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Alert: Nuclear (and Economic) Meltdown In Progress

Wednesday, March 16, 2011, 4:05 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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660 Comments

CB's picture
CB
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 18 2008
Posts: 365
The situation at the plant

The situation at the plant does not appear to be exactly stable. I don't believe anyone has a clear understanding of what the state of reactors 1-4 is and all, TEPCO included, are reading the tea leaves to try and get a handle on the true state of things. Just look at the radiation levels on this chart:

http://public.tableausoftware.com/views/JapanRadiationLevels/JapanRadiationLevelsDashboard

What ever happened on the 21st has not been mentioned, let alone explained, in news stories or by the official sources like the IAEA bulletin.

thc0655's picture
thc0655
Status: Platinum Member (Online)
Joined: Apr 27 2010
Posts: 591
Japanese fishing industry

The most urgent bad news seems to be the nuclear plant issue, but one long term problem that hasn't been getting much attention yet is the Japanese fishing industry.  As I watched video footage of the tsunami and the wreckage left behind after the water receded I couldn't help but notice how many fishing vessels were wrecked.  I saw everything from 8 meter outboards to what looked to me like a 40-50 meter ship being destroyed.  The Japanese nation and the stricken area are heavily involved in fishing, and the destruction of so many of their assets are bound to have long term economic and psychological consequences for them and, by extension, the rest of the world. Sad. Ominous. 

CB's picture
CB
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 18 2008
Posts: 365
There are many disturbing

There are many disturbing tidbits of news dribbling out, but I have yet to see any reilable review of the current status of of the plant. For instance the following has been reported:

"TEPCO said, meanwhile, it had observed neutron beams, a kind of radioactive ray, 13 times on the premises of the Fukushima plant over the three days from March 13, but they were not at a dangerous level.

The detection of the beams suggests the possibility that uranium and plutonium have leaked from rods in the plant's reactors or spent nuclear fuel pools and have undergone nuclear fission."

http://english.kyodonews.jp/news/2011/03/80585.html

Dogs or anyone want to weigh in with a plausible explanation?

The repairs are not going so well:

"Nishiyama said TEPCO will carefully continue to inject massive amounts of water into the No. 1 reactor so as not to raise the pressure in the reactor.

Massive water injection could raise pressure in the reactor, which increases the risk of damage to the facility, and workers would be required to release radioactive steam from the reactor to lower the pressure.

At the No. 2 reactor, workers have been unable to replace a pump to help revive its internal cooling system since Friday as high-level radiation amounting to at least 500 millisieverts per hour was detected at its turbine building, the spokesman said.

Water-spraying operations, meanwhile, continued in the morning at the No. 4 reactor unit to help cool down its spent nuclear fuel pool, using trucks with a concrete squeeze pump and a 50-meter arm capable of pouring water from a higher point.

But similar operations for the No. 3 reactor were put off due to the smoke.

Also on Wednesday, a series of strong aftershocks jolted the coastal area of Fukushima Prefecture where the crippled plant is located, but they did not affect the restoration work, the nuclear agency said.

TEPCO said two workers who had been installing a makeshift power source from Tuesday night were injured and taken to hospital, but they were not exposed to radiation."

http://english.kyodonews.jp/news/2011/03/80532.html

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The neutron curveball

CB wrote:

There are many disturbing tidbits of news dribbling out, but I have yet to see any reilable review of the current status of of the plant. For instance the following has been reported:

"TEPCO said, meanwhile, it had observed neutron beams, a kind of radioactive ray, 13 times on the premises of the Fukushima plant over the three days from March 13, but they were not at a dangerous level.

The detection of the beams suggests the possibility that uranium and plutonium have leaked from rods in the plant's reactors or spent nuclear fuel pools and have undergone nuclear fission."

http://english.kyodonews.jp/news/2011/03/80585.html

Dogs or anyone want to weigh in with a plausible explanation?

The repairs are not going so well:

"Nishiyama said TEPCO will carefully continue to inject massive amounts of water into the No. 1 reactor so as not to raise the pressure in the reactor.

Massive water injection could raise pressure in the reactor, which increases the risk of damage to the facility, and workers would be required to release radioactive steam from the reactor to lower the pressure.

At the No. 2 reactor, workers have been unable to replace a pump to help revive its internal cooling system since Friday as high-level radiation amounting to at least 500 millisieverts per hour was detected at its turbine building, the spokesman said.

Water-spraying operations, meanwhile, continued in the morning at the No. 4 reactor unit to help cool down its spent nuclear fuel pool, using trucks with a concrete squeeze pump and a 50-meter arm capable of pouring water from a higher point.

But similar operations for the No. 3 reactor were put off due to the smoke.

Also on Wednesday, a series of strong aftershocks jolted the coastal area of Fukushima Prefecture where the crippled plant is located, but they did not affect the restoration work, the nuclear agency said.

TEPCO said two workers who had been installing a makeshift power source from Tuesday night were injured and taken to hospital, but they were not exposed to radiation."

http://english.kyodonews.jp/news/2011/03/80532.html

CB -

The measured rad level at 1500 meters was .02 microSieverts or .002 mRem.  If you run that back in to 1 meter, the level is 4.5 Rem/hr - which is not insignificant, but it also isn't going to kill you from acute exposure. 

Neutron radiation could come from a number of sources.  It could have been from a stored radiography source used for weld inspections (makes sense that this might be on site during a maintenance shutdown), or a neutron test source used to check reactor instrumentation function.  It also could have been from a piece of radioactive material scattered during venting, the explosions or one of the fires. 

The fact that they are calling it a "beam" lends a degree of "Oh shit, what's next" to it.  The intermittent detection could be caused by several dynamics.  You could have particles of UO2 in the spent fuel cells that - if the spent fuel is melting and pooling - are coming into close enough proximity that there are uncontrolled fission events going on.  That would generate levels high enough to read .02 microSieverts at 1500 meters.  If it is indeed a beam, that means it could be emanating from a crack in either the spent fuel storage pools (or worst case a breached reactor pressure vessel AND primary containment boundary) and is streaming out along a defined path.

Still more questions than answers.  What I'd like to know is where the readings were taken.  If they were all measured in the same spot, the most likely explanation is deposited chunk of radioactive contamination with an isotope the decays via neutron emission.  A less likely, but very feasible possibility is streaming through a breach in either the spent fuel pools or the pressure vessel and core itself.

At this point we wait and see.  There just isn't enough info being released to figure out what is going on.

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from NHK television -- smoke/steam now rising...

...from all 4 reactors.  (Wednesday evening, 7:00 p.m. EST)

http://enenews.com/nhk-at-7pm-et-smokesteam-rising-from-all-4-reactor-un...

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http://www.canada.com/news/Ja

http://www.canada.com/news/Japan+nuclear+plant+released+half+many+radioactive+isotopes+Chernobyl+data/4486227/story.html

Japan nuclear plant released half as many radioactive isotopes as Chernobyl: data

By Margaret Munro, Postmedia News
March 22, 2011

Over a four-day period last week, Japan's crippled reactors released about half as much radioactive Cesium-137 as Chernobyl had nearly 25 years ago, scientists say.

Data gathered by a UN agency's global network of detectors — including four in Canada — indicate the Fukushima power plant emitted "about 50 per cent" of the Cesium-137 as Chernobyl and 20 per cent of that disaster's total emissions of Iodine-131, says an Austrian team at the Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics in Vienna.

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Thank you!

Thank you for the messages of concern.  grl, that site you recommended is great - thanks so much!  It's a bit surreal in Japan at the moment.   Even though the news out of Fukushima is clearly a lot worse, the "experts" on TV are still telling us that everything is just fine and lovely!  That's why the info here is really appreciated.  

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here is a good spot to look

here is a good spot to look at updates on the reactors.http://www.jaif.or.jp/english/   can you get anything from this information? dogs in a pile

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Broken link...

skipster86 wrote:

here is a good spot to look at updates on the reactors.http://www.jaif.or.jp/english/   can you get anything from this information? dogs in a pile

skip -

Link is broken. 

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info link

Should work Dogs - just a general summary of the status without specifics. They do update it each day.

http://www.jaif.or.jp/english/

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Check out

Check out http://ourfiniteworld.com/ 2011/ 03/ 24/ is-loss-of-electricity-a-risk-for-spent-nuclear-fuel/ .

I fear that this may come to pass: At some future date, electricity generation becomes sporadic. Government/military officials, fearing vaporization of soon-to-be dry & overheating spent fuel, motor it out to some deep oceanic trench & drop it overboard.

My question: I haven’t had time to go into the possible biogeochemistry results of this (not totally unlikely) ocean-ditching ‘experiment’, but could anyone with expertise postulate the possible/likely results over various time-scales (years/decades/centuries/millenia/etc.)

My mind reels & my heart aches with what this civilization may look like as it unravels.

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The link CB put works. It

The link CB put works. It looks like the pressure in reactor 1 is growing I was also reading that the salt from the sea water might be building up and that is could keep the water from getting to the vessel to cool them. Any thought on this.

Thanks

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information from German site

Here is a relatively complete summary and status from a German site through Google translate:

http://translate.google.com/translate?js=n&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&layout=2&eotf=1&sl=de&tl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.grs.de%2Finformationen-zur-lage-den-japanischen-kernkraftwerken-fukushima-onagawa-und-tokai

Original in German:

http://www.grs.de/informationen-zur-lage-den-japanischen-kernkraftwerken-fukushima-onagawa-und-tokai

This article in the NYTimes discusses the possible build up of salts on the fuel rods from the use of sea water to cool the reactors. This could severely reduce the cooling effect of the seawater by insulating the fuel. There are many other problems arrociated with spraying the hot reactors and spent fuel with seawater due to its corrosive effects. The source of the high radiation levels at the plant is still unknown. Two workers received radiation burns to their legs while attempting repairs yesterday.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/24/world/asia/24nuclear.html?ref=world

Pictures of reactor damage and control rooms at Fukushima from Reuters:

http://www.reuters.com/news/pictures/slideshow?articleId=USRTR2KAAL#a=1

Animated gif of radiation plume from a German site (from a model?):

http://www.zamg.ac.at/aktuell/index.php?seite=1&artikel=ZAMG_2011-03-22GMT13:31

Experience of a Chernobyl cleanup worker:

http://www.aolnews.com/2011/03/22/chernobyl-cleanup-survivors-message-for-japan-run-away-as-qui/?icid=maing|main5|dl3|sec1_lnk3|51283

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Seawater is 3.5% Salt

skipster86 wrote:

The link CB put works. It looks like the pressure in reactor 1 is growing I was also reading that the salt from the sea water might be building up and that is could keep the water from getting to the vessel to cool them. Any thought on this.

Thanks

Okay, so let's say seawater is 3.5% salt, which is the average.

Now imagine you're pumping in 5 or 10 metric tons of seawater into a system that is supposed to have (from what I understand) something like 1,300 metric tons of non-salty water in it during the best of times.

If the seawater isn't enough and some of it boils away as vapor, each ton of seawater that boils away leaves 35 kilos of salt (or a 77 pound worth bag). Either the water remaining gets saltier and saltier, corroding things, or there is virtually no water and now the pumps and pipes and other mechancal moving parts are not just corroding, but also gunking up.

Does that sound plausible?

Poet

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No other choice but to use seawater

skipster86 wrote:

The link CB put works. It looks like the pressure in reactor 1 is growing I was also reading that the salt from the sea water might be building up and that is could keep the water from getting to the vessel to cool them. Any thought on this.

Thanks

Still getting a 404 error when I try the link.

When the emergency crews at the site opted to use seawater for emergency cooling it was because THEY HAD NO OTHER CHOICE.  The preferred method using deionized water or fresh water was gone because of damage to the pumps and supportng piping systems or no electricity to run the pumps (or a combination of both).  Seawater was the only option and they had to use it.

Accumulation of salt deposits as water was boiled away was a known risk.  I suspect this is getting some traction in the media because someone is sitting back trying to poke holes in every plan that comes forth.  And of course, the news outlets will run with anything and everything they think will grab a headline.

What would the headlines be if the emergency response teams decided to let the core and spent fuel pools overheat and meltdown or burn and the officials stated that they didn't want to use seawater for cooling because they were worried about possible salt accumulation?

I can't post my full thoughts much beyond saying that it's times like these when I really hate the media.......................

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salt problem

Dogs, understood that they had no other option and I don't take this as the point here. It just demonstrates the incredible difficulties faced in trying to bring things under control. Every available option has a down side and the people in charge must rely on indirect evidence and informed guesswork in trying to determine the exact nature of the problems they face.

There is another story in the news about unit 4. The reactor vessel (thankfully not in service when the earthquake occurred) suffered a deformation of its wall during the final stages of manufacture because internal braces weren't in place and the wall sagged. Bankruptcy of the company was feared if the defect became known. The engineer in charge designed a solution to salvage the vessel - re-heating and jacking the wall back to form to hide the problem. After Chernobyl he became fearful that the vessel would fail and notified regulators who ignored his concerns. Lucky for all it was not subjected to its ultimate stress test.

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I don't see how "salt is

I don't see how "salt is building up" could be interpreted as anything other than a status update.  No reason to get defensive.

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Lack of data from Japan distresses nuclear experts

"............How did Japanese workers at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant jury-rig fire hoses to cool damaged reactors? Is contaminated water from waste pools overflowing into the Pacific Ocean? Exactly who is the national incident commander?

The answers to these and many other questions are unclear to U.S. nuclear scientists and policy experts, who say the quality and quantity of information coming out of Japan has left gaping holes in their understanding of the disaster nearly two weeks after it began.

At the same time, they say, the depth of the crisis has clearly been growing, judging by releases of radioactivity that by some measures have reached half the level of those released in the Chernobyl accident of 1986, according to new analysis by European and American scientists. ............."

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-sci-japan-quake-secrecy-20110325,0,3610246.story

"Tokyo Electric Power Company says it has detected high levels of radioactive substances in water that 3 workers were exposed to at the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The company says 3.9 million becquerels of radioactive substances per cubic centimeter were detected in the water that the workers were standing in. That is 10,000 times higher than levels of the water inside a nuclear reactor in operation. ........"

http://www3.nhk.or.jp/daily/english/25_10.html

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cover up?

Who knows whether this has any truth to it, but here's a blog post sharing a report by an alleged French journalist saying they've covered up a meltdown at the plant...take with a grain of salt:

http://mikephilbin.blogspot.com/2011/03/french-journalist-spills-beans-a...

"Reactor 1 has gone through a full metdown 4 days ago.
The containment has been breached.
The lower part of the reactor has completely melted away.
Radioactive fuel has breached the bottom of the nuclear plant, and is seeping into the ground.
This is the reason why, water contamination is getting worse by the hour.
The current situation of plant 3, is nearing the same process."

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Japan Raises Possibility of Breach in Reactor Vessel

Japan Raises Possibility of Breach in Reactor Vessel

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/26/world/asia/26japan.html

TOKYO — Japans effort to contain the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant suffered a setback, an official said on Friday,  citing evidence that the reactor vessel of the No. 3 unit may have been damaged.

The development, described at a news conference by Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy director-general of the Japan Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, raises the possibility that radiation from the mox fuel in the reactor — a combination of uranium and plutonium — could be released.

Given the pattern of lack of transparency, I'd guess that they know for a fact there's a core breach in #3.  If they didn't know for sure, they probably wouldn't say a damn thing.

- Nickbert

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Lets get some independent measurements from on the ground

[March 25th, about 4pm, Tokyo]

Adding a little reality to the Radiation speculations guys. Not doubting the seriousness of what's occurred in regards to the '3x E's' globally, but lets keep it real & focused on helpful discussion:

Monitored data on environmental radiation levels in Tokyo
http://ftp.jaist.ac.jp/pub/emergency/monitoring.tokyo-eiken.go.jp/monitoring/index-e.html

Some nice graphs put together by a friend:
http://fleep.com/earthquake/

Thanks,

Jason
In Tokyo 

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Japanese treated for radiation in China

Japanese treated for radiation in China

Two Japanese travellers have been hospitalised in China with "severe" radiation levels after they arrived on a commercial airliner from Tokyo, China's safety watchdog said.

The General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said radiation levels that "seriously exceeded limits" were detected on the two when they arrived in the eastern city of Wuxi on Wednesday.

But China's customs body said they did not present a risk to others.

Until now, no-one in Japan except workers at the stricken plant has been found with seriously elevated radiation levels, and Japan's foreign ministry noted that as of March 18 the International Civil Aviation Association had declared that screening of airline passengers from Japan was not necessary.

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How to know when to leave

Was just speaking with my family doctor and asked him what marker he was watching to judge when the need to evacuate arises.  He said that as a doctor he had to stay in Tokyo but if the US military was to announce it was withdrawing all of its personnel from Japan he would advise others to leave.

The question is  how to best learn quickly of such a decision?  All I can think of is the Stars and Stripes website http://www.stripes.com/ but not sure how timely it would be in reporting such a development.

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When to leave link

debu wrote:

Was just speaking with my family doctor and asked him what marker he was watching to judge when the need to evacuate arises.  He said that as a doctor he had to stay in Tokyo but if the US military was to announce it was withdrawing all of its personnel from Japan he would advise others to leave.

The question is  how to best learn quickly of such a decision?  All I can think of is the Stars and Stripes website http://www.stripes.com/ but not sure how timely it would be in reporting such a development.

http://www.japanbases.com/forums

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Egads.

nickbert wrote:

Given the pattern of lack of transparency, I'd guess that they know for a fact there's a core breach in #3.  If they didn't know for sure, they probably wouldn't say a damn thing.

I concur, Nickbert.  Now that they say it's "possible" we have to assume it's definitely happened.  I had hoped-without-hope that things would stay more contained but I guess we all know the expression:  "Hope in one hand...."

I'm going to have to call my Mom and keep her cool (she lives in LA and is worried)...

VIVA -- Sager

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Define and quantify "breach" please........

SagerXX wrote:

nickbert wrote:

Given the pattern of lack of transparency, I'd guess that they know for a fact there's a core breach in #3.  If they didn't know for sure, they probably wouldn't say a damn thing.

I concur, Nickbert.  Now that they say it's "possible" we have to assume it's definitely happened.  I had hoped-without-hope that things would stay more contained but I guess we all know the expression:  "Hope in one hand...."

I'm going to have to call my Mom and keep her cool (she lives in LA and is worried)...

VIVA -- Sager

I would like to know what the definition of "breach" is......

Does it mean the bottom of the pressure vessel has melted through or does it mean there is an unisolable leak from a support piping system?

How you should respond to either of these is very different.  Actual conditions are probably in between.

Sager - your mother is getting more exposure from the smog in the air and the concrete in the buildings in LA than she is from a plume from Fukushima Daiichi.

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Chill, Mom: DIAP sez so!

Dogs_In_A_Pile wrote:

Sager - your mother is getting more exposure from the smog in the air and the concrete in the buildings in LA than she is from a plume from Fukushima Daiichi.

I know that, and you know that...  I just have to get her (and all her Chicken Little friends) to know and believe it.  <wry grin>

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Japanese Speak

Seriously, we need a translator device or something.

Japanese Emperor announcing surrender in WWII: "Despite the best that has been done by everyone - the gallant fighting of the military and naval forces, the diligence and assiduity of Our servants of the State, and the devoted service of Our one hundred million people - the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage, while the general trends of the world have all turned against her interest.

Moreover, the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should we continue to fight, not only would it result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization."

They only had "70 million people". The war has developed "not necessarily to Japan's advantage"? The "extinction of human civilization" if the Japanese continue to carry on? Wow.

It's all about saving face. The funny thing of course is, they know they've lost face, but so long as they pretend they haven't lost face, they can act like they haven't and continue to preserve their false dignity.

Some Japanese civilians said during WWII that they knew things were going badly because the government kept broadcasting about great victories over the American forces - that somehow were happening closer and closer to the Japanese home islands.

So how do we interpret what the Japanese government and TEPCO says? If there's a "possible breach" yeah, there's a real breach alright. I believe the ground water of an huge area of land covering millions of homes and numerous towns and farms is now basically ruined for drinking or farming.

And the brave Fukushima Fifty are now literally dying to safe the face of their government and of TEPCO.

Poet

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high-radiation water leaks in nuke crisis

"But a day after three workers were exposed to water containing radioactive materials 10,000 times the normal level at the turbine building connected to the No. 3 reactor building, highly radioactive water was also found in the turbine buildings of the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors.

The latest development in Japan's worst nuclear crisis raises the risk of more workers being exposed to radioactive substances, hindering their efforts to restore the plant's crippled cooling functions that are key to overcoming the crisis.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said at a press conference Friday evening that the situation at the plant involving leaks of radioactive materials and other serious problems ''still does not warrant optimism.''

He failed to address what the Japanese people and the international community most want to know -- whether the ongoing crisis will be brought under control soon -- only saying that the government is putting all its efforts into preventing a worsening of the situation."

http://english.kyodonews.jp/news/2011/03/81116.html

New video from flyover (NHK)

http://www3.nhk.or.jp/daily/english/movie_25_30.html

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re-criticality

CB wrote:
"TEPCO said, meanwhile, it had observed neutron beams [which] suggests the possibility that uranium and plutonium have leaked from rods in the plant's reactors or spent nuclear fuel pools and have undergone nuclear fission."

I don't know of any other way to get neutrons out of it.

To my knowledge, that means the meltdown has progressed to the point of forming a critical mass. If this is true, then they have more than decay heat to worry about -- the reactor has, in effect, come back "on line."

While not a good sign, it would not necessarily mean a worst-case scenario. It could mean only a small amount of fuel has melted, but somehow managed to re-assemble.

The mention of "plutonium" is strange. That means it's coming from the MOX reactor, #3, as the other reactors would only have tiny amounts of plutonium present.

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Poet, CB, anyone - Here's

Poet, CB, anyone -

Here's where I am still struggling....

I've read all the articles that talk about the contaminated water and the dose to the three workers who stepped in the water.  What is still very unclear to me is whether or not the article is correctly using the words 'radiation' and 'contamination'.  Stepping into water that is 10,000 times more contaminated is a huge difference in comparison to stepping into water that is 10,000 more radioactive.

For every article I read with "new and breaking information" I come up with a list of 10 questions regarding the accuracy and completeness of the information being presented.

With regards to the nuclear accident, what's going on at Fukushima Daiichi is bad.  The lack of accurate and complete information (from TEPCO and the media, for whatever real reason) is frustrating.  The situation could be bad or it could be really bad.  A sheared, unisolable 1" sampling line allowing emergency cooling water/steam to leak out of the core pressure vessel is bad.  A core breach where the bottom of the pressure vessel has been melted through allowing molten fuel and core material and steam/water to leak into the primary containment building is about as bad as it can get.

We are probably somewhere in between - and any number of dynamics could drive towards one extreme or the other.

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Still more questions than answers.......

Bytesmiths wrote:

CB wrote:
"TEPCO said, meanwhile, it had observed neutron beams [which] suggests the possibility that uranium and plutonium have leaked from rods in the plant's reactors or spent nuclear fuel pools and have undergone nuclear fission."

I don't know of any other way to get neutrons out of it.

To my knowledge, that means the meltdown has progressed to the point of forming a critical mass. If this is true, then they have more than decay heat to worry about -- the reactor has, in effect, come back "on line."

While not a good sign, it would not necessarily mean a worst-case scenario. It could mean only a small amount of fuel has melted, but somehow managed to re-assemble.

The mention of "plutonium" is strange. That means it's coming from the MOX reactor, #3, as the other reactors would only have tiny amounts of plutonium present.

Without a moderator you cannot have a critical mass.  It is possible to have localized pockets of prompt criticality (on fast neutrons alone) due to fuel melting that allows particles of fuel to come into close enough proximity that neutron absorption and subsequent ejection occur, with some degree of downstream fission events, but to draw the conclusion that the reaction is sustained criticality is incorrect.  Localized, and intermittent, short duration neutron generation - yes.  Criticality? - No.

Whether or not plutonium from MOX is involved complicates the damage control efforts, recovery and cleanup but in and of itself doesn't make the accident worse.  It's like arguing that a gasoline fire from 93 octane is worse than 87 octane - while losing sight of the fact that your garage is burning.

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So I read these reports

So I read these reports about the Japanese workers standing in radioactive water for what is reported to be quite a long time and my first thought was "What?!? They weren't testing that water?" Maybe I am not understanding the whole story but if I have that right, it seems absolutely incredible that they would have these workers standing in pools of water unaware of its high radioactive content. But while researching this, I came upon this post, any truth to it or just a propoganda mouthpiece for the nuclear energy industry?

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/03/25/fukushima_scaremongering_debunk/

First up, three technicians working to restore electrical power in the plant's No 3 reactor building stood in some water while doing so. Their personal dosimetry equipment later showed that they had sustained radiation doses up to 170 millisievert. Under normal rules when dealing with nuclear powerplant incidents, workers at the site are permitted to sustain up to 250 millisievert before being withdrawn. If necessary, this can be extended to 500 millisievert according to World Health Organisation guidance.

None of this involves significant health hazards: actual radiation sickness is not normally seen until a dose of 1,000 millisievert and is not common until 2,000. Additional cancer risk is tiny: huge numbers of people must be subjected to such doses in order to see any measurable health consequences. In decades to come, future investigators will almost certainly be unable to attribute any cases of cancer to service at Fukushima.

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DEBU

debu wrote:

Was just speaking with my family doctor and asked him what marker he was watching to judge when the need to evacuate arises.  He said that as a doctor he had to stay in Tokyo but if the US military was to announce it was withdrawing all of its personnel from Japan he would advise others to leave.

The question is  how to best learn quickly of such a decision?  All I can think of is the Stars and Stripes website http://www.stripes.com/ but not sure how timely it would be in reporting such a development.

Keep an eye on the bases public website's too for example

http://www.yokota.af.mil/

also, the US Embassy in Japan's website.

Personally, as a military member, I would already be weary knowing that they are authorizing military families to leave the island on the governments dime AKA evacuating or as they worded, "voluntary evacuation." The military wouldnt authorize that with out reason.......

your doc is right though, if any bases on the main island (or others) get completly evacuated, to include active duty, leave.....leave no matter what people say cause us active duty guys would be the last to be aloud to leave......

Mike

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agreed, we lack sufficient information

Agreed DIAP, there is not enough information to draw conclusions about the exact state of things - except that a best case is still looking rather bad. For instance, it is not clear to me how the fuel storage pool in unit 3 (located at the top of the containment structure) could have survived the violent explosion that destroyed the upper 1/3 of the structure - let alone understand what damage was sustained around the reactor containment. The lack of clear explanations this late in the game is a source of concern. I worry that the recovery effort may have been left to a few technical staff that stepped up as best they could while upper management is MIA, unable to face up to the seriousness of the situation. I don't doubt that the US military has been working to assess the situation using remote tools like the drone they flew to measure radiation levels in the area, but I wonder if they have people on site. Slowness to step up, take responsibility, and provide clear information is, to say the least, unhelpful and perhaps adding to the danger.

What is the relationship between the SDF and TEPCO? Who is in charge? No one seems to know....

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when to leave? now.

debu wrote:

Was just speaking with my family doctor and asked him what marker he was watching to judge when the need to evacuate arises.  He said that as a doctor he had to stay in Tokyo but if the US military was to announce it was withdrawing all of its personnel from Japan he would advise others to leave.

The question is  how to best learn quickly of such a decision?  All I can think of is the Stars and Stripes website http://www.stripes.com/ but not sure how timely it would be in reporting such a development.

If I were in Tokyo I'd leave immediately. Yes, it may be inconvenient or expensive, and maybe you can lose your job, but the thing is, we are pretty certain they are downplaying the severity of the nuclear crisis. If and when things get seriously worse...i.e., the plant goes "nuclear" and a big radioactive cloud is on its way to downtown...the ensuing panic is going to make it impossible to evacuate quickly.

You need to leave before everyone starts leaving, or you'll potentially be stuck.

And the thing is, it already sounds bad to me. The tap water is already radioactive and they have run out of bottled water...at this point, why would you stay? Do you think this is going to get better magically? I'd get out before it gets a lot worse.

But that's just me. Maybe I'm overreacting, but I've had a bad feeling about this from day one and I don't think it's going to resolve well. I don't have any sort of nuclear engineering background, just a gut instinct on it.

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Radiation victims to be sent to key medical facilities across Ja

"The Japanese government plans to send people exposed to high-level radiation to key hospitals across the country if the number of such victims tops the 100 mark in the aftermath of the ongoing nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, government and medical sources said Friday.

The government came up with the plan as the National Institute of Radiological Sciences, one of the country's two specialized radiation research centers, cannot handle such a large number of radiation victims at once, the sources said.

Currently, the government designates the National Institute of Radiological Sciences as an emergency medical facility for radiation victims in eastern Japan and Hiroshima University in western Japan.

On top of the two, medical facilities that can offer emergency treatment to radiation victims are set up in 19 out of the country's 47 prefectures where nuclear power facilities are located.

The government plans to decontaminate radiation victims on the spot and send them to the National Institute of Radiological Sciences if the number of victims is limited to tens.

It plans to transfer victims to Hiroshima University and key university as well as core hospitals across the country if the number tops 100.

The government is considering using Self-Defense Forces helicopters and motor vehicles to transfer such radiation victims to medical facilities across the country, the sources said."

http://english.kyodonews.jp/news/2011/03/81140.html

OK, just precautionary planning.... but because of the general lack of information/understanding one might conclude that there is a current need to make such plans.

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pressure vessel may be damaged

Dogs...Is this what you refer to in post #481?

""It is possible that the pressure vessel containing the fuel rods in the reactor is damaged," a spokesman from Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) told the AFP news agency.

Radioactive leaks

Japan's nuclear safety agency said radioactive substances had leaked to places "far from the reactor".

"As far as the data show, we believe there is a certain level of containment ability but it's highly possible that the reactor is damaged," Hideyuki Nishiyama, a spokesman for the agency, said.

Reactor number three is of particular concern because it uses a potentially volatile mix of uranium and plutonium."

...............................Japan nuclear crisis 'could last months'

"Among the theories to explain the cause of the smoke is a chemical reaction between a molten radioactive slag called corium and the concrete of the containment vessel that provides a protective shell for the pressure vessel, it said.

If the corium burns through the containment vessel's concrete floor or other protections, that boosts the risk that radioactivity can enter the environment through the soil.

A spokesman for the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), told AFP on Friday "it is possible" that the pressure vessel in the No 3 unit has been damaged. There were no further details."

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does any of the readings in

does any of the readings in the epa report mean anything to anyone amounts of isotopes

CORRECTION: UPDATED – please note the addition of “hundreds of thousands” in the second and sixth paragraphs Radiation Monitors Continue to Confirm That No Radiation Levels of Concern Have Reached the United States

Release date: 03/22/2011

Contact Information: EPA Press Office press@epa.gov

 

WASHINGTON – During a detailed analysis of four west coast RadNet air monitor filters, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified trace amounts of radioactive iodine, cesium, and tellurium consistent with the Japanese nuclear incident. These levels are consistent with the levels found by a Department of Energy monitor last week and are to be expected in the coming days. 

EPA’s samples were captured by three monitors in California and one in Washington State on Friday, March 18
 and sent to EPA scientists for detailed laboratory analysis. The data was reviewed over the weekend and the analysis was completed Monday night. The radiation levels detected on the filters from California and Washington monitors are hundreds of thousands to millions of times below levels of concern. 

In addition, last night preliminary monitor results in Hawaii detected minuscule levels of an isotope that is also consistent with the Japanese nuclear incident. This detection varies from background and historical data in Hawaii. This isotope was detected at our fixed monitor in Hawaii, and it is far below any level of concern for human health. The sampling filter from this monitor is being sent to our national radiation lab for further analysis. 

In a typical day, Americans receive doses of radiation from natural sources like rocks, bricks and the sun that are about 100,000 times higher than what we have detected coming from Japan. For example, the levels we’re seeing coming from Japan are 100,000 times lower than what you get from taking a roundtrip international flight. 

EPA is in the process of conducting detailed filter analyses for fixed monitors located in Oregon. 

EPA’s RadNet filter results for San Francisco, Seattle, Riverside and Anaheim, California detected minuscule quantities of iodine isotopes and other radioactive particles that pose no health concern at the detected levels. Below are the results of the detailed filter analysis. All of the radiation levels detected during the detailed filter analysis are 
hundreds of thousands to millions of times below levels of concern. 

All units are in 
Picocuries per meter cubed. 

- Filter results for Anaheim, Calif. found: 
Cesium-137: 0.0017 
Tellurium-132: 0.012 
Iodine-132: 0.0095 
Iodine-131: 0.046 

- Filter results for Riverside, Calif. found: 
Cesium-137: 0.00024 
Tellurium-132: 0.0014 
Iodine-132: 0.0015 
Iodine-131: 0.011 
- Filter results for Seattle, Wash. found: 
Cesium-137: 0.00045 
Tellurium-132: 0.0034 
Iodine-132: 0.0029 
Iodine-131: 0.013 

- Filter results for San Francisco, Calif. found: 
Cesium-137: 0.0013 
Tellurium-132: 0.0075 
Iodine-132: 0.0066 
Iodine-131: 0.068 

EPA’s RadNet system is designed to protect the public by notifying scientists, in near real time, of elevated levels of radiation so they can determine whether protective action is required. In addition, an analysis of the filters in the monitors can identify even the smallest trace amounts of specific radioactive isotopes. 

As part of the federal government’s continuing effort to make our activities and science transparent and available to the public, EPA will continue to keep RadNet data available at:
http://www.epa.gov/japan2011/ 


 


 

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Trace levels make sense.....

skipster -

These levels are considerably below control levels and any risk associated with these levels is negligible.  As I've said before, the risk isn't zero because any exposure carries some risk, but as described in the article, these are trace levels.  The risk is extremely low.

The key going forward is trend analysis and day to day comparison to ensure the measured levels continue to remain low.

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thanks . I  live in the

thanks . I  live in the california sierra nevada foothills and grow and raise chickens and goats that we eat and have small children I just wonder about buildups in the soil and water.

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Thanks Dogs

I just wanted to express my sincere appreciation to Dogs for his informative posts/pod cast/ and his continued committment to helping us all to better understand the current situation in Japan and elsewhere.

A hearty thanks also to CM and the CM Team for this site and connecting all the dots for those of us who are short a few dots and are less connected :D

Now if I could only visualize what exactly would dogs in a pile look like, hmmm (hand on chin and eyes staring blankly) , nope, can't see it, sorry Dogs.

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"radiation" IS NOT "contamination"

skipster86 wrote:
No Radiation Levels of Concern Have Reached the United States...

the levels we’re seeing coming from Japan are 100,000 times lower than what you get from taking a roundtrip international flight.

Every time I see bullshit like this I tend to disbelieve anything else in the same document.

The radioactive contaminants listed incorporate themselves into human tissue when inhaled or ingested and continuously irradiate nearby tissues with energetic beta particles for at least 80 days for I-131, or the rest or your life for the others.

The radioactivity you get from a flight is almost completely gamma rays, which for the most part, pass right through you without interacting with any tissue.

Don't believe nuclear advice from anyone who can't tell the difference between an apple and an orange.

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You can never "attribute a case of cancer" to a nuclear event.

grl wrote:
In decades to come, future investigators will almost certainly be unable to attribute any cases of cancer to service at Fukushima.

Yes, it always comes down to that, doesn't it?

You simply cannot look at a single case of cancer and say, "This was caused by that nuclear accident twenty years ago."

However, I am absolutely certain that statistical studies will show large increases in cancer and other mutagenic diseases in the area.

There are so many ways to deceive about this stuff, it would be funny if it weren't so tragic.

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Can't rule it out either.....

Bytesmiths wrote:

grl wrote:
In decades to come, future investigators will almost certainly be unable to attribute any cases of cancer to service at Fukushima.

Yes, it always comes down to that, doesn't it?

You simply cannot look at a single case of cancer and say, "This was caused by that nuclear accident twenty years ago."

However, I am absolutely certain that statistical studies will show large increases in cancer and other mutagenic diseases in the area.

There are so many ways to deceive about this stuff, it would be funny if it weren't so tragic.

bytesmith -

I wouldn't sweat it too much.  While future investigators may not be able to definitively attribute a case of cancer caused by exposure to a release from Fukushima they will also most definitely NOT be able to rule it out.

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Radiation v. Contamination, another layer...

Quote:

The radioactive contaminants listed incorporate themselves into human tissue when inhaled or ingested and continuously irradiate nearby tissues with energetic beta particles for at least 80 days for I-131, or the rest or your life for the others.

Byte -

Not necessarily.  Unless the radionuclide has a predisposition for preferential deposition like I-131 or a bone seeker like Strontium-91, most of it is eliminated from the body via normal bodily functions.  Even if ingested, about 75% of Sr-90 is going to be passed.  80-90% of an inhaled radioactive gas or finely divided and suspended particulate is exhaled.  Most of what you swallow (again, about 75%) will pass through the GI tract and be eliminated.  This further reduces the effective half life and acute dose received since now you have the combination of a the normal isotopic half life plus the biological half life.

Quote:

Don't believe nuclear advice from anyone who can't tell the difference between an apple and an orange.

Generally a good rule of thumb......but you have to admit, the jumping, hopping "meteorologist with Tourette's" on CNN is fun to watch.  Tie his hands to his waist and he wouldn't be able to talk.  Cool

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Steal Your Face.........

rocketgirl1 wrote:

Now if I could only visualize what exactly would dogs in a pile look like, hmmm (hand on chin and eyes staring blankly) , nope, can't see it, sorry Dogs.

Well of course you can't see it............but you can hear it.  Pay close attention at 2:20.

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http://content.usatoday.com/c

http://content.usatoday.com/communities/ondeadline/post/2011/03/report-radioactive-emissions-from-japan-plant-approach-chernobyl-levels/1

Report: Emissions from Japan plant approach Chernobyl levels

By Michael Winter, USA TODAY
Emissions of radioactive iodine and cesium from the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant have approached levels after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, New Scientist reports.

Austrian researchers made the calculations by using the global network of detectors designed to sniff out clandestine nuclear bomb tests.

Iodine-131 is being released at daily levels 73% of those detected after Chernobyl, while the daily amount of cesium-137 is about 60%, according to researcher from Austria's Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics.

How do researchers contrast the two accidents?

The difference between this accident and Chernobyl, they say, is that at Chernobyl a huge fire released large amounts of many radioactive materials, including fuel particles, in smoke. At Fukushima Daiichi, only the volatile elements, such as iodine and caesium, are bubbling off the damaged fuel. But these substances could nevertheless pose a significant health risk outside the plant.

The organisation set up to verify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) has a global network of air samplers that monitor and trace the origin of around a dozen radionuclides, the radioactive elements released by atomic bomb blasts – and nuclear accidents. These measurements can be combined with wind observations to track where the radionuclides come from, and how much was released.

The findings include air samples at Sacramento, Calif., and from monitoring stations in Alaska, Hawaii and Montreal, Canada.

The report comes as Japanese officials announced that radioactive iodine-131 exceeding safety limits for infants had been detected at 18 water-purification plants in Tokyo and five other prefectures. Officials said also that the fallout from the Dai-ichi plant is hindering search efforts for victims from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Update at 5:35 p.m. ET: Radiation 10,000 times normal levels has been measured in the water where three Fukushima plant workers were irradiated while laying power cable underground at the No. 3 reactor's turbine building, Kyodo News is reporting.

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He's Gone

Now you're speaking a language I can understand! Nothin left to do, but...

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thanks

Dogs_In_A_Pile wrote:

rocketgirl1 wrote:

Now if I could only visualize what exactly would dogs in a pile look like, hmmm (hand on chin and eyes staring blankly) , nope, can't see it, sorry Dogs.

Well of course you can't see it............but you can hear it.  Pay close attention at 2:20.

Well there it is !  I could even smell incense burning \m/ 

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