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Alert: Nuclear (and Economic) Meltdown In Progress

Wednesday, March 16, 2011, 3:05 PM

This post and its related comments are dedicated to covering the ongoing situation in Japan, which we continue to believe is more serious than official reports portray. 


Important note: 

It is with a heavy heart that I am now issuing the highest level alert to my readers that I have to date. The threshold for an alert is one or more world events that personally cause me to take action.

I'm making this alert publicly available less than 36 hours after releasing it to my enrolled subscribers given its importance and the speed at which events are accelerating.

The substance of this alert centers on the unknown aftershocks that may result from the world's third largest economy, Japan, rapidly shifting from an exporter of funding to a consumer of it. In situations like these, we are by definition operating with incomplete and often confusing information, and events are developing more rapidly than they can be fully analyzed and internalized. We regret in advance any mistakes that we might make due to making calls and decisions in this highly fluid environment.


This alert warns you that major world-changing events are now underway and that your personal preparations for an uncertain future should either be completed or take on a new sense of urgency. On the basis of the information contained here and in the past two days of posts, I am personally ratcheting up my preparations, making purchases, and topping off what needs to be topped off.

Important caveat:  At this point in time, I cannot fully support 100% of my concerns with hard data and evidence. Some of what has tipped me into this state of urgency is data, evidence, and stories that I can point to. Some is due to the absence of data or information, the remainder results from watching market gyrations and correlations shift into new patterns, which tell me something is afoot.

I have not been this concerned since October of 2008.

Some Background

Within hours of learning of the event at Reactor #1 in Japan, I had looked at the evidence available, drawn a few conclusions, and then checked to see what the experts were saying. Never quite sure of what sort of personal and/or professional limitations are in play, I rarely start with anyone's assessment but my own. It's part of trusting myself and it has worked remarkably well for me and my subscribers over the years.

Here's what I wrote in the blog on the morning of Saturday, March 12, 2011 on Japan's nuclear incident:

There have been reports from Japan's nuclear agency that radioactive cesium and iodine were detected outside of the facility, which can only happen if the core has been exposed somehow. Perhaps that's all under control now, but the evidence for very high temperatures, the explosion of the containment building, a 12-mile evacuation zone, and the presence of cesium and iodine all indicate that perhaps the complete situation is not being shared with the public.

If you live in Japan, you should be heading well upwind of this facility and have potassium iodide pills on hand. I would personally be reading the wind forecasts and assuring that I was upwind.

My expertise involves making sense of the world in relatively short order. It also helps me smell B.S. remarkably quickly, especially from official sources. The nuclear situation in Japan struck me from the outset as being rather more serious than described, and this has proven true. I take no pride in this particular 'victory,' and instead feel the burden of having to be the bearer of bad news.

The nature of this alert is to let you know that I consider the chance of a renewed round of economic and fiscal crises to result from the chaos that is currently engulfing Japan and the MENA region to be extremely high.

A Global Meltdown

For decades, the world has been running its own nuclear-style reaction, only in the currency and debt markets, where exponentially-accelerating piles of debt and money have spun about faster and faster in a gigantic, complex, coordinated reaction, the core of which is, and always has been, the United States.

At the very center of this ungainly money reactor is the main fuel pile itself, the US Treasury market. With any interruption to smooth flow of money through this pile, it will immediately become unstable.

The threat I see goes like this:

Stage 1:  The world watches, riveted, as Japan suffers a tragic and horrible earthquake and tsunami, but as horrifying as these are, they are localized phenomenon affecting a relatively small percentage of the country. The real trouble lurks within damaged nuclear plants, which are now ruined and will never again produce electricity for Japan, creating instant shortages that will take years to remedy. Worse, a dangerous plume of radioactivity is carried south by winds. Tokyo partially empties and shuts down for all practical purposes.

Stage 2:  The abrupt slow down of the world's third largest economy alters the smooth flow of cash around the globe, and even causes reversals of some other long-standing flows. Chaotic eddies emerge in a decades-old pattern of ever-increasing flows of money into and out of the money centers, and various carry-trade and other interest-rate-sensitive strategies blow up. Manufacturing in Japan screeches to a halt, disrupting just-in-time manufacturing strategies both internally and across the globe.

Stage 3:  In order to fund the rebuilding effort, Japan has to buy a lot of items from foreign suppliers at the same time that its exports plunge precipitously. At first Japan simply does not participate in US Treasury auctions, leading to a shortage of buyers. But eventually Japan has to sell some of its vast hoard of US bonds in order to pay for external items needed for its reconstruction. Further, insurance companies, huge holders of US bonds, face stiff liability claims in the wake of the worst natural disaster to hit a heavily industrialized center and are forced to redeem enormous amounts of Treasury paper. US Treasury yields begin to climb.

Stage 4:  Continuing unrest in the MENA region serves to keep oil elevated and local funding needs high, while Europe's weaker players (the PIIGS) continue to slip under the waves. Money continues to ebb away from the US Treasury market. Forced by circumstance, the Federal Reserve reverses its linguistic course and opens the monetary floodgates once again. There's nothing like a crisis to justify more money printing, especially to a one-trick pony (the Fed) that only knows how to stamp its hoof on the 'print' button.

Stage 5:  An increasingly chaotic monetary and fiscal situation spills over into the derivatives arena, creating a number of financial accidents. Stressed governments find themselves in more of an arguing mood than a pull-together-and-sing-Kumbaya mood, and agreements are hard to come by. Banks begin to fail again, global trade falls off, unrest continues to build, and then it happens - a currency crisis.

Stage 6:  Everything changes. Faster than you think.

I wish I could completely quantify and justify the reason for this assessment, but I cannot at this time. Yes, we've got some very serious market turbulence to point to:

From ZeroHedge:

Japan's nuclear crisis has deepened and we deeply regret to say that there is now the real possibility of a nuclear catastrophe. Investor panic has set in with the Nikkei down over 16.5% in two days and the Topic index down by 17% - its worst two-day loss since the 1987 Wall Street stock market crash.

The cost to insure Japanese debt has surged to a record with credit-default swaps protecting Japanese government debt for five years soaring 27 basis points to a record of 125 basis points.

One UBS trader said that the deteriorating nuclear crisis had led to "near panic across local credit-default swap markets." While most equity indices and commodities have fallen, some sharply, gold has remained resilient and is down 1% in US dollar terms and is higher in Australian dollars which like other so called 'commodity' currencies has come under pressure in recent days.

(Source

The nuclear meltdown has led to a market meltdown. Market breaks can quickly lead to supply shortages and other unpleasant realities.

Shifting Baselines

The problem with these fast-moving situations is that everything shifts from beneath your feet and events fundamentally change so quickly that you do not have time to adjust properly before the next insult arrives.

For example, I pride myself on ingesting massive amounts of information and processing it logically and relatively completely. But right now I am overwhelmed by too many situations. I should know who the opposition leaders are in Bahrain, how many troops have crossed from Saudi Arabia, what sorts of equipment they brought (as an indication of whether they plan to stay for a little while or a long while), and so forth. But I only know that troops have crossed the border; I consider this to be a bad sign for global oil price stability, but know very little else.

And I am not entirely clear on the inner machinations of the European debt crisis any more. I am completely consumed by following the developing nuclear crisis in Japan and trying to determine how that could, will, should impact our readers in Japan, and the world economic landscape.

The problem is captured perfectly in this post by Debu

Another slightly surreal day in Tokyo which I largely spent buying food in case we have to stay indoors for an extended period due to fallout and/or if food supplies are disrupted by distribution problems. (I have been remiss in my prepping, I admit. I will spare you my lame excuses as to why.) Near pandemonium in some supermarkets which surprised me given the generally anodyne tone of the reactor situation coverage on the TV. Possibly it is simply worries about empty shelves feeding on itself.

Still, despite the devastation a few hundred kilometres away in the areas affected by the earthquake/tsunami (words fail), in Tokyo we are only inconvenienced in trivial ways. And so, the sense of unreality. There were emails today from my Japanese mates saying they were resigned to there being no hockey for awhile because the rinks will be closed because of the power cuts (and serious damage to the roof of our home rink). Or, whether it is milk is hard to come by (but still lots of wine and whiskey available), or some shops are closed to save power, or limited train service, etc. it is all inconsequential trifles. Given what is happening up north it is enough cause a bit of survivors' guilt.

Many thanks to all on this forum for the info and the insights. It has, and will continue to be I suspect, my best source of information and advice.

One name for this process of only very slowly coming to grips with an enormous change when it happens at a slow enough pace is "shifting baselines." It means that if you had put these same people to sleep a week ago and woke them up today, the shock of the reality of today's situation would immediately jar them into action. But somehow, as things change seemingly gradually from hour to hour and day to day, the change itself can prove oddly paralyzing, and this is because our baselines shift. What would have been abnormal yesterday is normal today.

Last week the residents of Tokyo were sympathizing with the plight of their neighbors to the north, and then they were hearing about some controllable problems with some nuclear plants, and then they were hearing about maybe some more serious difficulties, and today they find themselves scrambling to empty store shelves and get out of Dodge, so to speak.

(Reuters) - Radiation wafted from an earthquake-stricken nuclear power plant toward Tokyo on Tuesday, sparking panic in one of the world's biggest and most densely populated cities.

Women and children packed into the departure lounge at an airport, supermarkets ran low on rice and other supplies and frightened residents, tourists and expatriates either stayed indoors or simply left the city.

"I'm not too worried about another earthquake. It's radiation that scares me," said Masashi Yoshida, cradling his 5-month-old daughter Hana.

The nail-biting eased in the afternoon after Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano appeared on national television saying radiation levels at the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear-power complex had fallen dramatically since morning.

But confidence in the government is shaken and many decided not to take chances, especially after radiation levels in Saitama, near Tokyo, were 40 times normal -- not enough to cause human damage but enough to stoke fears in the ultra-modern and hyper-efficient metropolis of 12 million people.

Many hoarded food and other supplies and stayed indoors. Don Quixote, a multistory, 24-hour general store in Tokyo's Roppongi district, was sold out of radios, flashlights, candles, fuel cans and sleeping bags on Tuesday.

At another market near Tokyo's Yotsuya station, an entire aisle was nearly empty on both sides, its instant noodles, bread and pastry gone since Friday's earthquake and tsunami killed at least 10,000 people nationwide and plunged Japan into a twin nuclear and humanitarian crisis.

(Source)

Time to Prepare

Okay, folks, this is not a drill.

Events have now sped up to the point that we cannot predict what will happen next. At this point a systemic banking crisis, complete political upheaval in one or more countries, a currency crisis, or a debt crisis are all within the realm of the possible.

This is the most difficult Alert I've ever had to write, because I know I have not yet processed all the necessary information to truly assess the risks. I am operating on gut instinct here, and several of you have already reminded me to trust myself. Thank you. That's what I am doing now.

The risks I am most concerned about striking outside of Japan are:

  • A derivative-fueled banking crisis. Another banking crisis could shut down international monetary flows for a period of time, which would severely impact your ability to access your money, conduct trades, or otherwise take care of business.
  • Critical shortages. Already we know that much of Japan's manufacturing output will be crippled for a while due to quake damaged plants being destroyed, workers failing to show up as they attend to their families in a moment of deep crisis, and electricity shortages due to destroyed power plants being taken permanently off-line. How much and which products will be affected will take weeks of effort to discover, as our highly integrated global supply network has an unknowable number of nodes that originate in or pass through Japan.
  • A global GDP insult. Building on the idea of critical supply chain disruptions and shortages, it is a safe bet that the world economy will take a hit now that various products cannot be manufactured and sold. Rather than a gentle slow-down that can be easily managed, the risk I see here is akin to a large wrench being tossed into a delicate transmission. The risk springs less from how much you slow down, but rather how fast you do it. This global GDP hit will further expose the weakness at the periphery, probably taking down the weaker players once and for all.

The main story line here is that Japan is a critical and embedded player in both the financial and productive economies, and it has suddenly, almost instantly, been taken off-line. We don't know what might happen next, but we should be prepared for anything.

My Advice

Recently I had advised readers to be ready for a big downturn linked to the idea of a QE cessation. I am going to retract that somewhat (almost entirely), because this Japan crisis will provide all the political cover necessary for more printing.

Nonetheless, a market rout is on, but for entirely different reasons than I first projected.

At any rate, the time to move to cash from stocks is slipping quickly past, if not already gone, but if you haven't made that move yet, you should consider waiting for the next "Bernanke bounce" in which a few hundred billion are tossed into the kitty to stabilize the markets.

This alert is going to be a living document in the sense that I will be constantly updating it as time goes on and events unfold. The first stage of my advice centers on the basics. You need to have all of your basic preparations completed at this time. Food, water, medical kits, shelter, cash out of the bank, and all the rest should absolutely be in place at this time.

Get the basics done. Now.

  • If you live on the west coast of the US, you must prepare for a fallout event even though this is extremely unlikely due to the distances involved. The concern here is that nearly 40 years of spent fuel is stored onsite and apparently boiling away its water and possibly burning. This means buying KI tablets for at least a week for every member of your family and being prepared to spend up to a week 'taped up' inside your house if it comes to that. Plastic, duct tape, and board games are what you need. I hate having to even suggest this sort of preparation. But while remote, there's always the chance that a quirk in the air flow patterns could lead to less dilution than expected across the ocean and that a relatively small area of the west coast could receive a surprisingly strong concentration of contamination.  Again, this is very remote, but so was the idea of four plants all melting down at the same time.
  • Get what cash you can out of the bank. You can always put it back later on. Keep it somewhere safe.
  • Move any money you can from less liquid to more liquid vehicles. You want to be able to access your money in a hurry should that become necessary. Re-read Taking Control of Your Personal Finances if necessary. I outline all the reasons and a few methods for 'becoming more liquid.'
  • Top off your fuel tanks.
  • Buy extra food at the grocery store.
  • Have long-term storage food put aside.
  • Take medicines? Be sure to get extras.

I am still holding onto all of my gold and silver holdings as I cannot imagine any possible policy responses that will bolster anyone's faith in fiat currencies. That said, I am expecting short-term declines, possibly significant, in the US paper price for these metals on the basis of a liquidity crisis skimming the speculative component of their price off the top. I really don't know how much this will be, but it's certainly not insignificant.

When you stock up on things at the store(s), think also about friends family, neighbors, and all the other assorted people you care about who have almost certainly done little or nothing to prepare. What would they like? Don't overlook comfort and luxury items that command a mental premium in a time of crisis. Chocolate comes to mind.

Timing

As always, I have no idea if anything is going to transpire or not, or when. How's that for indecisive? But I can tell you that the pressures are larger than they’ve ever been throughout this long emergency and that conditions are ripe for an avalanche. My sincerest hope is that this will all blow over. But hope alone is a terrible strategy, and so we prepare.

My best guess is that the situation in Japan will unfold over the next two weeks, with a full blown funding and fiscal crisis (of confidence) blossoming there over that time. Already we are seeing credit spreads on Japan's sovereign debt begin to skyrocket, meaning that an increasing chance of a sovereign default is being priced into the debt markets. This is the same dynamic we saw with Greece, then Ireland, Iceland, too, and so on. Only this time it is happening to the world's third largest economy.

Two weeks after that, I expect that the first real product shortages and associated work stoppages will begin to hit the US and European economies. I expect the difficulties to surface first in Europe followed by the US. Somewhere in this zone we will get the next solid commitment to print, print, print, probably as a joint exercise of both continents.

Taken together, I think we've got at least a month until things have shifted enough that preparations will become either difficult or irresponsible.

Use this next month very wisely.

Remember, it's better to be a year early than a day late. So get out there and prepare responsibly.

Above all, it is our duty to remain calm, focused, and helpful to those around us. We are all experiencing anxiety and fear to greater and lesser degrees. It is my hope that we can use the privacy of the comment thread below to work through whatever issues arise for each other, whatever those may be, and to help each other make the best decisions we can in an increasingly chaotic and uncertain environment.

Welcome to the nexus of multiple exponential curves. We always knew things would speed up along the way, and so they have. Let's do the best we can.

Events are unfolding in a manner entirely consistent with the framework I laid out in my recent  Guide to Navigating the Coming Crisis.  As the report predicts: things are speeding up, events are progressing from the outside in, and soon enough everything will be substantially different than you remember and it won't be completely obvious how that happened due to the phenomenon of shifting baselines. Reading it should be a particular priority for those with family or substantial investments to protect. Click here to read the free executive summary.

Below you will find the original post I started on Saturday, hours after the explosion in the first reactor. It has since become a primary source on the unfolding tragedy for tens of thousands of people around the world - largely due to the extremely knowledgable contributions of experts in the CM.com community. More to come as circumstances develop. 

Your faithful information scout,
Chris Martenson


A Note on Prepping Responsibly

To prepare responsibly, you should do it before a crisis hits, when there are plenty of goods, food, and other necessities available for purchase and your purchases actually increase the local resilience of your community.  After a calamity has struck, say after the earthquake in Northern Japan, then any buying or accumulating you might do can be perceived as an act of hoarding, something we'd like to see everyone avoid. 

If you have not done so, you need to be sure that you have covered all of the basic steps recommended in our What Should I Do? guide. 

At the very least, you'll get peace of mind and have the chance to be among the people who are in a position to help others when the time comes. At the most, it could be the difference between a rather miserable piece of time spent wishing you’d done more to prepare and a relatively comfortable stretch of time.


Japan's Evolving Nuclear Accident

An important caveat: This is a developing situation. We are operating on limited information and we run the very strong risk of getting something wrong here. For those of you living in Japan, this is a very serious incident deserving your close attention. For those living in the Americas, this is not yet a source of serious worry, because even in a worst-case scenario, a lot of distance separates the two countries. Dilution, distance, and time all serve to mitigate the effects of accidental radiation release. The latest information from officials is that radiation levels are declining and that a meltdown is not imminent.

There has been a horrible turn of events in Japan with the violent explosion of the building in which Reactor #1 of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was housed. The design of these particular plants includes an inner, very solid steel containment dome. We do not yet have any reliable information about the status of that vessel, but the evidence suggests that the event is not yet contained.

These three still images from the video show that the reactor housing disappeared in an instant, speaking to an enormously violent explosion.

By appearances, that's pulverized concrete dust, indicating that a violent explosion occurred. We can be certain that the outer containment structure is completely missing.

This is a horrible event.

Right now I am deeply concerned by the lack of information and official stories that simply do not add up. Here's the latest on CNN.com:

(CNN) -- An explosion at an earthquake-struck nuclear plant was not caused by damage to the nuclear reactor but by a pumping system that failed as crews tried to bring the reactor's temperature down, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said Saturday.

Workers at the Fukushima Daiichi plant have begun flooding the reactor containment structure with sea water to bring the reactor's temperature down to safe levels, he said. The effort is expected to take two days.

Radiation levels have fallen since the explosion and there is no immediate danger, Edano said. But authorities were nevertheless expanding the evacuation to include a radius of 20 kilometers (about 12.5 miles) around the plant. The evacuation previously reached out to 10 kilometers.

(Source

"A pumping system that failed?"  Sorry, that one does not pass the logic test.

Point number one, the building utterly vaporized with a visible shock wave. That's no "pumping accident;" that's a massive, high-energy explosion. Point number two, there are only two viable candidates that could create that kind of explosive force in this situation: (1) a hydrogen/oxygen explosion, and (2) a sudden water-into-steam 'flash boiling' event.

Both point to extremely high temperatures being present. In the first case, the thermal decomposition of water into hydrogen (and oxygen) requires extremely high temperatures, preferably well over 1000 degrees Celsius:

Thermal decomposition, also called thermolysis, is defined as a chemical reaction whereby a chemical substance breaks up into at least two chemical substances when heated. At elevated temperatures water molecules split into their atomic components hydrogen and oxygen.

For example at 2200 °C about three percent of all H2O molecules are dissociated into various combinations of hydrogen and oxygen atoms, mostly H, H2, O, O2, and OH. Other reaction products like H2O2 or HO2 remain minor.

At the very high temperature of 3000 °C more than half of the water molecules are decomposed, but at ambient temperatures only one molecule in 100 trillion dissociates by the effect of heat. However, catalysts can accelerate the dissociation of the water molecules at lower temperatures.

(Source

This is my favored explanation because of the very brief flash of light seen at the beginning of the explosions sequence (see images below). Hydrogen only very weakly emits light when it burns/explodes, and this is consistent with what was seen. We cannot yet rule anything out, but hydrogen is the most likely culprit in my mind.

On the second possibility, we also see strong evidence for extremely high temperatures:

A steam explosion is a violent boiling or flashing of water into steam, occurring when water is either superheated, rapidly heated by fine hot debris produced within it, or the interaction of molten metals (e.g., Fuel-Coolant Interaction of molten nuclear-reactor fuel rods with water in a nuclear reactor core following a core-meltdown).

Pressure vessels (e.g., Pressurized-Water (nuclear) Reactors) that operate at above atmospheric pressure can also provide the conditions for a rapid boiling event which can be characterized as a steam explosion. The water changes from a liquid to a gas with extreme speed, increasing dramatically in volume. A steam explosion sprays steam and boiling-hot water and the hot medium that heated it in all directions (if not otherwise confined, e.g. by the walls of a container), creating a danger of scalding and burning.

(Source

Neither of these possibilities square up with the official story that the temperatures are being brought down and that engineers will have things under control in a couple of days. Let us hope and pray that they will, but the shredding of the outer containment building speaks of a situation that is anything but under control.

Again, I rather seriously doubt that flooding the inner steel containment vessel with water will be an easy task, due to physical damage of the pipes, pumps, valves, and other assemblies, which will probably have to be repaired before flooding can commence. Our evidence is the fact that the outer containment building was rather violently destroyed.

Here's a few stills of the shockwave, but I invite you to watch the video, as it is difficult to capture the essence in these stills:

There have been reports from Japan's nuclear agency that radioactive cesium and iodine were detected outside of the facility, which can only happen if the core has been exposed somehow. Perhaps that's all under control now, but the evidence for very high temperatures, the explosion of the containment building, a 12-mile evacuation zone, and the presence of cesium and iodine all indicate that perhaps the complete situation is not being shared with the public.

If you live in Japan, you should be heading well upwind of this facility and have potassium iodide pills on hand. I would personally be reading the wind forecasts and assuring that I was upwind.

If you live on the west coast of the US, you should know exactly where your potassium iodide pills are and have a multi-week supply of them on hand, but this is always true.

There's no word yet on the other three reactors, but let us hope they can be fully and safely shut down and contained.

What we do around here is to prepare ourselves prudently and responsibly for an uncertain future. Nobody could have foreseen the timing and severity of the Japan earthquake, because that's the nature of complex systems, but we can choose to either become minimally prepared or not.

Most choose 'not.'

The Limits of Safeguards and Human Foresight

March 11, 2011

All technology can do in the face of such force is to minimize damage to communities and infrastructure, he said, and “on both of those fronts, we’re never going to be perfect.”

Given the limits of steel and concrete to resist the forces of nature, much depends on people’s own preparedness to face up to disaster — but that mental infrastructure is in even poorer shape than the nation’s roads and bridges. People in the Midwest might have storm cellars to shield them from tornadoes, and those in coastal cities like New Orleans might keep a hatchet in the attic in case they have to chop their way onto their roof after a hurricane. But in most of the country, simple plans that include having a quick-grab case of supplies, medications and important family papers, as well as a plan for reuniting family members who have been separated in a disaster, are distressingly rare, Dr. Redlener said.

Dr. Redlener, the author of “Americans at Risk,” about why the United States is not prepared for megadisasters and what we be done about it, said the biggest problem is a failure to go so far as even Japan has to protect its citizens from natural disasters.

“We seem to not have the ability or the willingness to do that right now,” he said. “At a time when states are facing $175 billion in deficits and the federal government is trying to deal with very compelling issues of long-term debt and deficits, the likelihood of our being able to mobilize the resources to significantly improve disaster readiness is limited.”

And yet there are few issues as important. In a telephone press conference on Friday, W. Craig Fugate, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Service, said, “The lesson that you learn from this is that earthquakes don’t come with a warning. And that’s why being prepared is so critical.”

The bottom line here is that it's always good to be prepared in advance, but that it's just not something that people tend to do, no matter which culture they come from. Our prior interview with Dan Ariely went a long way towards explaining why that is.

You can be certain at this stage that there are tens of thousands of families in Japan who are wondering right now why they did not lay in a few minimal supplies like some food, batteries, and stored water that could have eased their current circumstances.

This will also be true for American families when the next big earthquake strikes the US. As we explore in the Crash Course seminar, people change their ways via either insight or pain. Insight would be looking at Japan's current woes and using that information to spur your own preparations. Pain involves waking up in the midst of a crisis wondering why you didn't do anything to prepare.

Update: This just in from the NYTimes:

TOKYO — An explosion at a nuclear power plant in northern Japan on Saturday blew the roof off one building and destroyed the exterior walls of a crippled reactor, but officials said radiation leaks from the plant were receding and that a major meltdown was not imminent.

Government officials and executives of Tokyo Electric Power, which runs the plant, gave confusing accounts of the causes of the explosion and the damage it caused. Late Saturday night, officials said that the explosion occurred in a structure housing turbines near the No. 1 reactor at the plant rather than inside the reactor itself.

The blast, apparently caused by a sharp build-up of pressure after the reactor’s cooling system failed, destroyed the concrete structure surrounding the reactor but did not collapse the critical steel container inside, they said. They said that raised the chances they could prevent the release of large amounts of radioactive material and could avoid a core meltdown at the plant.

“We’ve confirmed that the reactor container was not damaged. The explosion didn’t occur inside the reactor container. As such there was no large amount of radiation leakage outside,” Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said in a news conference Saturday evening. “At this point, there has been no major change to the level of radiation leakage outside, so we’d like everyone to respond calmly.”

(Source

Despite the apparent official confusion, I'm still going to go with the explanation of a hydrogen explosion, which still speaks of very high temperatures and the likelihood that the temperatures in the steel core are not as well-controlled as is being revealed. This is, of course, raw speculation on my part and should be treated as such.

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cmartenson's picture
cmartenson
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Jun 7 2007
Posts: 3544
Good Context

I found this article helpful:

Ron Chesser, director for the Center of Environmental Radiation Studies at Texas Tech University, was the first American scientist allowed inside the exclusion zone in 1992 following the Chernobyl disaster. He can discuss issues that Fukushima workers may be facing in light of the cooling system troubles.

Chesser said that though reports have stated the reactors were shut down safely, the reactors still must be cooled constantly to avoid a meltdown of the core.

All four reactors have been shut down at Fukushima Daini.

"The fact they're having trouble cooling the reactors is going to trigger an emergency," Chesser said. "There are certain trigger points for declaring an emergency at nuclear reactors. Reduction in cooling capacity would be one of those. Release of radiation would be another. Reactors are not like your car that you can turn off and walk away. They're going to continue generating a great amount of heat until the core is disassembled. Without cooling water, then you stand a real chance of a meltdown of core that could result in a large release of radiation, potentially."

However, Chesser, who has toured a smaller Japanese nuclear power plant in Chiba, said Japanese designers put many precautionary measures and contingency plans in place to ensure reactor safety in the event of an earthquake.

"I was very much impressed with the amount of attention to safety, especially regarding potential of earthquakes," he said. "I was a little bit surprised when I saw they had a looming crisis at the Fukushima power plant just because of all the great attention the Japanese pay to earthquake safety."

Also, the Fukushima reactors appear to have containment vessels over them unlike Chernobyl, he said. Though there is cause for concern, Chesser said he thought workers at the plant must have some cooling capacity available, since the evacuation radius from the plant was only 1.9 miles and affected 3,000 people.

"I think that sounds like that's a low-level alert," he said. "It didn't sound like there were that many people being evacuated. At Chernobyl, when it went, they eventually were evacuating people 18 miles away from the reactor. It doesn't sound like there's an imminent issue, but it is serious. Any time you have a nuclear facility that size that is not meeting requirements for cooling, you have a real emergency on your hands." According to the Tokyo Electric Power Company's (TEPCO) website, the Fukus

(Source

debu's picture
debu
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Aug 17 2009
Posts: 133
what to do?

Living in Tokyo, as I do, this is extremely worrying analysis of the situation not least because it is so at odds with what is being reported in the MSM.

On another thread Dogs in a Pile stated that the sort of catastrophe alluded to above was not possible (if I understood correctly).

The Jpz MSM will not challenge the official line , as is their wont, and I wonder now based on what Chris has written whether my wife and I should clear out of here pronto before it is too late.

plato1965's picture
plato1965
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 18 2009
Posts: 615
Meltdown Caused Nuke Plant

Meltdown Caused Nuke Plant Explosion: Safety Body

TOKYO (Nikkei)--The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) said Saturday afternoon the explosion at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant could only have been caused by a meltdown of the reactor core.

http://e.nikkei.com/e/fr/tnks/Nni20110312D12JFF03.htm

( reliable news source... ? not sure.. )

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How long will the system continue to absorb hits ...

Emergencies like this make me wonder how long the system will be able to absorb hits and continue to function  in a manner that we think is normal.

I think that a big local event could be the trigger that tips the world system into collapse.

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Thoughts

Thanks for the update Chris.  As you said the reports are unreliable and contradictory so conclusions are speculative.  However, the reports are very ominous.  If it is was the containment building that was destroyed by a violent explosion than we would expect damage around the exterior of the reactor vessel itself, which means the pipes that supply cooling.  Flooding the reactor with seawater sounds like a last ditch move, and how the water would be delivered is a mystery to me.  One nuclear expert speculated that the core has already experienced a partial melt down, but this does not mean the reactor vessel has been breeched so radiation release would still be small as long as the reactor vessel is not leaking.  It certainly has the potential to be very bad, but it may turn out relatively well.

I have been strongly opposed to commercial nuclear power plants since before Three Mile Island for many reasons.  The primary one is that these are complex systems run for profit, meaning that reducing costs by cutting corners will almost inevitably lead to accidents.  If I remember correctly a worst case accident could lead to an area the size of Pennsylvania being uninhabitable for 500 years.  The risk of a catastrophe is small but the potential loss is huge.  Congress had to grant the nuclear industry limited liability that would not begin to cover all potential damages because no insurance company would take on the full risk.  I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that with peak oil more nuclear plants will have to be built to sustain our economy, and that will trump all other considerations.  The accident in Japan highlights the absurd risks we are forced to take to sustain our current way of life.

I don’t have the same reservations about US military reactors as I do about commercial ones.  I’d like to hear thoughts about the Japanese situation from our own certified nuclear engineer when Dogs wants to weigh in.  He’s traveled the world sealed inside a steel tube with a nuclear reactor.  I suspect he has actually operated one.  Maybe he can give us a glowing report. *  Wink

Travlin 

*  Sorry Dogs, I couldn’t resist. 

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Re How long will the system continue to absorb hits ...

jturbo68 wrote:

Emergencies like this make me wonder how long the system will be able to absorb hits and continue to function  in a manner that we think is normal.

I think that a big local event could be the trigger that tips the world system into collapse.

Excellent analysis, I caught the explosion on Dutch radio and its taken me all day to get something in English to get the specific detail of what is being said.

+1.   And what about news from MENA, specifically Saudi

There's a lot going on in the world right now and so I agree, how much more can the system take

Most importantly, my thoughts are certainly with all those affected

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I would leave

To debu:

I am very wary of mother nature, i was close to the Tsunami in Thailand.

I have an emergency fund to use when disaster is happening. In my mind their is no doubt to get as far away as possible.

I ask myself these two question:

What is the worst that can happen to you and loved ones when you leave? 

What is the worst that can happen to you and loved ones when you stay?

If the first is only some financial burden and maybe problems with work, and the answer to the second is death or disease the answer to what you should do is crystal clear.

When i lived in Samui a storm that killed many people in the Philipines was projected to go right over us. With 1 day time i did not hesitate and took the boat and train to be as far away as possible. The storm eventualy did pass right over but the damage it did was thankfully very minor and no one got injured. My assurance that nothing would happen to me and my family outweighed the little bit of inconvenience of traveling.

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Will update soon....

We are on the road headed to visit friends in North Carolina this weekend. I will try to add some more info soon. As Chris noted, there is a lot of info swirling around and much of it is speculation. I will add more soon, but if reports are accurate that seawater is being pumped into the core for decay heat removal, the situation has degraded a lot. The bottom line issue is maintaining integrity of the core and using seawater is pretty close to a last resort. More to follow when I can get off my Blackberry.

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50,000 evacuated in Japan

That Japan has now evacuated 50,000 from the vicinity of the power plant seems ominous to me. Since I live on the west coast of the U.S., I do wonder if this incident poses a threat to me and my family. Any experts out there who can weigh in. (DIAP, I await your update)

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-japan-quake-main-20110313,0,738219.story

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Where to Find Potassium Iodide?

Thank you Chris for this excellent report.

Where can we order potassium iodide tablets?  We have searched on the internet, but cannot tell which are reputable sources, and as this is of extreme importance, we would like to find a good source.

Thanks,

Elsur

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latest? Thousands scanned amid Japan's nuclear emergency

'Complete disaster'

A US nuclear expert has called the nuclear accident one of the three worst in history and warns it could become a "complete disaster" if it goes to a full meltdown.

"This is going to go down in history as one of the three greatest nuclear incidents if it stops now," Joseph Cirincione, the head of the Ploughsares Fund, told CNN.

"If it continues, if they don't get control of this and ... we go from a partial meltdown of the core to a full meltdown, this will be a complete disaster," he said.

I hope the Japanese are more forthcoming with the truth than the Soviets were during Chernobyl. 

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Its been many years and my

Its been many years and my knowledge has faded, but I used to be a nuclear engineer working on the subs, many hours crawing around on the reactor vessel shutdown or in the control room at power.  There are many pump systems in a reactor plant from the main coolant pumps to the condensate and feed pumps to the main seawater pumps, plus emergency cooling systems.  I had experiences where even just a minor issue in a non-nuclear pump system could affect the operation of the nuclear reactor.  All these systems in series have to keep working in order to keep the reactor in control and cool it down in an emergency. 

Here's an illustration I found assuming the reactor in Japan is of this type:   

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pressurized_water_reactor

Apparently some pumping failure subsequently led to the explosion in the building, maybe due to hydrogen, I don't know enough yet to fully understand.  Sounds like pressure was relieved from the primary coolant (red/yellow), which would preserve the reactor vessel, but trash the containment structure with superheated steam or wherever it was discharged to if elsewhere, even without an explosion.  A discharge just doesn't happen unless you lose complete control of the reactor first.  One or more of those secondary systems above (blue) failed in the earthquake despite multiple redundant pump systems and power sources, and then very likely got destroyed in the subsequent explosion. 

So reportedly now they are pumping seawater into the core, instead of normally circulating the highly pure primary coolant, to keep it cool.  This has got to be pretty serious because I highly doubt this is an authorized casualty procedure; they are improvising having no other choice.  I would hate to be an operator there now; I used to train and  talk through what I would do in these kinds of casualities but never faced anything this serious in real life. 

Cooling down the reactor in a controlled manner is important because it is so thick there can thermal stresses and brittle facture issues especially as you get cooler.  I can only speculate much of the reactor instrumentation and control has been destroyed.

Travlin, my perceptions match yours I think about military vs commercial reactors.  The US military will spare no expense to avoid an accident, because the primary concerns are reliability in battle and access to ports around the world, while commercial power generators are more concerned with operating costs.

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FDA Q and A on potassium

FDA Q and A on potassium iodide:

http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/EmergencyPreparedness/BioterrorismandDrugPrepar...,

Chris' suggestions make sense (avoid being downwind). I have read that, if one cannot leave, then sealing the doors and windows (ensuring adequate oxygen levels in the home) before the cloud hits is a less desirable alternative.

The only reason I worry about this is that 1: I know someone who got caught in the three mile island fallout many years ago and coincidentally died of 3 bizarre blood disorders some years later. If only they had known to avoid the area and adequate warnings had been given out... 2. I live close near a nuclear power plant.

Careful with iodide compounds if you are allergic to iodine.....

Denise

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Where to order potassium iodide tablets

I like these guys:

http://beprepared.com/product.asp_Q_pn_E_MF%20T101_A_Iosat+Potassium+Iod...

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Potassium Iodide

elsur -

A source for potassium iodide (KI) Chris & I respect is ki4u.com, specifically its ThyroSafe tablets, which can be purchased here (we currently don't have any affilation with this company). The tablets are listed as 'sold out' on the site, but you can still order them - shipments are simply delayed a few days (orders today will be shipped on Tuesday).

I talked with the owner this morning. He doesn't think folks in the US should be unduly panicing about the Japan situation - it's likely not going to pose a serious health threat to us (though the story is likely very different for those in the Pacific Rim). You can read his thoughts on the situation here: http://www.ki4u.com/illwind.htm

Bottom line: no perceived dire urgency to get your tablets, but take this as a wake-up call to procure some soon and check this off your preparation to-do list (as well as consider buying a full radiation kit).

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where to get potassium iodide

elsur wrote:

Thank you Chris for this excellent report.

Where can we order potassium iodide tablets?  We have searched on the internet, but cannot tell which are reputable sources, and as this is of extreme importance, we would like to find a good source.

Thanks,

Elsur

I had picked mine up from the Berkey water filter folks when I bought my Berkey.  The potassium iodide was backordered for a while even back then.  Also, I think the price has gone up. 

http://www.bigberkeywaterfilters.com/preparedness-products-c-71/potassium-iodate-tablets-p-196

My kids had thought Dad was being alarmist at the time.  I told them, always better safe than sorry. 

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Dispersion is your friend

grl wrote:

That Japan has now evacuated 50,000 from the vicinity of the power plant seems ominous to me. Since I live on the west coast of the U.S., I do wonder if this incident poses a threat to me and my family. Any experts out there who can weigh in. (DIAP, I await your update)

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-japan-quake-main-20110313,0,738219.story

Grl

While it is prudent for you to be concerned I wouldn’t be too worried about this if I lived on the west coast, even in the worst case, if the reactor vessel is breached and serious radiation is released.  Even if the prevailing winds reach your area, by the time the radiation crossed the entire Pacific ocean it would be very dispersed and pretty low.  You saw a similar effect with the tsunami.  No radiation is good, but in the grand scheme of things earthquakes and freeways present a much higher danger that you live with every day.  I’m not trying to make light of your worry.  Any radiation release is a bad situation, but for the US the effects would probably be minimal.

Did you see Dogs’ post 25 here http://www.peakprosperity.com/forum/japan-earthquaketsunami/54257?page=2  He was describing a situation were the reaction vessel is still intact, as well as the containment building (which is no longer intact), but the principle is the same.  It is 5,133 miles from San Francisco to Tokyo with is about 1/5 of the circumference of the earth at the equator.  That creates a lot of dispersion.

We all look forward to hearing more from Dogs.

Travlin 

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The Reactor Design

The reactor in question is quite well designed but the latest plan to pump in seawater and boric acid says that all of the planned 'fail safes' have failed. 

This is a last ditch effort.  Should this fail, the next step would be entombment.  Through all of this, the most likely scenario is that very little radioactivity will be released but that's a small comfort to those potentially living in its shadow.

Even a very low chance of a full breach of the containment system is too much of a risk.  

I guess the good news here is that there's something they can do.

The diagram below gives us a better sense of what's in those funny cubic buildings:

The blue arrow points to the concrete containment vessel and the red points to the reactor vessel itself.

The explosion at Fukushima has apparently disintegrated the upper third of the reactor building. The video and pictures currently available indicate that the "blow out panels" of the reactor building and roof cover were blown away by an energetic explosion likely due to a hydrogen gas detonation. The reactor core refuelling deck and the surface of the elevated irradiated nuclear fuel pool are now exposed to the atmosphere. Essentially, the photos show the remaining steel I-beam structure for the weather cover that was over the refueling deck and the top of the "spent fuel" pool. These panels are designed to "blow out" at overpressure.

The actual "pressure suppression system" structures credited for containment sit below this structure inside the concrete reactor building, namely the drywell and wetwell or "torus." The drywell is the large inverted lightbulb steel structure which is 100 feet tall and a nominal wall thickness of 1.5 inches. The reactor vessel sits inside this structure. In the event of a coremelt accident involving high pressure and high temperature, the highly radioactive steam and pressure would be vented into the drywell and then routed through the large diameter pipes to the "wet well" or "torus" which is the large 18 foot diameter hollow doughnut-shaped structure that surrounds the drywell. The torus contains approximately 1 million gallons of water and designed to receive the pressurized radioactive steam where it is supposed to be quenched and contained.

The status of the reactor containment in the reactor building remains unclear, but apparently remains intact. Fuel damage has apparently occurred because elevated levels of radioactive iodine and cesium are being monitored outside of reactor containment.

What is additionally unclear is how much cooling water is left in the fuel storage pools and whether or not there has been damage to irradiated fuel stored in that pool. There are reports of sea water being brought in to cool this facility.

(Source)

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Where to Find Potassium Iodide?

Thank you Chris for the report.

I'm following your advices and just order 5 boxes of IOSAT. We are in San Diego and ~45 miles leeward (SE) of an old nuclear power plant so we have all the ingredients here for a similar scenario as in Japan.

elsur wrote:

Where can we order potassium iodide tablets?  We have searched on the Internet, but cannot tell which are reputable sources, and as this is of extreme importance, we would like to find a good source.

elsur,

I just ordered iOSAT online at CVS for $10 per box. IOSAT is FDA approved.

http://www.cvs.com/CVSApp/search/search.jsp?searchTerm=iosat&QP=N%3D92%26Ntk%3DAll%26Nty%3D1%26Ne%3D14%26Ntx%3Dmode+matchallpartial%26Nr%3DOR%7B92%2COR%7B93%7D%2COR%7B90%7D%2COR%7B122%7D%7D%26searchType%3DsearchHome

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Woodman -- Outstanding

Woodman -- Outstanding post.  I am amazed that we have a second certified nuclear engineer at this site!  Your animated graphic was very helpful, as most people don’t have a clue as to how these things work. 

Chris – Your graphic and post were also excellent, but then we just expect that of you.  Cool

Is this an amazing site or what?

Travlin 

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oops - iodide vs. iodate

ao wrote:

elsur wrote:

Thank you Chris for this excellent report.

Where can we order potassium iodide tablets?  We have searched on the internet, but cannot tell which are reputable sources, and as this is of extreme importance, we would like to find a good source.

Thanks,

Elsur

I had picked mine up from the Berkey water filter folks when I bought my Berkey.  The potassium iodide was backordered for a while even back then.  Also, I think the price has gone up. 

http://www.bigberkeywaterfilters.com/preparedness-products-c-71/potassium-iodate-tablets-p-196

My kids had thought Dad was being alarmist at the time.  I told them, always better safe than sorry. 

My apologies.  My face is red.  I'd like to offer a revision of this information.  In doing some research, I realized that I had recommended potassium iodate rather than potassium iodide.  From what I've just read, iodide is better than iodate.

http://www.nukepills.com/potassium-iodate-vs-potassium-iodide.html 

So please ignore my advice.  Just ordered some iodide from CVS Pharmacy.  Thanks SailAway.  .

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(No subject)
fdResidents near the radiation-leaking Fukushima nuclear plant are checked for radioactivity {Picture: Reuters]

japan

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Another reactor has problems

Several media (among them AP) reports that the cooling system of Fukushima I reactor 3 has also failed.

http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/A/AS_JAPAN_EARTHQUAKE?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2011-03-12-18-18-09

It could also be relevant to know that this reactor does not use the same type of fuel than reactor 1, but the "mixed oxide" MOX fuel (containing plutonium as well).

http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/newsarticle.aspx?id=28211

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   Problems at 3 of the

Problems at 3 of the reactors... hopefully 2 & 3 are less severe than 1, if only due to the longer time since shutdown before cooling problems..

official press releases -  http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/index-e.html


All 6 units of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station have been shut down.

 

Unit 1(Shut down)

- Reactor has been shut down. However, the unit is under inspection due to

the explosive sound and white smoke that was confirmed after the big

quake occurred at 3:36PM.

- We have been injecting sea water and boric acid which absorbs neutron

into the reactor core.

Unit 2(Shut down)

- Reactor and Reactor Core Isolation Cooling System have been shut down.

Current reactor water level is lower than normal level, but the water

level is steady. After fully securing safety, we are preparing to

implement a measure to reduce the pressure of the reactor containment

vessels under the instruction of the national government.

Unit 3(Shut down)

- Reactor has been shut down and we continue injecting water by High

Pressure Core Injection System. After fully securing safety, we are

preparing to implement a measure to reduce the pressure of the reactor

containment vessels under the instruction of the national government.

- Currently, we do not believe there is any reactor coolant leakage

inside the reactor containment vessel.


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Westerlies and pacific wind patterns

Adam wrote:

I talked with the owner this morning. He doesn't think folks in the US should be unduly panicing about the Japan situation - it's likely not going to pose a serious health threat to us (though the story is likely very different for those in the Pacific Rim). You can read his thoughts on the situation here: http://www.ki4u.com/illwind.htm

Um, I just had an unpleasant thought... given the predominant wind patterns in the Pacific, isn't it likely the Westerlies may carry any windborne radioactive particles directly from northern Japan east across southern parts of Alaska and western Canada first? 

It's still a long distance away allowing for a lot of dispersion, but living in southcentral AK I think it might be worth getting some KI tablets now.  Are there any stores (Walgreens, Walmart, etc) that MIGHT carry this on their shelves?  Otherwise I might have to order online now to allow for shipping time.  I'm not really worried, but for $10-20 it might be reasonable to do this now.

Funny, but given where we live and the lack of nuclear power plants in AK, this was close to the bottom of my priority list.

- Nickbert

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Additional Thoughts.....

Wow....a lot has happened in the past few hours.  I just finished watching the videos of the blowout plugs going on the secondary containment boundary.  After watching them about a hundred times there is no doubt in my mind that it was a result of hydrogen buildup that came out of solution during the emergency venting to control pressure.  Hydrogen is used to maintain water chemistry parameters in the primary coolant and when the hydrogen level gets too high a procedure known as degassing is done.  It is normally a tightly controlled procedure intended to lower the concentration of hydrogen in the coolant.  Coolant is sprayed pumped through a ventur nozzle  where it flashes to steam and the hydrogen separates out.  The gas is collected and pumped into a collection tank for appropriate disposal.  Hold that thought for a bit......

From what I have read so far, my guess is that the primary coolant system was compromised from the beginning.  When the reactors were shut down, the primary source of electricity to run the coolant pumps was lost.  The next step would be to shift to back-up emergency diesel generator power.  Various reports have said that the diesels were also inoperable - likely as a result of damage during the initial quake or one of the subsequent 200+ aftershocks.  The next course of action was battery power which according to some reports worked - for awhile.  Once the batteries were depleted there was no power to run the coolant pumps.  The resulting buildup of decay heat resulted in the need for emergency venting to control pressure and temperature.

If the Japanese officials at Fukushima resorted to venting coolant for pressure control, they were probably venting directly from the primary into the secondary contaiment boundary.  This was an almost last resort step since the controlled venting to atmosphere wasn't keeping up with decay heat removal fast enough.  I am guessing that they were still hoping to get coolant flow restored and removing decay heat buildup.  As they were venting into the secondary boundary, hydrogen was stripping out of the coolant and collecting in the dome.  Eventually enough hydrogen would build up to explosive levels.  The video clips clearly show a brief flash as "something" burned/exploded (ignition of the hydrogen) and the visible propagation of the shockwave off the top of the building is indicative of the blowout plugs releasing.

If the reports of seawater being used for cooling are also accurate, and potassium tetraborate and/or boric acid is being added to the water, the plant engineers and operators at Fukushima Daiichi have resigned themselves to last resort measures.  This reactor will never operate again.

Here are what I see as critical (no pun intended) unknowns.  These are solely my opinions based on what I have read to date.

1.  Status of the primary containment boundary.  If the primary boundary is still intact, and I suspect that it is because they appear to be using designed coolant piping systems to inject the seawater and borates into the core.  If there were major integrity issues with these support systems, that procedure would be necessarily more complex.

2.  Core geometry.  If there has been a core meltdown or partial meltdown, then there is a risk of spontaneous criticality because the core fuel matrix melts and rearranges itself.  It is possible for such a meltdown to achieve "pockets" of critical geometry.  The only way to combat such an event is flooding the core with borates and/or other neutron absorbers.  This will shut down the critical reaction, but there is still the issue of decay heat removal.  As long as the primary structure of the reactor vessel is intact (and the major, isolable portions of supporting coolant systems), then a partial core meltdown, contained with in the reactor vessel is desirable.  The fact that at this point, the Japanese have issued a Level 4 warning, leads me to believe that they are reasonably confident that the reactor vessel was not compromised.  THIS COULD EASILY CHANGE!!!

3.  What radionuclides have been released.  All of the news channels have been spewing horribly incomplete and inaccurate information.  All of them have run with the potassium iodine tablet story to protect against radiation.  This is woefully short of detail and enormously irresponsible (what a surprise).  KI tablets will only protect you from gaseous iodine radioisotopes (I-131).  KI TABLETS WILL NOT PROTECT YOU FROM RADIATION FROM OTHER FISSION PRODUCTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

4.  What to do with the population in the surrounding area?  Err on the side of caution, but don't necessarily use emergency response and evacuation actions as a definitive indication of the severity of the accident.  The Japanese are one of the world's foremost experts in commercial nuclear power and I am confident they are taking an enormously conservative approach.

I still think this is a very dynamic event and it could turn on a dime to the better or the worse.  We can only hope and pray that at this point the Japanese officials have done everything possible to get this situation under control.  Right now it is pretty bad - something on the order of Three Mile Island (which was a Level 5 event), but it is nowhere near a Chernobyl.  I have spoken with Chernobyl veterans, there are stories of helicopter pilots who flew loads of lead and sand into a radioactive cloud of burning graphite moderator, hovered over exposed molten core material and dumped their load of sand.  Some of them died of acute radiation exposure within hours of landing after the first few missions.  We can be thankful that Fukushima Daiichi is a PWR/BWR design and doesn't use a moderator that burns.

I am still digesting information as it comes in - I suspect that things will change within a few hours of this post and I will try to follow up.

As always, feel free to PM, I will get back to you - I am in an area of limited coverage on an air card right now so the response may take a few hours, but I will respond. 

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Iodine-131

Dogs_In_A_Pile wrote:

3.  What radionuclides have been released.  All of the news channels have been spewing horribly incomplete and inaccurate information.  All of them have run with the potassium iodine tablet story to protect against radiation.  This is woefully short of detail and enormously irresponsible (what a surprise).  KI tablets will only protect you from gaseous iodine radioisotopes (I-131).  KI TABLETS WILL NOT PROTECT YOU FROM RADIATION FROM OTHER FISSION PRODUCTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

I haven't seen any news coverage on use of KI tablets yet, but inaccurate or sensationalized mention of them wouldn't surprise me.  Unfortunately it's a pretty limited preventative measure that just works to reduce the amount of radioactive iodine that gets concentrated in the thyroid, but considering there's precious little else that can be done to reduce exposure other than holing up it's no surprise they'd latch onto that.  But to be fair, isn't I-131 one of the larger concerns because few other fission products will concentrate so readily in a particular part of the body?

As for me, after a quick search I found that the half-life of I-131 is only about 8 days (I knew it wasn't long-lived but it turned out to be shorter than I thought), and the rough distance there to here is about 3500 miles.  So even in the absolute worst case where the reactor vessel suffers a major breach AND it carries some of the radioactive products straight in my direction, what tiny bit is brought down over us will already have been travelling for days and decayed signifcantly already.  I might still order some KI tablets out of general principal since they're only 10 bucks, but I'm not going to worry about getting them quickly.

(Geez.... I turned the TV onto CNN and they have Bill Nye the Science Guy doing commentary and Q&A.  Nothing against Bill, but doesn't this call for more of a specialist in the nuclear field? What does it say about them when they go first to a TV personality from a different engineering background?)

- Nickbert

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From CNN

[9:54 p.m. ET, 11:54 a.m. Tokyo] A meltdown may have occurred at at least one nuclear power reactor in Japan, the country's chief cabinet secretary, Yukio Edano, said Sunday.

He also said that authorities are concerned over the possibility of another meltdown at a second reactor.

"We do believe that there is a possibility that meltdown has occurred. It is inside the reactor. We can't see. However, we are assuming that a meltdown has occurred," he said of the No. 1 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility. "And with reactor No. 3, we are also assuming that the possibility of a meltdown as we carry out measures."

Edano's comments confirm an earlier report from an official with Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, who said, "we see the possibility of a meltdown."

A meltdown is a catastrophic failure of the reactor core, with a potential for widespread radiation release. However, Toshihiro Bannai, director of the agency's international affairs office, expressed confidence that efforts to control the crisis would be successful.

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satelite images.

Where can we get satelite images?

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Building Damage

I found a relatively decent close-up of the metal skeleton of the reactor 1 building that blew apart this morning.  

From most angles, it looks remarkably intact, just like the earlier description had said, the concrete side-panels blew out (as designed?) but the steel skeleton was in good shape.

But not from this angle...we can clearly see that the force of the blast was sufficient to tear apart some of the steel itself:

Given that there were storage pools in there used to transfer cores during refueling, it is a near-guarantee that plenty of radioactivity has escaped if we can imagine that a blast that can shred steel can maybe toss some water about.

Also, I am still puzzled by why the initial shock wave was concentrated into an upwards spike if the walls of this thing were designed to blow out.  One explanation is that it was part of the reactor assembly itself that let loose.

In short, I am left with the uncomfortable feeling that we are not being told the full truth about either what's happened or the prognosis, which is probably the right call if true....the level of panic that would ensue would not help anything.  

At any rate, the story as I gather it now is tht we are down to a last ditch, hail-Mary attempt, and that there are issues at other reactors and that close to 30% of Japan's electrical generating capability is now off-line which  will greatly complicate the recovery efforts.

It's a right proper mess.

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Some info on iodine and radioactive exposure

Hi All,

Found this link related to the KI medicine people were referring to:

http://www.huliq.com/3257/does-iodine-really-protect-against-radiation

It does help against radioactive iodine, but it does not help against cesium (another radioactive material potentially released into the atmosphere).

Precaution would be prudent, but really -- there are elements beyond our control even after best preparations.

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According to Japanese media...

the situation is contained, but I wouldn't put too much trust in the Japanese media...

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cmartenson wrote: Given that

cmartenson wrote:

Given that there were storage pools in there used to transfer cores during refueling, it is a near-guarantee that plenty of radioactivity has escaped if we can imagine that a blast that can shred steel can maybe toss some water about.

Also, I am still puzzled by why the initial shock wave was concentrated into an upwards spike if the walls of this thing were designed to blow out.  One explanation is that it was part of the reactor assembly itself that let loose.

Chris, I doubt it is that bad.  In your illustration in post 18 it looks like the whole darker portion of the top of the building was designed to blow out, including the roof.  Much of the radioactive water from the storage pools probably went too, but that’s small potatoes.  That was probably from a hydrogen explosion vented into that area.  I don’t think this could rupture the heavy concrete containment structure below it (blue arrow) or the reactor vessel (red arrow) in your illustration.  They are massively strong and built to withstand enormous pressure.

The critical problem is the integrity of the reactor vessel and we know of two threats.  One is stress fractures that Woodman mentioned in post 12.  The other is  localized intense heat from small areas going critical from melted fuel.  The Japanese government now says a partial melt down is suspected..  This could potentially burn through the reactor vessel wall.  But even if that happened I expect the heavy concrete containment structure is still intact to hold the radiation in.  I doubt if even the operators know for sure as nobody is going to walk over and take a look at this point.  Wink

My only experience as an engineer was running my toy train, but I think this scenario is more plausible given reports so far.  Smile

Travlin 

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Rachel Maddow explains the basics ...

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Slow down folks......

cmartenson wrote:

I found a relatively decent close-up of the metal skeleton of the reactor 1 building that blew apart this morning.  

From most angles, it looks remarkably intact, just like the earlier description had said, the concrete side-panels blew out (as designed?) but the steel skeleton was in good shape.

But not from this angle...we can clearly see that the force of the blast was sufficient to tear apart some of the steel itself:

Given that there were storage pools in there used to transfer cores during refueling, it is a near-guarantee that plenty of radioactivity has escaped if we can imagine that a blast that can shred steel can maybe toss some water about.

Also, I am still puzzled by why the initial shock wave was concentrated into an upwards spike if the walls of this thing were designed to blow out.  One explanation is that it was part of the reactor assembly itself that let loose.

In short, I am left with the uncomfortable feeling that we are not being told the full truth about either what's happened or the prognosis, which is probably the right call if true....the level of panic that would ensue would not help anything.  

At any rate, the story as I gather it now is tht we are down to a last ditch, hail-Mary attempt, and that there are issues at other reactors and that close to 30% of Japan's electrical generating capability is now off-line which  will greatly complicate the recovery efforts.

It's a right proper mess.

Chris -

Slow down.  The shock wave would go up from the blowout plug since that is exactly how they are designed to function.  The engineering behind such a design is whatever radioactive material that might be entrained in the explosion or rapid depressurization would go up and as much as possible would fall back down into an already contaminated area.  The absolute last thing you want to do is have such a blowout go sideways unnecessarily scattering radioactive material laterally from the site.  The fact that the entire building exploded speaks to an overpressure condition within the building that was far beyond what the overpressure plugs were designed for.  This is pure speculation on my part, but it is possible that officials on site deliberately overrode the blowout plugs to keep them activating and venting to atmosphere in hopes they could get contol of the pressure and temps within the core.

Regarding refueling pools, my experience with land based plants in the US is that unless they are currently storing spent fuel or a power unit the pools are empty.  It is conceivable that some plants may fill their refueling pools with a 'clean' source of water for use as emergency fill.  I have not been able to find anything that speaks to the specific design of Fukushima Daiichi (FD), but I doubt there were refueling pools co-located withing the primary containment building.  My experience with US plants (FD is a US design) is that the refueling pools are close by, but external to the primary containment building.  Spent fuel is removed using what is known as a Fuel Handling Container which is completely sealed with the spent fuel cells or in some cases entire power unit contained within.  It is then lifted by crane and transferred out of the primary boundary and moved to a nearby storage pool.  In any event, the contamination and radioactivity levels in a refueling pool are going to be orders of magnitude lower than that of a direct venting - especially if fuel cell integrity within the reactor pressure vessel had been compromised by a partial meltdown or degradation of the fuel.

I highly doubt that the blast we saw in the video was the result of an overpressure situation of sufficient strength to lift any portion of the reactor pressure vessel closure head.  Especially since we clearly saw something ignite as the top of the building was carried away.  This was almost certainly an ignition of hydrogen degassed during emergency venting.

I also think you are spot on as to limited information being released in an attempt to limit panic.  People already know that the situation is pretty dire.  Specifics and exact details are not needed at this point.  Orderly evacuation is what is needed and a panicked population will do nothing except overwhelm local emergency response efforts.

Keep posting whatever you can find, I am continuing to dig at my sources, but have nothing exclusive yet.

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Advanced apologies.....

sundarb wrote:

Sorry sundarb, I am going to approach the limits of forum posting decorum and protocol and offer the professionally informed opinion that Rachel Maddow should keep her pie hole firmly shut.

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another pic showing damaged nuke building

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Oh shit, we may get another

Oh shit, we may get another explosion http://translate.google.com/translate?u=http%3A%2F%2Fnews.tv-asahi.co.jp...

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Swedish and Finnish media

Swedish and Finnish media now reports that there is a partial meltdown (or other form of damage) in reactor 1 (the linked Reuters article is the best English "confirmation" I could find).

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/13/us-japan-quake-idUSTRE72A0SS20110313

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said there might have been a partial meltdown of the fuel rods at the No. 1 reactor at Fukushima. Engineers were pumping in seawater, trying to prevent the same happening at the No. 3 reactor, he said in apparent acknowledgement they had moved too slowly on Saturday.

They also report that reactor 3 has no meltdown, but it is now being cooled by seawater.

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Things running out in (Greater) Tokyo...

Things running out in (Greater) Tokyo include: milk, bread, rice, gas, toilet paper, flashlights, candles, instant ramen, AA batteries and larger, tofu, canned food, cereal and granola, most prepared foods, potatoes, and probably some I forget...

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My Thoughts

I love this site but I’ve got to disagree with this article.  I am a Nuclear Engineer and I do know a few things about what probably is going on here.  I’d like to not to be a braggart or to suggest that I’m so smart, but this does happen to be my vocation. There are a lot of specifics about this particular plant that I don’t know about, but it is still a reactor and functions similarly to other reactors so I thought I’d weigh in.  With that said, this is what I think:

I don’t think that the “official story” is to be ridiculed as much as it might seem.  First off, the reporters covering this story at various news organizations really do not have a clue about what they are reporting on.  Not that it’s their fault, but they have liberal arts degrees and this isn’t their field.  So, when they are given a story about what happened and they try to sum it up and slap a few quotes down to make an article, they invariably write down a nonsensical story.  

The reporter who is paraphrasing the Chief Cabinet Secretary wrote that the explosion wasn’t caused by damage to the reactor but by a pumping system that failed.  The reporter, of course, has no clue that obviously a pump did not explode and cause the outer containment vessel to “vaporize.”   That indeed does not pass the logic test.   However, I strongly doubt that the Secretary meant to imply that (with whatever words he actually said).  I’m sure he did try to inform everyone that the explosion was not a result of damage to the nuclear reactor (trying to calm hysterical fears) and that a chain of events that did not cause reactor damage began by a pump failure that resulted in the explosion.  That makes absolute sense and it is somewhat obvious to me what happened.  The pumps probably didn’t actually fail themselves, but instead the electrical power to run them failed.  Due to this, as one commenter already said, the ability to cool the reactor went away and temperature and pressure began to rise in the reactor as more and more water boiled into steam.  At some point the pressure rose to a level where it was vented into the primary containment.  I read one article on a major news network that the pressure inside the primary containment rose to 800 or so kPa or 120 or so psig.  That is a very believable number for a primary containment.  At that point, since cooling to the reactor was still not restored and the maximum pressure for the primary containment was reached, the venting of the primary containment began.  This seems to have been to the outer containment.  Obviously, the hydrogen buildup (we’ll talk about why that is completely expected later) got to a percentage point (probably above 4%) in the atmosphere that some heat source or spark caused it to explode.  Nothing about this at this point requires that there be any reactor damage or any cover up story by the Japanese officials.  

Chris puts forward two possible causes of the explosion.  The second one of these is a rapid flashing of water to steam.  This is what would occur inside the reactor and is what is called a “prompt criticality.”  This is what happened at Chernobyl and is what would have been the absolute worst thing that could have happened.  However, the damage being reported in no way gives any implication that this did happen and I don’t envision any event that would have caused that to happen. The damage from that would have completely obliterated the reactor and the primary containment vessel and the uranium and its nasty fission daughter products would have been blown out all over the place.  It would be extremely hard to cover that up.  You’d probably be able to peer down right into what was left of the primary containment from outside and look at the demolished remains of a reactor. Nobody that I’ve seen is suggesting this happened and Chris makes the correct conclusion that this is not what happened.   Additionally, this type of event would most likely be caused by a sudden injection of cold water on a reactor that has not been shutdown.  This does not fit the story.  Since a Chernobyl type event is not what we have on our hands (nor will we), don’t assume that this is going to be anything as bad as what was the disaster at Chernobyl.  They are two completely different things.  

The second possibility that Chris suggests is that it was a hydrogen explosion and this seems pretty clear to me to have been what actually happened.  There are several reasons why hydrogen would have been present in the water originating from the reactor that was apparently ultimately vented to the secondary containment.  None of these reasons are due to extremely high temperatures that cause molecular disassociation that would cause water to divide up into hydrogen and oxygen.  1000 degrees Celsius is a temperature beyond anything we would expect in this situation.  The reasons to expect hydrogen in the vented fluid  are as follows:  1.  Under a radioactive flux (this occurs at necessary levels in an operating reactor as well as one that has been recently shutdown) water will disassociate at much lower temperatures into hydrogen and oxygen.  The flux also causes them to recombine at temperatures below what would normally be required to cause the recombination or combustion of the two.  This can happen at room temperature!  So, what results is an equilibrium amount of hydrogen dissolved into the water.  2.  Hydrogen is desired to be in the fluid in quantities greater than that of oxygen so that a bunch of excess oxygen is not floating around causing all kinds of corrosive problems.  I have no idea what chemistries they use but they probably add hydrogen intentionally.  3.  Other chemicals added for various reasons to treat the water used inside of the reactor break down under flux or at normal reactor temperatures into constituent parts and one of those, depending on the chemicals they use, is very likely hydrogen.  When water boils all of the dissolved hydrogen comes out of solution and any venting of steam from the reactor will have a lot of hydrogen in it.  So, as it turns out, in reality there would be something amiss if there was not a hydrogen buildup due to the venting of the fluid used inside the reactor.  Excessive temperatures are in no way required to achieve this.  If I recall correctly, this exact same issue occurred at three mile island and there was a large debate amongst engineers about the amount of hydrogen buildup.  Eventually, the side that calculated the levels to be a much lesser amount than the other proved to be correct and an explosive level was not reached.  If you recall, they also had to vent to the atmosphere.  

Articles I’ve read report that Cesium and Iodine are present in what was being vented to the atmosphere.  This indicates to me that there has been damage to the coating around the fuel inside the reactor.  This makes sense because of the lack of cooling to the reactor and subsequent boiling of water that usually covers the fuel and keeps it from getting too hot.  At elevated temperatures this protective layer weakens and can burst causing the release of these fission products of uranium and plutonium to enter the fluid that was eventually vented to the atmosphere.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that the temperature rose high enough to actually melt the fuel (meltdown) but it certainly doesn’t mean that it didn’t.  The difference between the two would be that amount of fission products that were released to the fluid cooling the reactor.  

Now apparently, they are injecting, or are about to inject seawater into the reactor.  Once this happens there is no longer going to be an issue of a meltdown as there will be plenty of coolant being supplied.  Though this is being described as a latch ditch effort it shouldn’t be interpreted as a “hail marry” (as one commenter implied) in the sense that it probably isn’t going to work and that there is probably going to be an absolute catastrophe as a result.  Obviously, seawater is the least desired means of cooling a reactor and, as a commenter said earlier, it means that this reactor will never operate again (serious corrosion issues associated with seawater).  If there was merely a crack in the protective layer over the fuel then that is not such a big deal and would be replaced when the reactor is refueled and there would be no reason to not operate the reactor again in the future.  All I’m saying is that the injection of seawater does not mean all is lost.  It means that the preferable methods of cooling the reactor are not available, and now apparently, the ability to inject seawater has become available.  This will prevent a melting of the fuel from occurring or prevent the exacerbation of the melting that has already occurred.  

I have one more comment that is rather subjective.  I have no idea how much contamination is being released from this venting.  It really depends on how much damage has occurred to the fuel inside the reactor.  However, I’m confident in saying that people in Alaska have absolutely nothing to concern themselves with.  Radiation is not the devil.  It exists everywhere.  You get it every day.  You get it from the sun, you get it from a light bulb, you even get it from a light bulb that is turned off and the carpet under your feet.  It’s all radiation!  That’s how your eyes work; they interpret different frequencies of radiation as different colors!  The average person receives a dose of around 200 or so millirem every year.  This varies based on geographical location, hobbies, jobs, etc.  Acute (received over a short period) levels that can begin to statistically cause health effects are something more like 25,000 or more millirem (or 125 times the average dose amount)!  As I recall from a report from three mile island, the maximum dose received by anyone in the vicinity of that meltdown was on the order of 30 millirem.  In the US nuclear workers are limited to a dose of 5,000 millirem per year.  This is based on numerous studies.  At these levels some show slight increases in the occurrence of cancer and some even show decreases of the occurrence of cancer (basically, there are no statistical effects at this level).  Of course, anyone who has a cancer like health issue and lives near a nuclear power plant is apt to think that they two are related.  But that is more of  a pathos or emotional type argument.  Certainly understandable though.  With all that said, I doubt very much that anyone outside of a thousand feet from the damaged reactor in question has anything to fear from radiation exposure.  However, it would be imprudent not to evacuate the population in the immediate vicinity and that is exactly what the Japanese gov’t is doing.  

In this situation, the recommencement of fissioning of the fuel is something to avoid.  Normally this would not be an issue.  But, if the fuel has melted then there are lots of unknowns about the arrangement of fuel inside of the reactor.  With unknowns like this they are planning on inserting boron along with the sea water.  Boron is what is called a neutron absorber and it will kill any chain reaction of the fission of uranium.  This also shouldn’t be viewed as a “hail marry” type undertaking.  It’s just a prudent move to ensure that the reactor remains shutdown under unknown conditions.  

All of this is what I think about the situation.  To me it means that there isn’t a super Chernobyl type disaster that the gov’t is hiding from it’s people.  I’ll admit I don’t know it all and I don’t know a lot of specifics about this reactor or this situation.  But from what I do know, these are my opinions.  

P.S.  As I write this I’m watching some reporter on CNN bark out a bunch of junk that he has no idea what he’s saying.  All I hear is “I am clueless.  I am clueless.  I am clueless”  Someone, put an Engineer on tv, please!

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Re: Swedish and Finnish media

Tapani wrote:

Swedish and Finnish media now reports that there is a partial meltdown (or other form of damage) in reactor 1 (the linked Reuters article is the best English "confirmation" I could find).

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/13/us-japan-quake-idUSTRE72A0SS20110313

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said there might have been a partial meltdown of the fuel rods at the No. 1 reactor at Fukushima. Engineers were pumping in seawater, trying to prevent the same happening at the No. 3 reactor, he said in apparent acknowledgement they had moved too slowly on Saturday.

They also report that reactor 3 has no meltdown, but it is now being cooled by seawater.

Quote:

"A nuclear disaster which the promoters of nuclear power in Japan said wouldn't happen is in progress," the Citizens' Nuclear Information Center said. "It is occurring as a result of an earthquake that they said would not happen."


No shit guys, thanks for the mess!

Samuel

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I have also been watching

I have also been watching for information like this. 

From CNN:

Meanwhile, the prime minister ordered a Tokyo power company to conduct a widespread power outage in an effort to preserve energy as workers try to repair power plants damaged in the earthquake, including nuclear facilities.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company has been instructed to conduct three-hour rolling blackouts as the country faces a 10 million kilowatt shortage, officials said.

For those watching to see how a SHTF scenario might play out.

Jason

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jdhill, I think your

jdhill, I think your assessment is right on in your post in #41.

Learning the final causes of the accident will be interesting when that comes out months or years from now.  A combination of design issues, operator error, and failure to follow procedure contributed to the Chernobyl and TMI accidents, but this one in Japan may turn out to be primary attributed to an act of mother nature that is nearly impossible to prepare for. And we can only speculate now how this may impact the nuclear industry despite entering an age of other declining energy sources. 

For now I have deep empathy for the Japanese in this region and believe they are doing the best they can.   Waterborne disease, exposure, and injuries hampered by limited water, energy, food, and shelter seem likey to kill a lot more folks than radioactive contamination at this time. Human nature though sometimes is to put more emphasis on what we understand less and fear more.  

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Somewhat Reassuring

Thank you, jdjill3, your analysis is somewhat reassuring.

This from Reuters less  so.

France recommended its citizens leave the Tokyo region of Japan on Sunday, citing the risk of further earthquakes and uncertainty about the situation at its damaged nuclear plants.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/13/japan-quake-france-idUSLDE72C0...

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Re: My Thoughts

jdjill3, I would like to hear your thoughts about the following. Imagine the plant gets hit by another earthquake of magnitude 7 or greater or another tsunami of a few meters, what could happen? It's not like we didn't have a few magnitude-7s over the weekend... It seems like a high probability event. Thank you for your time

Samuel

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Outstanding description and analysis

In case you’ve missed it, this link has an outstanding description and analysis of the situation by a scientist at MIT.  It really puts everything into perspective and is followed by links to solid information from specialist.  Don’t dwell on the introduction, just move quickly into the part by Dr. Josef Oehmen.  I think our nuclear engineers will be in agreement with what he writes.  http://morgsatlarge.wordpress.com/2011/03/13/why-i-am-not-worried-about-japans-nuclear-reactors/

Our thanks for this link go to Plato1965, post 32, at this thread in the forums http://www.peakprosperity.com/comment/105137#comment-105137

Travlin

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What Happens to the Sea Water?

Does anyone know what happens to the sea water they use to cool the reactor with?  Does exposure cause it to become radioactive?  If so, what do they do with it?

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Thankyou very much Tavlin

Thankyou very much Tavlin for some light on this issue. Seeing people screaming left and right of a chernobyle style meltdown has got me down lately.

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Contaminated emergency cooling seawater....

elsur wrote:

Does anyone know what happens to the sea water they use to cool the reactor with?  Does exposure cause it to become radioactive?  If so, what do they do with it?

elsur -

The seawater used to cool the reactor will become radioactive due to both irradiation and activation of the seawater and the mixing with fuel elements that have ruptured or melted.  You can expect to see significantly increased levels of sodium 23, plus whatever fission products get mixed into the cooling water.

Without knowing the specifics of the emergency fiill system design at Fukushima Daiichi, the following is only an educated guess.  The use of seawater is an almost last resort effort so the concern for normal controls of the spread of contamination and radioactivity is now secondary to the efforts to keep what is left of of the fuel matrix cooled and subcritical.  If they are pumping sewater into the core and removing heat through an established circulation path - best case is through some intact portion if the primary coolant piping system - then the heated water is being likely being cooled and/.or condensed and reused.  Worst case scenario is that the primary coolant system integrity has been violated and they are pumping seawater into the core by any means available by flooding the primary containment and allowing natural circulation to dissipate heat.  I haven't read anything yet that indicates that the damage is so bad that a 'normal' circulation path for decay heat removal doesn't exist, but that is a possibility.  In either case, I suspect that the used seawater is being pumped offshore where it will be eventually diluted.  The long term effects will depend on the levels of the specific radionuclides released.

I'm still on my air card so efforts to stay current are a challenge.  I will be plugged back in later this evening and look forward to sifting through whatever other posters come up with.

...........except nuclear powered Rachel Maddow snarkiness.  Sealed

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