Increadibly sad, hoping everyone can stay safe.
OT - Probable Meltdown in Japan
Agreed, incrediibly sad and scary. I read earlier today that they were actually pouring sea water onto the fuel rods to cool them down, I believe that may have caused an explosion. They have also been releasing steam filled radiation to relieve the pressure. Definitely thoughts and prayers to all the people in Japan and specifically those near the nuclear power plants, hope they can somehow stop them from a meltdown.
Pouring sea water into the reactor probably indirectly did cause the explosion, but it was necessary. When water is in the presence of a strong radiation field, it undergoes a process called radiolysis, which separates some of the water into it's oxygen and hydrogen components. Hydrogen gas is explosive. However, it is of utmost important to keep the nuclear reactor covered in water, as this is the only way to remove enough heat to prevent a meltdown. The ventilation system is likely down, so the most likely scenario to cause the explosion was a buildup of hydrogen gas. The explosion did not breach the containment vessel where the reactor is housed.
However, the use of sea water probably tells us one thing: it's doubtful that they are trying to salvage the reactor for future use at this point. This measure likely means the reactor will have to be decommissioned once everything is under control.
This is absolutely right.
The tsunami most likely knocked out the power source to the nuclear facility. As such, the cooling system would be inoperable, unless there was another power source (battery, generator, etc).
As the material decays, it generates heat, thereby increasing the temperature and pressure in the reactor. These are the two biggest problems going forward. During a shutdown, all the valves and steam pipes are shut to prevent a release. They could, at times, open the pipes to let off some pressure or work to power the cooling system again. Unless a power source was restored, the heat and pressure will continue to rise.
I haven't read the news reports, but sea water would be used to cool the reactor down. Doing so, however, would ruin the equipment in the primary containment and make it so it was inoperable in the future.
My guess is that their procedures are pretty conservative and that they declare an emergency and evacuate very early in the process, which is very good.
Earlier in the day, everything was looking ok at these reactors.
I wonder what changed.
Is it just me, or is there a huge number of big quakes happening lately?
As a Pac NW resident, I'm worried.
Most dont realize it but this is an extremely reactive area thats likely to see a major incident in the next 50 years.
Anyways, our prayers are with those in Japan.
... I can only imagine the absolute chaos in Japan right now, so I'm not surprised, though worried, the information has changed. We can only wait and hope for the best.
As a History Channel lover, I've seen plenty about the Super Volcano beneath Yellowstone. With that baby overdue to go off, I'm hoping all of these earthquakes don't have anything to do with its activity.
If there are no winds the fallout will remain 'relativly' localized. But, high winds will blow any radioactive material that is in the air over a much wider area, any rain that picks up the material will fall on and contaminate the ground, so hope for calm winds...
As of right now, I don't think any significant radiation is making it to the atmosphere. But if it does, it depends on how bad the situation gets and what the weather is doing at the time. Small amounts of radiation are most likely going to be reaching all the way around the entire globe.
How about Tokyo? Are they doing okay?
The only real problem in Toyko is that they have lost power, the train systems have been shut down and the highways are closed. So really the biggest problem is people trying to get anywhere, lots of people stranded. As far as I know no buildings are highways collapsed and thankfully the tsunami didn't reach the city.
that Japan uses, I believe, light water reactors. It's a different beast than the reactor in Chernobyl. Apparently, the effects of a meltdown are significantly less with light water reactors.
IF there is a meltdown AND loss of containment, there will be a significant release of radiation. weather is a huge factor, but it will spread regardless. there would probably be a measurable increase in radiation levels across a significant portion of the globe. however, no one outside the immediate vicinity of the reactor is likely to receive a significant radiation exposure. this gives you a bounding worse case scenario:
I hope everything turns out all right and people stay safe.
Was watching CNN after I saw it on MSN. They had a guy on that said the radiation you get from a CT scan is 1000 times more then whats happening now.
No one lives in a CT scanner 24 hours per day.
The total dose you would receive from a CT scan is far greater than the total dose you would receive from a radiation release, unless you were in the immediate vicinity (<20 miles) of the reactor. This isn't a dose rate comparison.
CT scans aren't exactly safe, anyway; so, you're saying that walking through and breathing the Japanese atmosphere right now is more safe than an unsafe thing? That's not especially informative.
A single CT scan is not unsafe. Multiple CT scans clearly is an unneccessary exposure to radiation, but a single CT scan gives you roughly the same radiation dose as you get from natural background radiation each year (that's right, you're being irradiated right now, run for the bomb shelter!!!), which does not pose a quantifiable risk.
Furthermore, this is not a comparison between the dose RATE froma CT scan and the atmosphere in Japan. This is a comparison of the TOTAL dose you would receive.
Still a partial meltdown and sea water is being pumped in! If there's a total meltdown and the radiation stays below the tropopause we could see some radiation contamination here in the US. May be by the time it makes it across the pacific it will be in the stratosphere.
Until godZilla come.
Second thought and more reading - too soon! No edit on iPhone! My bad, neg as req'd
Japan is suffering through a disaster of biblical proportions, a disaster many of us will never see again in our lifetime.
The time for jokes is not now.
3 of 90 tested positive, they will lose less than 1 percent of the people lost in Haiti or Indonesia tsunami. Not the time for jokes but definitely not the time for hyperbole.
While there may not be as many lives lost in Japan as there was in Haiti or Indonesia, this could definitely be a disaster of biblical proportions. The area hit is probably 15 times more populated, three different nuclear power plants are on the verge of a meltdown, and a shit load of there farmland and crops are under water. I wouldn't be surprised when more time passes by that tens of thousands of people have lost their lives. So while biblical proportions be a little to strong, it is very likely we may never see another disaster like this in our lifetimes. Unless the world breaks out in nuclear war, which for the sake of the world I hope never happens, especially since i'm in the military and i'd probably be in the middle of it.
For starters, never say never. Japan will likely see far fewer deaths simply due to their infrastructure being designed to handle earthquakes. Nothing is designed for a 8.9, but even at that most buildings are built in hopes of with standing just about anything.
The nuclear plant is not under going a full melt down mode as of yet. When the concrete trucks start rolling in then it is time to freak out a bit. Hopefully this situation will be fixed as power is restored and they can begin to focus on the clean up effort.
Edit: Upon reading the latest news, I would have to agree with the rest of you, this is definitely the worst natural disaster of my life time. I was trying to be on the optimistic side of things but this is really awful for the people of Japan.
Death tolls in japan are about 1000 right now, let's just say they get to 2000 for some reason. 1976 Tangshan earthquake in china was reported by the Chinese government to have killed over 242,000 people, which most people know was a lie with expert numbers around 650,000. Haiti last year killed 316,000 and Indonesia was 230,000. Surely your lifetimes are longer than 4 years by know. It is very sad that any lives were lost, but seriuosly we are talking about a very large population that as well prepared for this happening both on a personal and infrastructural level. And don't give me any "cost of damages" numbers.
[T]he police chief of badly hit Miyagi Prefecture, north of Fukushima, said the death toll was certain to exceed 10,000 in his district alone.
I agree that the Haitian earthquake was worse than this. In proportional terms, Japan would have to lose a couple million people to equal that population loss, to say nothing of the fact that Haiti simply doesn't have the money to rebuild. But this is still really, really bad.
It's only a partial meltdown because the hydrogen bubble didn't explode, exposing the core like what happened in the 1986 accident at Cherynobyl. Without a doubt this is the most devastating national disaster I have witnessed.
a partial meltdown has occured. What a shame. Nuclear power is the safest and cleanest power source. This will set the industry back 50 years. The Nuke free freaks will have a field day.
May God touch the soul of everyone affected by this disaster.
The thing did just melt down.
But only after a brutal tsunami following the largest earthquake in the recorded history of an area of the world known for earthquakes. I believe the original point here is that people will point to this as a reason not to build nuclear powerplants in, say, Nebraska, where an event like this is practically an impossibility.
they don't know if a meltdown occured or not. and if it did, it was contained. how many people were killed by this meltdown? the same number that were killed by the three mile island meltdown: 0. how many people die in coal mines every year???
for the question. I didnt think of that. Nuclear Power is a great source of energy. Although building them on a fault line may not be very smart.
I'm not a "nuke free freak," but wouldn't you have to say that solar energy is the "safest and cleanest power source?"
It certainly is, but technology is not advanced enough to make it practical for providing our base load power right now. As technology advances (especially storage efficiency), it will become more practical and cost-competitive, but we're still a ways off from that right now.
Solar power is very dirty once you factor in the pollution from the process of making making solar cells.
There are many different components to solar panels including plastics. Not very clean to process and manufacture this. We get lost in the hype sometimes
or does it not seem like these kind of devastating events are happening at a much higher clip than ever before. Granted, I have not been alive that long, longer than I would like to admit, but still not that long. But it just seems like devasating natural disasters are a once a year thing right now.
Well, as the population continues to grow exponentially, these kinds of events will continue to seem even more devestating.
Via facebook, the only person I know who lives in Japan is ok, so I'm relieved. Still, Japan is going to need a lot of aid to recover from this.
The Earth's population isn't really growing exponentially anymore. It was about 30 years ago, but now it's just gradually trending upward overall (though a handful of countries are growing like crazy). However, the global population is urbanizing at unprecedented rates (about 50% of human beings now live in urban areas, for the first time ever), so natural disasters can have a greater toll if they strike the wrong place.
Just read this morning the U.S. has mobilized humanitarian forces to get aid to Japan. We've sent a few nuclear experts, so hopefully they'll be able to help out with the power plant situations. Here's the link if you want to read on.
This is incredibly sad. I can't imagine living through something so utterly devastating. My family and I are praying for those people.
Meanwhile, MSNBC, just as they were about to go to break showed another clip of that asshat Charlie Sheen. What a disgrace.
i'm a graduate from u of m's nuclear engineering department, so let me try to clear some of this up. right now, i can definitively say that we have no idea what's going on. there is a TON of misinformation out there right now on this topic. (the absolute worst of which is coming from bill nye)
they're working under the assumption that a meltdown has already occured because that's the most conservative approach to take. like when a football player is injured and they immobilize the neck, proceeding with caution until they can prove that he doesn't have a serious spinal column injury.
as for whether or not a meltdown has occured, it's tough to say with the data that's out there right now. i would lean towards no, since there hasn't been a significant release of radiation. a full core meltdown seems unlikely, but a partial melt may occur (or may have occurred).
but let me re-remphasize: the amount of misinformation surrounding this topic right now is preposterous. when the media can put the words 'nuclear' and 'disaster' in the same headline, they're going to ride it for all the frenzy it's worth. that doesn't mean this isn't a very real risk with possibly severe consequences, but right now, we don't know much except that there hasn't been a significant release of radiation to this point.
I appreciate your responses. I have heard that the fact that they've detected cesium is a strong indication that there has been a meltdown to some extent--is that the case or is it possible that it would be produced through less-catastrophic problems?
I think this does make a good argument for nuclear energy in a weird way if it ends reasonably well--plants are getting safer all the time, but even with older plants in the non-Soviet (i.e. better designed for safety) world, the worst two incidents ever (TMI and this) will hopefully have fairly small repurcusions, especially when you compare them to incidents with coal or oil. We still need to wait and make sure this does end as well as it can now, because that's not a given, but seems like it's very likely.
I do think it's human nature to have a hard time internally computing maximum likelihoods--something huge and unlikely to harm you is often more terrifying and influences behavior more than something smaller but more likely to harm. A second reason this has a great impact is that we're selfish--I think a lot of people have an easier time accepting disasters that happen to people at risk for them. Even though we're emotionally moved by them, tragedies with coal miners don't scare the average consumer about coal, so our usage/political support isn't as influenced. Those aren't arguments against what you're saying at all, though, quite the opposite, it's an encouragement to keep saying it.
And as soon as I write this, there are reports of another explosion (sounds like the other reactor that was having trouble) and a state of emergency declared due to "excessive radiation levels" reported, though I don't see any indication yet how excessive they are (could be very bad or could again be terrible-sounding but not going to affect many people).
Where are you getting your news? CNN.com has a breaking news headline about this, but no details whatsoever.
The state of emergency and excessive radiation levels were from a breaking news e-mail (basically the same that was in the banner headline) though that's now I think being clarified as from another location (Onagawa) which they're saying is under control.
The second explosion was listed in an article below that was just below the main headlines but it's not on the main site anymore since the rescers getting to Sendai has replaced the reactor news--and it looks like CNN has backed down on that claim to just a possible second explosion (http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/asiapcf/03/13/japan.nuclear.reactors/index.html?hpt=T1) .
A quick scan of BBC and CNN says nothing about a second explosion. Sauce please?
After reading up some more on this, it's probably safe to conclude that at least a partial core meltdown has occured at this point. Cesium-137 is a fission product that is constantly produced in a reactor (functioning normally or otherwise). It emit a strong signature gamma ray that is easy to detect/quantify, so it is typically used as a benchmark.
They have to continue to vent the reactor and associated equipment to prevent the buildup of hydrogen, which could cause another explosion. However, without power, they have probably lost the normal filtration means, so they will be releasing radioactive particles when they vent, which is why they're detecting cesium (and other isotopes) outside the building.
The big issue now is containment. As long as the reactor pressure vessel continues to provide containment, the radiation releases should be managable. These are incredibly strong vessels that are built to survive extreme pressures and temperatures, but the current conditions are probably testing those limits.
The flooding from the tsunami may claim 1,000 - 10,000 lives.
Yet the nuclear plants are getting most of the coverage.
I'll believe you before I believe any media reporter. Thanks for the info.
Disclaimer: As a member of the nuclear industry, I have clearly have some selfish motives in this. That being said, I'm trying to just present facts and a resonable best-guess assessment as to what is happening to counteract the senstaionalist media reports.
I found it an incredibly odd choice that CNN was using Bill Nye "The Science Guy" as their "expert" on the reactor situation. I'm sure he has some credentials to comment on the matter but from a PR standpoint it does not scream credible information.
I joked to my wife that I half expected Mr. Green Jeans to provide his analysis on how the tsunami has affected the agricultural industry.
please disregard everything you heard from bill nye. that whole segment was just littered with blatantly wrong "facts". it was terrible. got to npr for a correct discussion.
This situation sucks so much. I keep thinking: why does it have to be Japan who is worrying about the event of a nuclear melt down? Haven't they suffered enough nuclear damage already?
Andrew has already been dead-on with regards to what is going on in Japan and how the general public should react to the incident. To summarize:
1) A nuclear meltdown may or may not have occurred, but assuming that it did, this should not cause any significant alarm unless the meltdown breaches containment; otherwise, there are no negative health effects on the public or even plant workers. For reference, containment was not breached in Three Mile Island, where the core was completely melted down.
2) People in general are stupid and do not understand this; thus, Three Mile Island was used as a scare that was compared directly to Chernobyl. However, the incident occurring at Chernobyl did not occur as a result of a meltdown; rather, poor reactor design led to a sudden increase in power level during operation, which acted like a bomb with enough TNT Equivalent to breach containment. Modern reactors are designed such that this (called a Criticality Accident) cannot happen even if the operators tried very hard.
When Three Mile Island occurred, engineers tried to use the incident as an illustration for just how safe nuclear reactors are (we do the worst possible thing we can and no one dies and illness is rare). This was not the result, as the government greatly increased regulation so as to prevent this accident from occurring again. While this method probably had good motives at the time, the problem is that other power-producing methods such as coal are not held to the same standard as nuclear power (in case you didn't know, mining and burning coal have high risks. This results in significantly raising the cost to build a nuclear power plant to the point that nuclear power could not compete with coal as a means of producing energy.
It hasn't been until recently that economics has allowed nuclear power to recover from Three Mile Island (aided by the fear of pollution and greenhouse gases), but another incident like what happened could lead to increasing regulation even more and killing the demand for nuclear energy again. This is what nuclear engineers such as me and other proponents of energy aside from fossil fuels fear the most*.
*Note that if containment does get breached from natural disasters, I will personally donate money to any help fund to aid efforts to help those in need from the released radiation. If it is also proven that natural disasters are not accounted for when discussing plans for a nuclear power plant I will join the mob that protests this.
People like you. Thank you man.
Golly, Michigan alumni are awesome. It's nice to know that I can turn to my college sports blog for better technical analyisis of news issues than most of the dedicated news networks.
Have you and Andrew followed travelling wave reactor development? This is what Bill Gates is backing with his checkbook via Terrapower.
Let's hope that Japan's reactor problems are controlled.
beautiful concept from a physics perspective, but the use of liquid sodium as the coolant probably means it will never happen. there have been a few experimental liquid metal cooled reactors in the past, but i think the PR hurdle will prevent it from ever being used to generate power commercially. filling your reactor core with an element that explodes when exposed to water is a tough sell. plus cleanup is a BITCH. just ask the folks out at idaho national lab who had to clean up after EBR-II.
I'm interested to see what comes out of this in the following days and weeks. Obviously, all reactors in Japan are built to high seismic standards, but I'm not sure you can defend against an 8.9. The real failure seems to be in the backup systems. Why weren't the backup deisel generators able to operate the pumps and continue providing cooling to the core?? There are clearly going to be some valuable lessons learned for the nuclear industry from this event. Let's just hope that they don't come at too high of a cost.
My understanding is it was not the quake itself, but the tsunami that created the reactor failure. Among other things it flooded the generators that would have powered the cooling systems, and backups.
that would make sense. i hadn't heard any explanation for why the generators failed.
damn common cause failures...
i'm in slight disbelief, but cnn actually has an update which downplays the chance of a catastrophic disaster and is technically correct (at least mostly):
this confirms a lot of what i've been saying (hooray me!), namely:
1) it is highly likely that there has been a partial core melt.
2) this reactor(s) is done-zo. even if the core did not melt, flooding it with sea water was equivalent to signing a death certificate for the reactor
3) there is still containment. a change is this status would signify a transition from bad accident to disaster.
one other point i'd like to bring up is the difference between high radiation levels and a radioactive release. the high radiation levels at the plant are obviously not good, but it doesn't mean anything unless you're near the plant, since most of the radioactive particles are still contained within the plant boundary. if there's a significant release of radiation, that's when it would get bad.
So is the plant itself completely unuseable from here on out, or can they replace the reactor? Also, does the reactor need to be buried far underground?
It won't be used any time soon, if ever. It still remains to be seen how far the damage is going to progress...they are racing against time to get it cooled and stop the melting. Even after the temperature is stabilized it could take a long time to get in and assess the extent of damage. This is a very bad situation.
The reactor is not salvagable, but the plant as a whole may still be. After the Three Mile Island accident, the other reactor was brough back online a few years later. I believe there are 3 reactors on the Japanese site, so if they are still operable, the plant may continue to operate. There's not nearly enough information at this point to tell if that's likely or even possible.
The reactor core as a whole will not be buried. I'm not sure what Japan typically does with their spent nuclear fuel, but they will likely defuel the reactor and treat it as a specialized case of spent nuclear fuel. That probably means offsite storage or burial. One thing is for sure, those will be some damn expensive trash cans.
According to this BBC report, all 3 reactors have had sea water pumped into them.
Reactor 1 - shut down, under inspection because of Saturday's explosion, sea water and boric acid being pumped in
Reactor 2 - water level "lower than normal", but stable
Reactor 3 - high pressure coolant injection was "interrupted"; but injection of sea water and boric acid were under way.
Later, officials said sea water and boric acid were also being pumped into reactor 2.
in that case, the whole plant is probably one giant decommissioning project now. theoretically, new reactors could be built to utilize the existing turbines and such (assuming they are still servicable), but the chances of that happening are roughly on par with me deciding to move to c-bus and become an osu fan.
EDIT: so there are actually 6 reactors on site. i would be shocked if they shut down the other 3 permanently.
Chances are nothing of real consequence will come from the radiation release/meltdown here. There's going to be some serious issues with power it appears though, as rolling blackouts have been ordered to try and bring the energy market back to an efficient level. I wonder how much of an affect this will have with rescue efforts, and just on Japan as a whole. I hope that the rolling blackouts are just a temporary fix before more desirable plans can be initiated to bring Japan's grid back to a fully operatiional level.