Sunday, January 26, 2014

An Incident at Fukushima Daiichi, Part 6, Meltdown


















Picture Legend
1. Fukushima Daini
2. Fukushima Daini overhead
3. Explosion at Fukushima Daiichi
4. Fukushima Daiichi schematic
5. GE boiling water reactors (BWR) cutaway
6. Satellite view
7. What you’re looking at
8. Another satellite view
9. Reactor 4 building
10. International Nuclear Event Scale
11. Debris field
12. Fuel rods in storage pool at reactor 4
13. Severn


   A call by the Japanese government to evacuate certain areas adjacent to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power plant went out at 10:00PM on the night of March 11, 2011. 134,000 people were sent out of the area within 2 miles of the plant, which the government designated a “prohibited access area.” 2 miles to 12.5 miles was designated an “on alert area,” and from 12.5 to 19 miles an “evacuation prepared area.” Those residing within the “on alert area” were told to stay indoors.
   The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) announced that the pressure inside reactor 1 was more than twice normal levels at this time. 
   At Fukushima Daini, 10 miles to the south of the  Daiichi plant, a tsunami generated 30 foot wave had breached it’s protective seawall causing the coolant pumps to fail for the plant’s four reactors (the reactors had shut down automatically after the 9.0 earthquake had struck, yet still required coolant water to dissipate residual heat). Because the earthquake occurred during the working day (2:46PM on a Friday afternoon), 2,000 employees were on site to help stabilize whatever situations arose. As 3 of the 4 reactors began to overheat due to lack of coolant, employees worked to move 650 foot sections of cable, each weighing over a ton, a distance of over 5.5 miles, in order to power emergency cooling systems.   
   An evacuation order was issued to the people living within 2 miles of the plant.   
   One seawater coolant pump remained operational in reactor 3. The residual heat removal system (RHR) was started to cool the suppression pool (the suppression pool is used to remove heat released if an event occurs in which large quantities of steam are released from the reactor or the reactor recirculation system), which made it possible to bring the reactor to a cold shutdown the next day.
   Heat removal was not available for reactors 1, 2, and 4, so their suppression pools began to heat up to over 212 degrees Fahrenheit between 5:30 and 6:10PM. This heat build up removed the ability of the operators to relieve pressure from the affected reactors.
   Back at Fukushima Daiichi the clock ticked past midnight into Saturday, March 12th. Hydrogen gas began to accumulate in reactors 1, 2, and 3 due to overheating causing a reaction between the coolant water and the zircalloy (solid solutions of the element zirconium, used as the outer layer of the fuel rods, standing between the coolant and the nuclear fuel). 
   Emergency battery power for reactor 3‘s  high pressure core-flooder system (a system used  inject water into the core to cool it and reduce reactor pressure) failed. About two hours later, at approximately 4:15AM, the fuel rods in 3 were exposed.
   Due to a build up of pressure in reactor 1, the decision was made to vent off some of the steam despite the possibility of an explosion as the hydrogen gas combined with oxygen in the atmosphere. This was the first radiation leak into the environment. .
   Fresh water was injected into reactor 1, but it did not stop the core from melting completely, and falling to the bottom of the reactor pressure vessel. 
   Radioactive water vapor was released into the atmosphere from reactor 2 due to high pressure.
   Due to accumulated hydrogen gas a large explosion occurred at 3:36PM in the outer structure of reactor 1, causing the collapse of the concrete building housing the reactor. Operators believe the actual reactor however, was not damaged, and seawater was subsequently injected into it. 
   Later that night the evacuation zone around Fukushima I was extended out to 12.5 miles, and 6 miles around Fukushima II. 
   At 5:10AM, March 13th, Fukushima Daiichi’s reactor 1 was declared an INES (International Nuclear Event Scale) Level-4 "accident with local consequences" event.
   At Fukushima Daini the service seawater system pumps were repaired in reactors 1, 2 and 4,  and cooling was switched back to the residual heat removal system. When the suppression pool was cooled to below 212 degrees F, the RHR was switched to the shutdown cooling mode which  brought the reactors to a cold shutdown. The loss of cooling water at reactors 1, 2 and 4 was classified a level 3 on the INES (serious incident) by Japanese authorities on March 18th. 
   By the 15th all four reactors of Fukushima Daini had reached cold shutdown, and were considered   non-threatening
   This was not the case at  Fukushima Daiichi. On March 14th, a similar explosion to reactor 1 occurred in the reactor 3 building, blowing off the roof and injuring eleven people. On the 15th, an explosion in the reactor 2 building damaged it and part of the reactor 4 building.
   Damage to the temporary cooling systems on reactor 2 from the explosion in reactor 3, plus problems with its venting system, meant that water could not be added causing reactor 2 to be in the worst shape of the three reactors at that time. An explosion in the "pressure suppression room" caused some damage to reactor 2’s containment system. A fire broke out at reactor 4. Radiation levels at the plant rose significantly but subsequently fell. Radiation equivalent dose rates of 400 millisieverts per hour (a sievert is a derived metric unit of equivalent radiation dose (a computed average measure of the radiation absorbed by a fixed mass of biological tissue, that attempts to account for the different biological damage potential of different types of ionizing radiation), effective dose (a measure of the cancer risk to a whole organism due to ionizing radiation), and committed dose (a measure of the probabilistic health effect on an individual due to an intake of radioactive material into their body). A milliSievert is one thousandth of a sievert. The average annual radiation dose per person in the U.S. by natural causes is 6.2 millisieverts per year)) were observed at one location in the reactor of unit 3.
   On and on. 
   I’m almost positive, dear readers, why the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi has been considered the most complicated in history. Three reactors meltdown within close proximity of each other (plus a loaded spent fuel pool in reactor building 4), all influencing each other in different and varied disastrous ways. 
   Since March 11th a continuous battle has ensued with plant workers fighting fires and radiation leaks into the atmosphere and Pacific Ocean. Water has been injected into each of the three reactor units more or less continuously. This water becomes contaminated and either boils off, is removed, stored and processed, or leaks into the environment. 
   There was a peak of radioactive release on Tuesday, the 15th, apparently from reactor 2, but the precise source remains uncertain. Venting and hydrogen explosions discharged a goodly amount  of radioactive material into the atmosphere, notably iodine and caesium. Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) said in June that it estimated that 800-1000 kilograms (1763.7 to 2204.62 pounds) of hydrogen had been produced in each of the units. Nitrogen was injected into the containment vessels of all three reactors to remove concerns about further hydrogen explosions, and in December this was done for the pressure vessels as well. Gas control systems which extract and clean the gas from the primary containment vessel to avoid leakage of caesium were commissioned for all three units.
   On and on.
   On Thursday, March 24th, after radioactive water seeped through their protective clothes, three plant workers were exposed to high levels of radiation which caused two of them to require hospital treatment. The workers were exposed to an estimated equivalent dose of 2 to 6 sieverts to the skin below their ankles. They were not wearing protective boots as their employer’s safety manuals "did not assume a scenario in which its employees would carry out work standing in water at a nuclear power plant."      
   The U.S. Navy sent a barge with 500,000 gallons of fresh water to the affected area. Tap water was reported to be safe for infants in Tokyo and Chiba by Japanese authorities (how about adults?), but still exceeded limits in the cities of Hitachi and Tokaimura. Iodine-131 in the ocean near the plant measured 50,000 becquerels (one becquerel is defined as the activity of a quantity of radioactive material in which one nucleus decays per second), 1,250 times the normal level.     High radiation levels caused delays for technicians working to restore the water cooling systems for the reactors. The Japanese Nuclear Safety Commission stated that it "assumed" melted fuel rods in reactor 2 had released radioactive substances into the coolant water, which subsequently leaked out through an unknown route to the unit 2 turbine building basement. Accordingly, in order to reduce the amount of leaking water, TEPCO reduced the amount of water pumped into  reactor 2, from 16 tons per hour to 7 tons per hour, which of course would then lead to a higher reactor temperature.
   On and on.
   And on Wednesday, March 30th, TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata announced at a news conference that it was unclear how the problems at the plant would be resolved. He cited an immediate difficulty was the removal of large quantities of radioactive water in the basement buildings, and also mentioned salt build up inside the reactors, there from using seawater for cooling, (hence the fresh water brought by the U.S. Navy) which needed to be removed. Building a concrete enclosure for the reactors as a containment structure, as had been done at Chernobyl, was considered. 
   The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found radioactive iodine in milk in the United States.
   On and on.
   On Saturday, April 2nd, TEPCO observed for the first time that contaminated water from reactor 2 was flowing into the sea. The workers discovered a crack about 8 inches wide in a maintenance pit, which lied between the reactor and the sea. They attempted to plug the leak with cement, but the concrete would not set. TEPCO then attempted to plug up the trench that led to the damaged storage pit with a combination of superabsorbent polymer, sawdust and shredded newspaper. That also failed. Radioactive water continued to leak into the sea.
   Besides the leaks, contaminated water was intentionally dumped into the ocean. TEPCO began dumping water (up to 11,500 tons of it) from storage tanks contaminated with low levels of radioactivity into the sea on April 4th. Officials stated this was needed to make room in a central waste facility to store water with a higher radioactive level. This more highly radioactive water was preventing workers from making progress on restoring the cooling and other systems to the reactors. Samples of seawater near the plant revealed radioactive caesium at 1.1 million times the legal limit.
   On and on and on.
   Wednesday, April 6th, despite protests from South Korea, Russian scientists, and Japanese fishermen, Japanese authorities authorized the release of 12,700 tons of less radioactive water into the ocean to make room for water that was highly contaminated. Iodine-131 levels reach 7.5 million times the legal limit in a seawater sample taken near the plant.  
   On Monday, April 11th, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck the region around Fukushima Daiichi causing coolant injection into reactors 1 and 3 to stop for 50 minutes due to a loss of power.
   The next day Japan officially raised Fukushima to INES Level 7, the same as Chernobyl.   Approximately 10 times the amount of radiation was released into the atmosphere at Chernobyl,  as was released from Fukushima I through April 12th, 2011. Fukushima still stores approximately 8 times the amount of radioactive material that was stored at Chernobyl, and the leakage continues.
   Officials now estimate that it could take up to 40 years to clean up and decommission the reactors at Fukushima I.
   On October 12, 2012, TEPCO admitted that it had failed to take stronger measures to prevent disasters for fear of inviting lawsuits or protests against its nuclear operations.
   On March 12th, 2011, radioactive releases first reached a Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) monitoring station in Takasaki, Japan, around 124 miles away from Fukushima I. Radioactive isotopes appeared in eastern Russia on March 14th, and the west coast of the United States by the 16th. By the 26th, traces of radioactivity were detectable all across the northern hemisphere. Within one month, radioactive particles were detected by CTBTO stations in the southern hemisphere.

   January 19th, 2014, Petaluma, Northern California. John Bertucci, a film maker by profession, carries a Geiger counter wherever he goes. “I'm still learning how to use the device but it gives me peace of mind to know that I can do something to inform and protect myself.” Mr. Bertucci is one of the founders of  Fukushima Response, a small group of people in the area who collect and distribute information about the incident at Fukushima Daiichi. "Japan is thousands of miles from the California coast but there are indicators that the radiation is reaching California.”
   Health officials in the Canadian province of British Columbia are cautioning residents not to  ingest large doses of potassium iodide in order to offset the effects of radioactive contamination from Fukushima. The thyroid can only absorb so much iodine, and the British Columbians are right in thinking that if they fill up with a benign form of iodine, then deadly radioactive isotopes like iodine-131 have no where to go. Still,  experts say ingesting these pills are unnecessary and could  lead to dangerous overdoses. The Health Physics Society states on their website that potassium iodine “has been erroneously represented as a ‘magic bullet’ of radiation protection.” If taken properly, it only protects against internal radiation from radioiodine taken into the body, it will not protect against external radiation or internal radiation from radionuclides other than radioiodine,” and even then will only affect the thyroid from any radiation-induced effects... yet calls for large quantities of the compound by citizens persist. 
   As of last November an enormous debris field originating from Fukushima the size of Texas is floating 1,700 miles off the Pacific coast, located between Hawaii and Santa Monica, California. It is estimated that this field contains 1.5 million tons of objects ranging from little particles, to intact boats, to entire docks, and everything in-between. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that the trash overall is scattered across an area in the ocean about three times the size of the continental United States.
   Back in Petaluma John Bertucci  and others at Fukushima Response say that they are not convinced that the Environmental Protection Agency, is doing all it can to monitor radiation levels. Additionally no U.S. government agency has monitored radiation levels in the ocean water.
   The EPA monitors radiation levels in air, drinking water, rain, and pasteurized milk, but not ocean water as that is not generally consumable by the public. Still, the “E” in EPA stands for environment, and the ocean is part of the environment.
   Their air monitoring system, called RadNet, consists of 132 stationary monitors spread throughout the U.S. The monitoring stations continuously read radiation levels and report abnormal radiation readings back to the EPA’s scientists. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work.
   Radiation monitoring experts and activists says that the RadNet system is inadequate and can't protect the public in case of a major nuclear disaster if something goes wrong at one of the 104 U.S. nuclear reactors or if there are additional explosions at Fukushima I. 
   You would think the Obama administration would want to be on top of this situation. Yet some speculate there may be reasons why the government might want to play down concerns about possible contamination of the United States by the reactors at Fukushima.
   Back in 1972, Stephen H. Hanauer, a safety official with the Atomic Energy Commission, recommended that the Mark 1 Boiling Water Reactor (BWR) system be discontinued because it presented unacceptable safety risks. Among the concerns he cited were the smaller containment design for the reactor, which made them more susceptible to explosions and ruptures from a buildup of hydrogen gas, a situation that later manifested itself at Fukushima Daiichi. But at that time the reactors had been so accepted by the nuclear power industry that it was virtually impossible to stop their use. Three years later, nuclear engineer Dale Bridenbaugh and two colleagues (later known as the GE 3) were asked to review the Mark 1 BWR. They became convinced that this type of reactor was inherently unsafe and so flawed in its design that it could  fail, with catastrophic consequences, under certain circumstances. They cited two issues. First was the possible failure of the Mark 1 to deal with the huge pressures created if the unit lost cooling power, and secondly, the spent fuel ponds were situated 100 feet in the air near the top of the reactor.
     Five of the six reactors at Fukushima I were General Electric Mark 1 BWRs. The first reactor, unit one, was commissioned in 1971, before the first concerns about the design was raised. The other reactors came on line in 1973, 1974, 1977, 1978 and 1979 respectively. Although all six reactors were the GE Mark 1 design only three were built and supplied by GE, reactors 1, 2 and 6. 3 and 5 were built by the Japanese company Toshiba, and unit 4 by Hitachi (now Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy, Ltd., established in June of 2007).
   Under Japanese law GE, Toshiba, and Hitachi cannot be held liable for accidents at nuclear power facilities. 
   Here in the U.S. there are 23 nuclear power plants that use the GE Mark 1 BWR. There are also 23 nuclear power plants in the U.S. where used fuel rods are suspended, in a pond, 100 feet above the ground.
   Jeffery Immelt is the chairman of the board and chief executive officer of General Electric. He is also the head of the United States Economic Advisory Board, invited to that position personally by President Obama in 2009, taking over as head in 2011, just a month before the disaster at Fukushima.
   One possible theory for an apparent indifference to the emergency in Japan is that any admission that radiation from a GE designed reactor has spread across the Pacific Ocean and contaminated American soil is an admission that the original technology was flawed, and that flawed technology is still being used in the United States. So rather than disrupt an entire industry it’s better to maintain that radiation levels are safe, and there’s nothing to worry about. 
   Is this idea cynical in any way? Yes, and delightedly so!
   If the incident at Fukushima Daiichi has been met with relative indifference here in the United States, it is not the case in many other countries. Germany decommissioned its older nuclear  reactors and will phase the rest out by 2022. Italian citizens voted 94 percent against the government’s plan to build new reactors, as did Switzerland and Belgium. A pro-nuclear government in France was disposed by it’s citizens, and replaced by a new government promising to reduce reliance on nuclear power. Plans to go nuclear were abandoned in Malaysia, the Philippines, Kuwait and Bahrain. China has radically slowed it’s nuclear program. Iran has promised it’s nuclear capabilities will only be used to make weapons.   
   Or only for peaceful purposes, I forget which.
   Journalist and advocate for renewable energy, Harvey Wasserman, and others, have called for an international response to the ongoing crisis at Fukushima Daiichi, citing the inability of TEPCO and the Japanese government to deal effectively with the situation, which may get decidedly worse in the future if certain events occur, like another major earthquake. He, and I, are especially worried about the spent fuel rods of reactor 4 which need to be removed. 
   Our lovely friend Severn Cullis-Suzuki, is the daughter of the famous environmental activist David Suzuki who in the clip above postulates that if something were to occur, some accident releasing those fuel rods at reactor 4 into the atmosphere, then we might as well evacuate the west coast of the United States due to radiation contamination. He has since stated that he regrets making that wide conjecture.
   But I don’t like to take chances. I happen to live on the west coast of the United States and don’t want to evacuate. Where would I go? Freaking Arizona? Live with my sister? Well screw that!
   The official line from the Japanese government is that the situation is under control.
   “The government is moving to the forefront and we will completely resolve the matter,” said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last September, just before Tokyo was awarded the 2020 Summer Olympic games.
   But others aren’t so sure.
   “I think this is an ongoing crisis,” said David McNeill, a journalist who has lived in Japan since 2000 and has been covering the Fukushima disaster from the beginning. “What you’ve had is a series of ad hoc strategies designed to deal with the crisis that’s right in front of you.”
   The incident at  Fukushima Daiichi has global consequences and requires a global response. The situation must be dealt with as seriously as the problem is serious... and the sooner the better.

Radioactive cows and the man who wants to save them

Fukushima update, February 24th 2014 here

Update February 28th 2014, "Stunning New Report on USS Reagon Radiation here.

Update March 1 2014, Japanese government wants to restart dormant nuclear reactors, here.

Update May 23 2014, here.

Update June 22 2014, here.

Update July 13 2014, here.

Addendum: 9-1-14: Waste.
Addendum 10-24-14: Radiation approaching U.S. west coast.
Addendum: 2-17-15: U.S. Sailors seek Justice
Addendum: 2-18-15: Leaks continue into oceanEntire Pacific Ocean Contaminated
Addendum: 2-25-15: Cancer rates sore 6000%
Addendum: 3-17-15: Fallout found in Japanese exported tea
Addendum: 3-26-15: Year 5
Addendum: 3-29-15: 36 years of lies
Addendum: 7-1-17: Japan plans to dump contaminated water into the Pacific

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