Japan quake, tsunami, nuke news 14: Waiting for the other shoe to drop

The experts monitoring and reporting on the Fukushima nuclear disaster have, for several days now, stopped talking about melting reactor fuel or breached containment vessels. The International Atomic Energy Agency, the Energy Collective, and other groups now merely pass along information about pressure and temperature and make a note here and there about water being sprayed on something or not sprayed on something. They have not stopped talking about melting overheated fuel because they have determined that there isn't any. They stopped talking about it because there isn't anything to say. Reactors have melted down, the meltdown is still in process, and while everyone waits for the other shoe to drop ... something more out of control than they have now, which hopefully will not happen ... they talk about pressure gages and tonnes of water and temperature readings. Have you ever watched someone who is quite ill die over a period of days or weeks? This is often how it goes. You stop talking about fixing the damaged heart or repairing the useless lungs or shrinking the growing tumor, and if you talk about anything medical at all, it's the dials and widgets attached to chrome rods and racks and draped with cables and tubes, flashing, beeping, oscillating behind the unconscious patient. This is how Fukushima looks to me today.

I take it that it is now understood that nothing can really be done about the fact that significant proportions of the fuel rods in two or three of the reactors as well as storage pools have broken down, fuel has gotten to where it is not supposed to be, fission, which is not suppose to be going on, has happened and the containment vessels are leaking in unknown and uncontrolled ways. Radioactive water is causing engineers to not be able to do anything in the plants, and they have no viable plan for dealing with the radioactive water. As they dump fresh water in the fuel storage pools and reactors, we presume that they create both additional radioactive water in the plant and radioactive vapor streaming out of the plant (which has lost most or all of its various overhead containment buildings owing to the once thought to be irrelevant blowing up of said buildings by uncontrolled hydrogen explosions), and some significant amount of this water is leaking into the sea, though that this is happening and how it is happening is generally unacknowledged. (Though the presence of radioisotopes from the plant in the sea is not something that can be ignored.)

Giant floating blobs of radioactive air stream irregularly away from the plant carried by winds across the Northern Hemisphere, and for the most part, have little health effect because it is so dispersed. But every now and then a still-concentrated blob of air is more quickly brought to the ground by local rainfall, causing what is claimed to be unsafe contamination of crops, land, homes, drinking water, or whatever else lies below. There is no evidence that this belching out of radiation will decrease in the near future, and there is no indication that there is a viable plan to stop it. Talk of covering the melted-down reactors and surrounding buildings and landscape with glue and plastic wrap does not impress us. In any event, such a plan is probably either rhetoric to buy time for the plant owners (time to do what, I'm not sure) or an intermediate step allowing for the overheated nuclear fuel (both in reactors and spent fuel rod pools) to finally slow down in output of heat and radioactivity. If they do.

Of course, everything I've just said is reading between the lines. No one at TEPCO is saying anything like this. And, I'm sure various NPAs (Nuclear Power Apologists) will now explain (see comment section of this and other posts) that more people die of snake bites than nuclear accidents, therefore this very expensive, farm land-killing sea-poisoning disaster if of no consequence. Indeed, this is what we should expect now and then if we want to use nuclear power, and it's quite acceptable. I'm still waiting for someone to make the claim that the people of the region where this is happening were openly and clearly informed that this is the likely consequence of having nine nuclear reactors at this location for several decades. Because it is, you know. It really is.

As usual, following is Ana's feed, various links to stuff on the web, and the IAEA summary. Enjoy. Or, perhaps, not:

Ana's Feed:

TEPCO says it will decommission reactors 1-4. Edano thinks all 6 should be taken off-line, and scrapped. (NHK)

  • Nishiyama [spokesman, gov. nuke regulators] said it is expected to take at least 20 years to finish the procedures to decommission the six-reactor Fukushima plant. Katsumata [chairman] said TEPCO considers it as an option to cover the troubled reactors with ''stone coffins'' made of concrete and iron, a solution adopted in the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear crisis. -kyodo news(Ana's Feed is a collection of Analiese Miller's facebook status entries posted as she takes in the news live in Japan.)
  • "Estimates of the costs of decommissioning a single reactor under normal circumstances run upward of $500 million, and the company faces the likelihood of enormous liability claims from a disaster that has forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people." -NYT

In addition to the "special sheets" that may be used to cover the reactor buildings, a "special resin" is being sprayed around the exteriors of reactors 4 and 6 today, also in an effort to contain radioactive dust. If this is effective, it will be used around the other buildings as well. (NHK)

  • Correction: resin spraying canceled for rain.

Radioactive iodine 4,385 times legal limit found in seawater near plant. -kyodo news

  • NISA says this is NBD cuz no one's fishing there anyway.

IAEA finally adds some geographic data to their measurements (what took so long, do you think?) NISA says the agency did not insist on wider evac. zone, so they're good for now. (IAEA Confirms Very High Levels of Contamination Far From Reactors)

  • Edano: One of the sample reading have exceeded IAEA recommended levels, and we have been advised to take careful decisions. We are aware that extended exposure at these levels can cause health risks, so we'll continue monitoring. (NHK)
  • Gov: This is not the time to change the evacuation zone. (NHK)
  • Ban proposed on access to nuclear crisis area but poses problems (-kyodo news)

"In a potentially negative development, Flory [deputy director general, IAEA] said the agency had heard there might be "recriticality" at the plant, in which a nuclear chain reaction would resume, even though the reactors were automatically shut down at the time of the quake... (High radiation outside Japan exclusion zone -IAEA AlertNet)

  • That could lead to more radiation releases, but it would not be "the end of the world," Flory said. "Recriticality does not mean that the reactor is going to blow up. It may be something really local. We might not even see it if it happens."

""As of now, the levels we're seeing are not harmful to humans. We're basing this on Japanese studies following the Chernobyl incident in 1986 where levels of iodine-131 were four times higher than what we've detected in our rainwater so far," said Starosta."North Shore Outlook - Japanese radiation reaches North Shore

Workers at the plant are concerned about their health. They are working in groups, with one dosimeter. No individual is certain of his own, individual, exposure. Some have left. (NHK)

  • Governmental standards require that each individual be equipped with monitoring devices. TEPCO says that those without monitors are assigned to low-risk areas. (NHK exclusive)
  • "Following the warning issued to the company on Thursday, Nishiyama said, ''From today, all of the workers will wear dosimeters. And if each individual cannot get one, the work should not take place.''"

900 people will collect in a shelter in Iwate Pref. tomorrow night to share hot soup and pledge to begin anew. (NHK)

291 schools in the effected prefectures have no prospects of resuming class. (NHK)

  • 41% are designated evacuation centers
  • 21% have been destroyed
  • 10% have lost all their students

A radioactive substance about 10,000 times the limit was detected from groundwater around the No. 1 reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Thursday. ... A Tokyo Electric official said the radiation level is ''extremely high.'' -kyodo news

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said 510 Bq of radioactive cesium (over the limit of 500Bq) was detected in beef from Tenei, Fuku. Pref., 70km from the plant.... NISA says they will conduct a "fresh examination." -kyodo news

News stories and updates:

Fukushima...Hysteria now completely disconnected from reality

As the situation at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear powerplant slowly winds down, the salient facts remain the same... nobody has suffered or will suffer any radiological health consequences. Economic damage and inconvenience ... have been significant, but tiny in comparison to all other human activities - the nuclear power plants in the stricken region have suffered less damage and caused less trouble to local residents than anything else that was there.

Workers endure austere conditions in averting nuclear disaster

They sleep anywhere they can find open space -- in conference rooms, corridors, even stairwells. They have one blanket, no pillows and a leaded mat intended to keep radiation at bay.

They eat only two meals each day -- a carefully rationed breakfast of 30 crackers and vegetable juice and for dinner, a ready-to-eat meal or something out of a can.They clean themselves with wet wipes, since the supply of fresh water is short.

These are the grueling living conditions for the workers inside Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. They've been hailed as heroes risking their lives by braving high levels of radiation as they work to avert a nuclear meltdown.

Kan looks at separating nuclear safety agency from industry ministry

UN atomic watchdog raises alarm over Japan evacuations

The UN atomic watchdog said Wednesday radiation in a village outside the evacuation zone around a stricken Japanese nuclear plant was above safe levels, urging that Japan reassess the situation.

In its first such call, the International Atomic Energy Agency added its voice to that of Greenpeace in warning over radioactivity in Iitate village, where the government has already told residents not to drink tap water.

Manager at CA nuclear plant sues over firing, claims whistleblower retaliation

IAEA Confirms Very High Levels of Contamination Far From Reactors

Today the IAEA has finally confirmed what some analysts have suspected for days: that the concentration per area of long-lived cesium-137 (Cs-137) is extremely high as far as tens of kilometers from the release site at Fukushima Dai-Ichi, and in fact would trigger compulsory evacuation under IAEA guidelines.

...soil concentrations of Cs-137 as far away as Iitate Village, 40 kilometers northwest of Fukushima-Dai-Ichi, correspond to deposition levels of up to 3.7 megabecquerels per square meter (MBq/sq. m). This is far higher than previous IAEA reports of values of Cs-137 deposition...

This should be compared with the deposition level that triggered compulsory relocation in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident...

New York Times: Dangerous Levels of Radioactive Isotope Found 25 Miles From Nuclear Plant

High radiation outside Japan exclusion zone -IAEA

Up to 1,000 bodies left untouched near troubled nuke plant

Radiation fears have prevented authorities from collecting as many as 1,000 bodies of victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami from within the 20-kilometer-radius evacuation zone around the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, police sources said Thursday.

One of the sources said bodies had been ''exposed to high levels of radiation after death.'' The view was supported by the detection Sunday of elevated levels of radiation on a body found in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, about 5 km from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

Radiation From Cornwall to Hong Kong Beats Tokyo Amid Nuclear Plant Scare

Typical amounts of radiation in Hong Kong exceed those in Tokyo...

Vehicle tries to enter Fukushima Daiichi plant, breaks into Daini plant

A vehicle of what appears to be right-wing campaigners tried to enter the radiation-leaking Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and then broke through the gate of the nearby Fukushima Daini power plant Thursday, the government's nuclear safety agency said.

The driver of the vehicle was later seized by police...

Scientific American: U.S. Should Re-Evaluate Its Spent Nuclear Fuel Strategy, Experts Say

With no permanent waste repository in sight, the nuclear industry is storing spent fuel at reactor sites. The crisis at the nuclear plant in Japan, due in part to exposed spent fuel, is forcing American scientists and policy-makers to look for safer courses of action.

Japanese Plant Had Barebones Risk Plan

Public Anger Against Nuclear Power Mounts In Japan

Program errors force TEPCO to review all data

Tokyo Electric Power Company says it will review all data on radiation leaked from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, citing errors in a computer program.

The utility says it found errors in the program used to analyze radioactive elements and their levels, after some experts noted that radiation levels of leaked water inside the plant were too high.

The company and the government's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency say previously released data may have shown the levels of tellurium-129 and molybdenum-99 to be higher than they really were.

But they say that levels of iodine-131, which has a significant impact on humans and the environment, remain unchanged.

Mother: Fukushima workers expect to die from radiation

"He told me they have accepted they will all probably die from radiation sickness in the short term or cancer in the long-term," the mother of a 32-year-old worker said [asking] to remain anonymous because the plant workers and their families have been told not to speak to the media.

Fukushima Evacuees May Be Homeless for Months as Cleanup Continues

Japan agency orders review of radiation data

Jessica Dailey
XBox 360 Controllers Send Robots Into Fukushima Nuclear Plant

Japan Considers Chernobyl Solution at Fukushima
People should not be afraid of using nuclear energy: Alternative energy source is not as dangerous as it seems ...

Current International Atomic Energy Agency briefing:

1.Current Situation

Overall at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, the situation remains very serious.

The Unit 1 condenser is full. Pumping water from the Unit-1 turbine building basement to the Unit-1 condenser has been stopped as of 22:30 UTC on 28 March. For Units 2 and 3, in order to prepare for removal of the water from the turbine building basement, pumping of water from the condenser to the suppression pool water surge tank started at 07:45 UTC 29 March and 08:40 UTC March 28 respectively.

For Unit 1 fresh water has been continuously injected into the Reactor Pressure Vessel (RPV) through the feed-water line at an indicated flow rate of 8 m3/h using a temporary electric pump with diesel backup. In Unit 2 fresh water is injected continuously through the fire extinguisher line at an indicated rate of 8 m3/h using a temporary electric pump with diesel backup. In Unit 3 fresh water is being injected continuously at about 7 m3/h into the reactor core through the fire extinguisher line using a temporary electric pump with diesel backup.

The indicated temperature at the feed water nozzle of the RPV on Unit 1 has decreased from 281 °C to 251 °C and at the bottom of RPV decreased from 134 °C to 128 °C. There appears to be a corresponding decrease in RPV pressure with a slight decrease in Drywell pressure. The indicated temperature at the feed water nozzle of the RPV of Unit 2 has increased from 177 °C to 181 °C. The temperature at the bottom of RPV was not reported. Indicated Drywell pressure remains at atmospheric pressure. The indicated temperature at the feed water nozzle of the RPV in Unit 3 is about 89 °C and at the bottom of RPV is about 114 °C. The validity of the RPV temperature measurement at the feed water nozzle is still under investigation.

No further information is available regarding the plan to commence the pumping of water into the Unit 1 Spent Fuel Pool by concrete pumping truck from 29 March. On Unit 2 the temporary electric pump supplying water to the spent fuel pool experienced a malfunction. Spent fuel pool water supply was changed to a fire truck pump but a crack was discovered in a hose on 30 March 04:10 UTC. Pumping water to the spent fuel pool was therefore stopped. Pumping was subsequently restored and water was fed into spent fuel pool in Unit 2 from 10:05 UTC on March 30. Water injection into the spent fuel pool in Unit 4 by concrete pump was completed at 09:33 UTC on March 30.

Units 5 and 6 remain in cold shutdown.

2. Radiation Monitoring

On 30 March, deposition of iodine-131 was detected in 8 prefectures, and deposition of cesium-137 in 12 prefectures. On 30 March in the prefectures where deposition of iodine-131 was reported, the range was from 2.5 to 240 becquerel per square metre. For caesium-137, the range was from 3 to 57 becquerel per square metre. In the Shinjyuku district of Tokyo, the daily deposition of both iodine-131 and cesium-137 on 30 March was below 30 becquerel per square metre. No significant changes were reported in the 45 prefectures in gamma dose rates compared to yesterday.

Most of the previously imposed recommendations for restrictions on drinking have been lifted. As of 28 March, recommendations for restrictions based on I-131 concentration remain in place in four villages of in the Fukushima prefecture, in three of these villages, restrictions continue to apply for infants only.

Two IAEA teams are currently monitoring radiation levels and radioactivity in the environment in Japan. On 30 March, one team made gamma dose-rate measurements in the Tokyo region at 7 locations. Gamma-dose rates measured ranged from 0.03 to 0.28 microsievert per hour, which is within or slightly above the background. The second team made additional measurements at 7 locations in the Hirono area, South of Fukushima-Daiichi NPP. The measurement locations were at distances of 23 to 39 km from the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The dose rates ranged from 0.5 to 4.9 microsievert per hour. At the same locations, results of beta-gamma contamination measurements ranged from 0.04 to 0.34 Megabecquerel per square metre.

Since our briefing of yesterday, significant data related to food contamination has been submitted by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Seventy-six samples were taken from 28-30 March, and reported on 30 March. Analytical results for 51 of the 76 samples for various vegetables, fruit (strawberry), seafood (sardines), and unprocessed raw milk in eight prefectures (Chiba, Fukushima, Gunma, Ibaraki, Kanagawa, Niigata, Saitama, and Yamagata), indicated that iodine-131, caesium-134 and caesium-137 were either not detected or were below the regulation values set by the Japanese authorities. However, it was reported that analytical results in Fukushima prefecture for the remaining 25 of the 76 samples for broccoli, cabbage, rapeseed, spinach and other leafy vegetables, indicated that iodine-131 and/or caesium-134 and caesium-137 exceeded the regulation values set by the Japanese authorities.

The Joint FAO/IAEA Food Safety Assessment Team met with local government officials in Gunma prefecture on Wednesday. Farmers and producers were also represented and the meeting attracted media coverage. The questions to the IAEA/FAO team mainly focused on technical issues of remediation strategies, including the implications of long term releases if the NPP is not stabilized, the disposal of contaminated produce, mechanisms of 131I and 137Cs contamination, other possible radionuclides that may be produced/should be monitored, contamination of fruit and mushrooms, occupational exposure risks in the handling animals and agricultural products, feeding strategies for animals in affected areas, monitoring of soil and fallout and remediation strategies and methodologies. There were also discussions with producers and farmer organizations over the development of strategies for the next cropping season.

Local government officials briefed the FAO/IAEA Team on current knowledge of the extent of contamination in Gunma prefecture, including the principal agricultural products affected and levels of contamination found.

The Joint FAO/IAEA Team presented their report and responded to inquires at a follow-up inter-ministerial meeting in Tokyo. The meeting was attended by representatives of the Japanese Cabinet Office, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare and the Ministry of Agriculture. Strong interest was expressed as to the remediation of the agricultural land, continued possible contamination of agricultural products, and the need to maintain communication with relevant ministries in the future.

New results from the marine monitoring stations 30 km off-shore were reported for 28 March. These results indicate a decrease for the northernmost sampling station for I-131 and a slight increase for Cs-137 as compared to values measured on 27 March. For sampling points situated towards the south of the transect an increase has been recorded, both for I-131 and for Cs-137 as compared to the previous day, with maximum concentrations in water below 30 Bq/l and 20 Bq/l respectively, still considerably lower than the maxima recorded on 23 March. This increase can be correlated with trends in concentrations measured close to the discharge points.

The latest analyses in seawater 330 m south of the discharge point of NPP Units 1-4, and 30 m north of the discharge point of Units 5-6 were made available for 29 March. In particular readings of 130 000 Bq/l of I-131, 32 000 Bq/l of Cs-137 and 31 000 Bq/l of Cs-134 were reported near Units 1 - 4.

The Russian Federation, Ireland and Switzerland reported the detection of very small amounts of iodine-131 and cesium-137 in air. Highest levels found are in the order of a few millibecquerel per cubic meter. The levels are not of any radiological concern.

For more information and essays about the Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Reactor problems in Japan CLICK HERE.

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I think we're just getting started on Act II. The denouement is a ways off. This is something like a George Romero movie, the death of TEPCO and the death of the reactors is just the prelude to something worse. If anything good was happening there would be a stampede to announce it. I still don't understand how the concentation of I-131 could be *increasing* in the ocean.


Greg: "of course, everything I've just said is reading between the lines. No one at TEPCO is saying anything like this. And, I'm sure various NPAs (Nuclear Power Apologists) will now explain (see comment section of this and other posts) that more people die of snake bites than nuclear accidents, therefore this very expensive, farm land-killing sea-poisoning disaster if of no consequence. Indeed, this is what we should expect now and then if we want to use nuclear power, and it's quite acceptable. I'm still waiting for someone to make the claim that the people of the region where this is happening were openly and clearly informed that this is the likely consequence of having nine nuclear reactors at this location for several decades. Because it is, you know. It really is."

Nothing here I'd take issue with, but that would be no surprise to anyone who's read my comments here (thanks again, for the blog, and the work, by the way).

Any indication that any nuclear advocates are any more open to reconsidering their stance? What would it take, in your opinion?

By phillydoug (not verified) on 01 Apr 2011 #permalink

I want to distinguish between nuclear advocates and nuclear apologists.

"I'm still waiting for someone to make the claim that the people of the region where this is happening were openly and clearly informed that this is the likely consequence of having nine nuclear reactors at this location for several decades. Because it is, you know. It really is."

Everything is likely after it has happened, Statistics 101.

By healthphysicist (not verified) on 01 Apr 2011 #permalink

Greg: "I want to distinguish between nuclear advocates and nuclear apologists."

I don't see much opportunity to get an apologist to change their views; someone who is an advocate might consider alternatives-- what might persuade them, if not Daiichi?

By phillydoug (not verified) on 01 Apr 2011 #permalink

HP, be careful in what ways you chose to annoy me.

Something is not "really likely" after it happens. However, something can be "really likely" before it happens.

You are an expert on health. I am an expert on geology. Now go look up subduction zone, pacific plate, tsunami, and historical tsunami, and then come back and explain how one could build a permanent presence of a particular industry on the froth we call Japan facing the Pacific and not expect there to be a very high probability of a tsunami affecting one or more facilities as part of that industry.

This will require you to lie, twist the truth, or start waving about the silly monkey. You may begin now.

That's what I was thinking. An industry apologist is not likely to change if they have a stake in it. but there is a category of apologist who thought that the only rational way to think is to be in favor of nuclear. Most of those whom I've been tracking have shut up over the last ten days, and they will probably hide out and come back later with a new position.

> disbursed

I wonder if some of the contamination being found is from prior spills or dumping.. I haven't seen ratios of isotopes disclosed or anyone talking about how to determine how long it's been since the fission events that produced the material -- other than one mention from the soil samples collected.

That mention said some of the ratios identified fallout from some prior nuclear test while others identified uranium and plutonium new enough to be from the reactors.

Hank, my recollection is that the Plutonium was found to be at nuke-test levels but of a ratio of P/D isotopes to be from the nuke plant.

The last atmospheric testing was in 1980 (30 years ago). Caesium-137 has a half-life of ca 30 years, caesium-134 of about 2 years, Iodine-131 is 8 days. All are detected in various samples.

Greg -

I actually did look up subduction zones, pacific plate, etc. after I realized that TEPCO had left that sort of thing up to geologists.

They predicted a low chance.

(How was my choice of annoyance this time?)

HP: And now, we have what we've been expecting all along. Proof positive that you are an industry shill.

What you just said is not correct of geologists, though I have no doubt it is correct of TEPCO. It is part of the larger picture of what is being called into question now. Have you not been paying attention?

Enjoy snuggling up to your talking points, because at this point that's all you've got.

"I still don't understand how the concentation of I-131 could be *increasing* in the ocean."

Lots of over spilling water seeking it's on path down as water is want to do would be my guess.
Without knowing the total quantity that was on site to start with there is no way to know how much is still remaining on site to escape. Eventually it will peak and then fall as the half life steadily reduces the total supply.

Maybe Adela, but the Official Story is that they've *stopped* letting water flow into the ocean. But I can believe that TEPCO is lying. In fact I know they are. It's NISA I'm trying to figure out. Interesting article about "who is in charge" from BBC:



I get the sense that the workers at the plant have been abandoned by management and everyone off-site. That senior management has just âshut downâ and isn't doing anything productive, and isn't making way for someone else to step in and do something productive in their place. They are just reacting to things and not being proactive and anticipating what could be done, what should be done and what needs to be done to have backups and even more backups.

That article about the workers in the plant starving themselves, sharing dosimeters and not having blankets to sleep on is completely bogus.

Japan does not lack for resources. They might not have what they need within 500 miles of the plant, but in 24 hours they can transport anything by truck from anywhere in Japan to anywhere else.

In 24 hours they can transport anything by air from anywhere in the world.

What they should do is let the French take over.

The dosimeter story is for real, though. They really have been working with something like one for every five or six workers. The tsunami wiped out their supply at that facility. The fact that they have not flown them in from elsewhere is part of that deer in the headlights thing you are describing, presumably.

TEPCO wrote off the whole complex the moment they pumped seawater into the reactors. TEPCO President Masataka Shimizu became catatonic. The Prime Minister is one of those guys who delegates everything, even his thinking. No one in the government wanted to own the problem, because it was clear to everyone who had 1 microsievert of a clue that it was going to take a lifetime to clean up and no glory for doing so.


The dosimeter story is for real, though. They really have been working with something like one for every five or six workers. The tsunami wiped out their supply at that facility. The fact that they have not flown them in from elsewhere is part of that deer in the headlights thing you are describing, presumably.

Which says about everything there needs to be said about Tepco and their crisis managment that needs to be said.
Two words: International Help

Seriously, the world has been eager to help them from day 1. Admitting about 3 weeks after they lost their equipment that they're lacking it and thereby risking the health and lives of people is... I can't find appropriate words.

I'm pretty sure that if they'd hinted at a lack of equipment and said they'd kindly accept them if anybody had a spare one, they'd probably be drowning in the stuff by now.

It's amazing how we're told again and again that there's "no health risk" when the scientific consensus is that there's no safe amount of radiation. I agree that the increase in risk is probably very small at the moment, but it's still a f...ing lie.

Oh, and thanks for the update, the German Tagessch has decided that no news is, well, just let's move on, It's been going on for too long to be a real news story...

Healthphysicist:"I actually did look up subduction zones, pacific plate, etc. after I realized that TEPCO had left that sort of thing up to geologists.

They predicted a low chance."

What Tepco did was to disregard new risk analyses and warnings based on them:


"Japan is known for its technical expertise. For decades, though, Japanese officialdom and even parts of its engineering establishment clung to older scientific precepts for protecting nuclear plants, relying heavily on records of earthquakes and tsunamis, and failing to make use of advances in seismology and risk assessment since the 1970s."

Anyway, I take this opportunity thank Greg Laden for his blog postings on this issue and especially the discussion in these comments, I have learned a lot.

(Sorry I had some problems in posting a comment, I try again):

Healthphysicist:"I actually did look up subduction zones, pacific plate, etc. after I realized that TEPCO had left that sort of thing up to geologists.

They predicted a low chance."

What Tepco did was to disregard new risk analyses and warnings based on them:


"Japan is known for its technical expertise. For decades, though, Japanese officialdom and even parts of its engineering establishment clung to older scientific precepts for protecting nuclear plants, relying heavily on records of earthquakes and tsunamis, and failing to make use of advances in seismology and risk assessment since the 1970s."

Anyway, I take this opportunity thank Greg Laden for his blog postings on this issue and especially the discussion in these comments, I have learned a lot.

(Greg - are you going to post this comment? You didn't post my last response.)

Nina -

Your quoted paragraph is an oxymoron. On the one hand Japan has expertise, on the other they don't. The reasons they knew about the earthquakes, have built very earthquake resistant buildings, warned the populace and did everything they did is because they've come a long way since the 1970's.

Tsunami is a Japanese word. No one is more concerned about tsunamis than the Japanese. The Japanese were recepients of two atomic bombs. No one is more concerned about things nuclear than the Japanese.

They assessed the risks. It's called "risk" because there is a chance of being wrong, otherwise the activity has no risk.

The conditions for the workers are... I'd say indescrible, except we have descriptions:

(from: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42388474/ns/world_news-asiapacific/)

The plant has run out of the nylon protective booties that workers put over their shoes. Earlier, TEPCO acknowledged that the tsunami had destroyed many of the gauges used to measure radiation, forcing workers to share. More gauges have since arrived at the site.

"We only put something like plastic garbage bags you can buy at a convenience store and sealed them with masking tape," said the worker, who spoke to the national Mainichi newspaper. Such interviews have been exceedingly rare and always anonymous."

These conditions are certainly the stuff of nightmares, and to allow them to continue under these conditions is criminal.

This next report, in particular, has stayed with me since the moment I read it:

(from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42371032)

"The workers at Japan's stricken nuclear power plant â known as the Fukushima 50 â expect some of them will die within weeks or months, the mother of one has reportedly said.

"My son and his colleagues have discussed it at length and they have committed themselves to die if necessary to save the nation," she said. Fox News said she was tearful as she spoke.

"He told me they have accepted they will all probably die from radiation sickness in the short term or cancer in the long-term," she added.

"They have concluded between themselves that it is inevitable some of them may die within weeks or months. They know it is impossible for them not to have been exposed to lethal doses of radiation," she said.

The woman, who Fox News said spoke on condition of anonymity because the workers had been asked to not speak to the media, added that her son was too scared to sleep on the floor and so had been doing so on a desk.

"But they say high radioactivity is everywhere and I think this will not save him," she said."

By phillydoug (not verified) on 02 Apr 2011 #permalink

Learning still more about how damanged the facility was by the earthquake and tsunami, even before the reactors spiraled out of control (or rather, contributing greatly to why they did):

(from: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42388474/ns/world_news-asiapacific/)

"The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex has been spewing radioactivity since March 11, when a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and ensuing wave knocked out power, disabling cooling systems and allowing radiation to seep out of the overheating reactors. Authorities said the leak they identified Saturday could be the source of radioactivity found in coastal waters in recent days.

Saturday's leak was from a newly discovered crack in a maintenance pit on the edge of the Fukushima complex, Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama said.

The crack was apparently caused by the quake and may have been leaking since then, said spokesman Osamu Yokokura of Tokyo Electric Power Co., which runs the plant.

The worker also said the tsunami littered the grounds with dead fish that remained scattered throughout the plant, attracting birds."

The key here is that containment structures, and the ground around them, experienced fissures immediately from the effects of the quake, and radioactive material began migrating soon after. To think that this wouldn't have happened with a 9.0M quake borders on magical thinking.

Also important, the acknowledgement that radiactive materials entered the environment before the loss of power was even a consideration. In other words, even if they hadn't lost power, there is a good chance substantial amounts of material still would have been released, and there's no reason to think it would have been staunched before now in any event.

Lastly, the description of the tsunami depositing fish through the site is truly chilling. All the prior accounts I've read or seen talk about the tsunami knocking out the diesel generators. The thought that the wave swept through the plant grounds suggests estimates of damage to the structures and plant equipment, before the hydrogen explosions and meltdowns, need to be re-thought and revised. I don't think the plant designs accounted for taking a hit from several hundred tons of water.

By phillydoug (not verified) on 02 Apr 2011 #permalink

healthphysicist, you make an ineteresting point. If anyone is able to build a nuclear reactor that is safe, it is the Japanese. They have the social and political will and technology.

But they didn't. Does that suggest that it can't be done? Apparently.

Greg -

"SAFE" - what does that mean?

If you think it means a probability of 0 risk....no, nuclear plant will ever be safe.

If that's what you think, why do you impose a 0 risk on nuclear and (presumably) nothing else? What leads to that huge bias?

If we compare risks, and define SAFE by those things which pose the least risk, then nuclear reactors are safe.

Healthphysicist, there is not a person alive on this planet who is aware of what is going on in Japan and who is not a Nuclear Power Industry Apologist who considers what is happening in Fukushima to be acceptable.

Your insistence that I'm demanding zero risk is you putting words in my mouth, you making something up, you waving about the stuffed monkey to distract from the argument. You are a reasonably well trained nuclear power industry shill, but I can't believe that you actually think you are being effective. You aren't.

Healthphycisist, did you read the NYTimes article of just the quote? They relied on old records of highest tsunamis and biggest earthquakes in the area. New risk analysis is able to calculate risks for bigger tsunamis and earthquakes than known about before. Let me quote more...

"Those methods, however, did not take into account serious uncertainties like faults that had not been discovered or earthquakes that were gigantic but rare, said Mr. Hardy, who visited Kashiwazaki after the 2007 quake as part of a study sponsored by the Electric Power Research Institute. (...) The Japanese approach, referred to in the field as âdeterministicâ â as opposed to âprobabilistic,â or taking unknowns into account â somehow stuck, said Noboru Nakao, a consultant who was a nuclear engineer at Hitachi for 40 years and was president of Japanâs training center for operators of boiling-water reactors.

âJapanese safety rules generally are deterministic because probabilistic methods are too difficult,â Mr. Nakao said, adding that âthe U.S. has a lot more risk assessment methods.â (...)Mr. Synolakis called Japanâs underestimation of the tsunami risk a âcascade of stupid errors that led to the disasterâ and said that relevant data was virtually impossible to overlook by anyone in the field. "

For me, the nuclear risks is exactly about uncertainty (You can't calculate a risk you can't even imagine. And even if you calculate that the probability is low, the cataclysmic event still can happen the next day). For me, Fukushima seems to be much more than tsunami & earthquake hitting a nuclear plant. Old plant, old risk calculations, hiding errors and leaks in the past, not having an adequate emergency plan, computer errors in radiation measurement equipment... A sad chain of human errors.

What they should do is get a big double-hulled oil tanker, fill the space between the hulls with fresh water, bring it off shore of the plant and pump all the radioactive water into it. Put big ion exchange filters and RO stuff to take any radioactivity out of the fresh water and put the radioactivity back in with the radioactive water.

Inject a solution of boric acid and calcium acetate so that calcium borate precipitates on the fuel in the line while it is being pumped. Add lots of boron as B2O3, B4C, pyrex, Calcium borate, etc. so the little bits of fuel can't go critical in the tanker.

Set up a facility on the tanker to remove water. RO, distillation, ion exchange. Remove water and concentrate the radioactive stuff into solids. Soak the solids/brine up in clinoptilite. Add cement. Put the solids in metal drums, put those drums in an overpack, put the overpacks in a shipping container. Put the shipping containers someplace safe and dry. Use the fresh water being taken out of the radioactive water as shielding in tanks to allow the workers to operate the equipment.

The problem they are having is the inevitable problem of a top-down power hierarchy when things go wrong. Everyone at the top who doesn't know what to do runs away while finger pointing. Those at the bottom have been conditioned to defer to those at the top and don't have the authority to do anything in any case and will be blamed for everything that goes wrong while the "leaders" take credit for everything that goes right.

It is just like capitalism how it is now practiced in the US. When good stuff happens, privatize the good stuff (i.e. profits). When bad stuff happens, socialize the bad stuff (i.e. losses).

We might see this again in a few days in the US if the teabaggers shut the government down. The GOP leaders will take credit for getting elected, but won't take credit for the gigantic deficit that GWB and the GOP produced.

Greg - You are biased. Noted.

Nina - I agree with your ending remarks. Really bad things can happen at anytime. And, without energy the death rates of humans will increase (we live longer and healthier today because we are raping the environment for our use). We could mandate population control, but we don't. So we need more and more energy. In the case of nuclear, the risk is primarily realized in a large event. In the case of fossil fuels, the risk is primarily realized incrementally, so it doesn't trigger the emotionalism. The renewables continue to improve in effeciency and should be used to the extent possible.

daedalus2u - In a capitalist system (and I'm not defending it), no one has to buy nuclear generated electricity. So, as the theory goes, if those who don't like nuclear energy don't buy it, the people making it won't get rich. And in a socialist system, it is likely the citizens would choose nuclear power because it poses less risk. That's why you find socialist countries with nuclear power.

HP: Biased in what way, pray tell?

Do I assume that you are making a comparative claim, that you are not biased? At this point, you really need to start putting together your case that you are not a Nuclear Power Industry shill. We have a rule against denialists and shills here. Give me something or move along. Right now, please.

HP, "emotionalism" is true - but it is just not possible to compare nuclear and carbon risks in the way you seem to be doing... I'm basically saying that the risk of human error is present in every industrial activity and facility, but in a nuclear plant the consequences are much more dangerous. With climate change we are going to encounter more unforeseeable dangers in places we didn't expect them...

HP, TEPCO is a monopoly. Its customers don't have a choice as to who to buy power from.

A choice made under duress is not a free choice.

TEPCO officials have falsified safety data.


A choice made based on misrepresentation is not a free choice.

If nuclear power is so safe, why did TEPCO officials feel the need to lie about safety reports?

Nina -

Based on your last comment, I don't think you understand what risk is.

Risk = (probability of event occurrence) x (consequences, ie deaths or $)

So, yes...the consequences of a nuclear event are terrible, but they happen infrequently. In the auto industry, the probability of occurrence is high, but the consequences of each event are lower.

But we can compare risks. Of course, they're estimates. We only know what we know. And we're not all-knowing.

And we can do so between nuclear power and fossil fuels. Or between any industries.

And that provides a relative sense of what "safe" is.

And we can realize that consequence-heavy risks make for better fodder and demonization.

I don't care (prior to making a risk assessment) if nuclear power involves the most risk or the least risk. Whatever it is, it is.

It just happens to be low....but consequence-heavy.

HP, I know what is a risk in a conventional sense. "Nuclear accidents happen infrequently" - :DD. I thought they were not supposed to happen... ever. ;) That is what nuclear experts and the industry are telling us. Serious nuclear accidents won't happen, oh, at least not anywhere else than Russia... Uhm Japan, well, they have their own cultural, environmental and technical problems...

We can compare risks yes. Are 100 cancer cases better or worse than, say, one death? How to evaluate the risks of nuclear waste "treatment" reaching 100 000 years ahead? Is someone calculating uranium mining risks? What about the psychological and social consequences of evacuating? Risk calculation has it's limits...

healthphysicist, I have been following some of this. And the problem is that not all risks are strict apples-to-apples comparisons.

For instance, the risk that something goes wrong in a nuclear plant is small relative to driving a car, but if I smash a car the odds that I will kill anyone but myself are small. In a nuclear power plant accident I can contaminate whole stretches of farmland and render large areas uninhabitable, even if nobody dies. So they aren't directly comparable that way.

This is why any yahoo can get a driver's license but it is a wee bit harder to get a license to fly a passenger jet. Or why we have relatively stringent requirements for being a doctor, for instance. Theoretically the risk of running into a bad doctor won't kill you often -- after all, on any given day (or even in a year) most of us haven't got life-threatening health problems. But some random guy saying "I'm a doctor" and treating hundreds won't be lucky forever. And since there isn't any way to know that beforehand, we license docs.

As to the risks of fossil fuels, one of the big differences is that those risks are, in some ways, easier to deal with. We can cut down fossil fuel usage, for instance, by taking all that money we use for road-building and using it for light rail or dedicated hybrid bus lines. We could re-open the rail lines that once existed all over the country. That alone would put a big dent in it.

Then there is the cost and risk of nuclear when the whole fuel cycle is counted up. Mining, refining, the whole nine yards. Forget radiation. Industrial quantities of hydrofluoric acid are necessary to make the fuel. There is all kinds of potential for industrial accidents in that process-- and there have been. This is simply ridiculous.

And whose idea was it to put generators, which are vital in a nuclear plant, below the f-ing seawall? When putting them upstairs might have been a smidgen better idea? Tsunamis in Japan are not a surprise. It's like when people build those flimsy bungalows in Florida, and insist on living next to the beach, and then act all surprised when a hurricane shows up, and insist that we should build the same thing there again.

I've said it before and I'll keep saying it: it is not safety statistics that go against the argument of using nuclear energy: it is what the experts look like as they have dealt with every single big emergency that has ever been had.

There has not been a case of an accident yet where any of the experts looked like they had the slightest clue about what to do--and when you are dealing with things nuclear that in an off itself is simply too scary for the public (and for me).

And when we have a oil spill, or a mine disaster, at some point that disaster is terminated. We know when we can pretty much declare the disaster at an end. The thought here is that there is no end game. There is no point at which people any time within our lifetimes will be able to call this emergency at a conclusion. And there is a big probability that hundreds of square kilometers of earth will likely be forever (in human terms) abandoned.

That is a very high price to pay. Just think, for the luxury of our electricity today our great grandchildren to the tenth power will still have to monitor and worry about this spot on the face of the earth.

By DuaneBidoux (not verified) on 02 Apr 2011 #permalink

Healthpysicist - we don't have to debate the risk posed by nuclear power generation. Insurance companies will not insure nuclear power plants.

Evidently, the apolitical, free-market approach finds the risk of nuclear beyond what is insurable. What more is there to debate?

By Vince whirlwind (not verified) on 03 Apr 2011 #permalink