!? Recruiting the poor to fight stupid wars that make us less secure?! Cutting veterans' benefits!? Austerity for the Spanish!?] while celebrating the Giants of Misery with ridiculous monikers like “job creators”. WTF? The Giants of Misery (aka MOTU) are obviously NOT creating jobs. They are common thieves and racists ["We'll create jobs when the president stops being black."] who need to grow up or go to jail.

Today is of course also a significant ten-year anniversary. The US responded to an attack by a small terrorist group headquartered in Afghanistan (and possibly also Pakistan at the time) by killing tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis, waging the longest (still running) war in US history, dropping freedom bombs from unmanned aircraft on weddings and warriors alike, and running roughshod over decades of established civil rights laws and crystal clear Geneva conventions. How can it be that Dick Cheney is not in jail? How can it be that Don Rumsfeld was on TV this morning instead of in a cell block? How did a fool like G W Bush ever even get to be President of the United States?


Fourth Meltdown at Fukushima

By: lobster Tuesday August 9, 2011 2:35 pm
"fukushima #3 steam rises"

"fukushima #3 steam rises" by daveeza on flickr

Soon to be widely reported and today in Asahi news there was evidently a fourth meltdown at Fukushima, on March 21.   The fuel in Unit One had been cooled, but then things got out of control again.  There were significant radiation releases to the environment (which we discussed at length here at FDL at the time, in comments) which were attributed to the first big rain after the first phase of the accident.  [UPDATE: TEPCO is now contesting this interpretation of the data, so the story is still developing.]

This is a really big deal!  The rises in radiation on March 21 were visible on monitors in Tokyo and elsewhere — I remember following them.  It remains to be seen how much of the contamination of the environment outside the plant itself came from this fourth meltdown. Coupled with the front page NYT article blasting the Japanese government’s handling of the knowledge they had of the radioactive plumes, it is clear that the Fukushima accident is continuing AND continuing to have strong repercussions.

I strongly recommend reading this Asahi article. Here is a quote:

Between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. on March 21, the pressure within the pressure vessel of the No. 3 reactor core increased sharply to about 110 atmospheres, likely caused by an explosion within the pressure vessel due to a lack of cooling of the fuel. That was probably the start of the second meltdown, Tanabe said.

As for the sudden pressure increase, Tanabe points to the possibility that the clump of melted fuel in the pressure vessel may have fallen apart due to a lack of cooling. The magma-like substance with high temperatures may have leaked out of the vessel and emitted large amounts of steam when it came in contact with water.

At the No. 3 reactor building, black smoke spewed from the reactor building on the afternoons of March 21 and March 23. Tanabe said the smoke may have been the result of what is referred to as a core-concrete reaction, when melted fuel comes in contact with the concrete of the containment vessel. Such a reaction typically occurs when insufficient cooling follows a core meltdown.

[At the time,] TEPCO officials said the black smoke was probably caused by rubber or lubricant oil catching fire.

New developments in Fukushima

By: lobster Tuesday August 2, 2011 10:48 pm

The wires this morning are buzzing with new developments at the Fukushima One Nuclear Power Station.  Two new extraordinarily readings of radiation have been found outside of reactors. The levels are so high that anyone simply walking by could be killed (details and links below).   I’m not quite sure what to think yet.  It seems most likely that this is evidence of loss of containment back in March, during the most intense week of the accident.  However, I cannot tell whether (a) the person in this picture will likely be dead within two weeks (TEPCO says no), (b) this is evidence of new containment failures (seems unlikely), (c) there will be several more astounding finds of high radiation in unexpected places on site (nearly certain?), (d) there has been no effort to look for radiation leaks yet (more below) and/or (e) there has been a systematic underreporting of the onsite radiation dangers.


(a) Will the man in this picture die in the next two weeks?  If the caption on the photograph is to be believed, then the answer is, “maybe, maybe not.” He is holding a radiation monitor mounted on a boom.  The boom appears to be three times his height.  Assume he is two meters tall (a conservative assumption).  Then he is standing approximately six meters from a radiation source of at least 10 Sieverts per hour.  (According to TEPCO, the monitor cannot register levels above 10 Sieverts per hour and was maxed out.)  Radiation like this goes in all directions, and decreases in intensity inversely proportional to the distance.  10 Sv/ hour divided by 36 yields an approximate dose of 280 mSv / hour.  The man is not walking away.  Let’s say he stood there for 1 minute or less; now the dose he received would be something like 4-5 mSv total.  TEPCO reports that the workers who found the new hot spot received only 4 mSv.  That is not a dangerous dose, but I have to say that this appears to be either extremely lucky or a lie.  The photographer took this picture, why?  Because they photograph everything they do?  No, more likely because this was an extraordinary finding that was being documented.  It takes time to recognize and document an extraordinary moment.  As I have posted before, most of the thousands of workers TEPCO has cycled through are not particularly well-trained (some working at the site were homeless before the earthquake/tsunami, trying to make ends meet by taking short-term, dangerous contract work at the nuclear power station).  I would be really surprised if the man in the photo stood there for only 1 minute.  Assume it was 20 minutes.  Also, I doubt that he is six meters away from the source.  More likely, he was something like 3 meters away.  Finally, the monitor maxed out at 10 Sv / hour.  We have no idea how much stronger the actual source is.  What if it were 4 times stronger?  If those assumptions were correct, then the exposure would have been 4 x 4 x 20 times greater, or 1.5 Sv.  At this level of gamma exposure, recovery would be expected (with treatment).  If he stood there for an hour, death would be expected (even with treatment).  So, probably he will live but I have a very hard time accepting the TEPCO estimate which implies he hustled away from the scene in the photo after about a minute.  It could be true!  However, TEPCO also acknowledges that this finding of the highest levels of radiation onsite since the earthquake are at “a level that could lead to incapacitation or death after just several seconds of exposure.”


(b) Immediately after this announcement, a second announcement of a stupendously high radiation reading where it shouldn’t be was made:  5 Sv/hour inside reactor building one, just adjacent to the area in the photograph linked above.  It seems likely that upon finding the first stupendously high reading, they are tracking down just where the pipes that contain whatever is bad lead to.  Is it likely that there are new containment failures?  Radiation is really easy to measure.  To think that thousands of workers over nearly five months have failed to notice these stupendous levels beggars belief.  However, it is also really very difficult to come up with any scenario that is moving the radioactive stuff that is in the pipes around those same five months later.  Most likely: the company knew these were problem areas and is just getting around to measuring them.  They are probably really shocked at just how high the levels are…


(c) Which is why I’m betting that we’ll be hearing about a lot more very bad radiation leaks in the coming weeks.  There were three meltdowns on site, after all.  There are still known to be daily, uncontrolled releases of radiation into the environment.  The site is large and was seriously damaged by the tsunami and earthquake and explosions.  If there is some kind of radioactive inventory in one section of piping, I’m willing to bet good money that we’ll be hearing about more rather than less.  The only “good” part of this news is that this is all on-site trouble.  These shockingly high levels of radiation mainly mean trouble for the people cleaning up rather than new trouble for the general population of Japan.


(d) Returning to the strengths of these radiation sources for a moment…I just cannot understand how these problems eluded detection for five months. The proposition is simply hard to comprehend.  These are levels that one expects to find inside the containment, where humans are not expected to go for 5-10 years.  These are levels that would trip any reasonably sensitive monitor on site, of which there are undoubtedly many.  The only explanation I can come up with is based on really severe triage.  I.e., the continuing dangers of hydrogen explosions from radiolysis-induced H sources inside the containment, further core melting, management of more than 100,000 tonnes of water highly contaminated with radioactive elements, etc, etc, etc, have meant that there has not been time before now to survey the site at a very basic level.  If you haven’t realized how bad the situation at Fukushima is before now, these announcements should make it pretty clear.  Discovering a 10 Sv/hour source of radiation outside all the reactor buildings nearly five months after the earthquake is truly astounding.  Looking ahead to the looming 10th anniversary for an analogy, it would be something like finding out that there was a fifth plane years later.


(e) It is clear from the foregoing that there has been a systematic underreporting of the radiation dangers faced by the workers at Fukushima One.  As the gravity of today’s announcements sinks in, the associated further loss of confidence in TEPCO and in the Japanese government will be tangible.  People will legitimately ask what else is not being reported.  That is a big part of what makes a nuclear accident different.  Even if the health risks have been managed well, events like this severely and appropriately erode citizens’ trust in government and big business.  Questions about the food supply are already taking their toll in Japan.  Something like this makes the possibility of further catastrophe seem less unlikely.  Further catastrophe is less likely every day, but perception trumps reality when reality is abstract.