Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Fukushima Year Later Lessons and Questions

Why We Have To Quit Nuclear Power

Now back in my college days at MIT, I was the one writing editorials scoffing at the Seabrook anti-nuclear protesters. The best reply I saw to "Split Wood, Not Atoms" on an opinion graffitti poster I put up was "5 billion people burning wood for energy will end life as we know it on this planet". I recall seeing a documentary on the America's before Europe touched it that Europe pretty much used up all the wood it had building houses and ships, not to mention what they burned.

Jim Al-Khalili did a BBCdocumentary arguing that after all, except for the fact that the area around Fukushima will be uninhabitable until hell freezes over and there is no possible way to safely decommission this mess, nobody has died of radiation at Fukushima and very few people died in Chernobol of iodine-13 and nobody died from the cesium contaimination. Since the containment still held most of the nuclear fuel in the building, we can continue to rely on nuclear energy as a safe, inexpensive way to get energy.

My take is that on average, nuclear probably does generate less old-fashioned pollution as well as CO2 whose harm (anyone who breathes produces CO2) has yet to be proven. It also produces far less deaths any way you count it (excluding the 10,000-millions promoted by activists that are widely promoted by "alternative news outlets"that also promote apologists for terrorists for Palestine) as thousands of people die every year from fires and mining and refinery and drilling disasters for various kinds of fuel. Even wind power killed an unfortunate skydiver. But the big problem is that we're running plants that are simply not designed to be safely run in the case of a meltdown, and we cannot guarantee that an event like a tsunami, earthquake, flood, tornado or whatever will not cause a meltdown. Sure we can say the units we have in the US can't have a tsunami like that (even though Burke Museum in Seattle says any place on an earthquake zone like San Diego can get a 15 meter wave) but US plants are simply LESS likely to fail like fukushima, they are not completely safe. These plants aren't even designed to be safely dismantled even if they don't blow up. When spent fuel has to be safely and securely stored effectively for an INFINITE number of months, the cost of storage is effectively just as infinite.

Things most people still don't know about Fukushima

Only Way To Prevent Disaster Would Be To Not Build There

Essentially the only to have prevented the accident was to never have built the plant there, or anywhere near the shore. The plant was already 33 ft up on a hill. The sister Daini plant lucked out that they did not lose power, and water did not come quite as high.

It just wasn't high enough for a 50 ft wave (reactors 5 and 6 and their generators were high enough). A similar wave would doom the San Ofre plant near San Diego. The Burke museum  in Seattle which is on the same coast a thousand miles north says "The water level on shore can rise many feet. In extreme cases, water level can rise to more than 15 meters (50 feet) for tsunamis of distant origin and over 30 meters (100 feet) for tsunami generated near the earthquake’s epicenter."

The control rooms on the 2nd floor (shaded red)just barely missed being flooded. This would have made control completely impossible and killed most of the most skilled reactor operators. 2 workers in the turbine buildings drowned. 

You can see that the cooling condensors at the far right were not only completely drowned, but wrecked by the wave. These were needed not only to release heat from the reactors, but most of the generators were cooled with water from there as well. 

Nobody has done analysis of how much damage was done by ground-level flooding since the building is not waterproof at any level. 

  • The earthquake alone may have been enough to damage the cooling system pipes enough for a meltdown even without the power failure. Workers saw pipes burst and excess radiation was detected, signs of a meltdown and / or leaks from breaks BEFORE the tsunami hit
  • US plants are much less likely to be flooded by a similar tsunami, but plants like Ft Calhoun were threatened by floods much higher than it was obviously designed for when it required setting up a plastic bag dike (which failed) and power failures which can be caused by tornados or earthquakes. East coast earthquakes generated HIGHER shakes than the plants were designed for that weren't supposed to happen more than once in a few hundred years.
  • Ft Calhoun Island
    Ft Calhoun Islands. 
GE Mark I Reactors Failed Spectacularly

Simulations and tests had already shown that in the case of a meltdown, the "secondary containment" could leak, and/or explode violently which is exactly what happened at reactor 1 (clean hydrogen explosion that blew out roof exposing top floor to air and destroying both crane and re/defueling platform), reactor 3 (dirty massive explosion 1000 ft high that likely spread uranium and plutonium into the air, not to mention cesium and iodine, blowing out not only the roof but blowing out concrete walls BELOW top floor and collapsing northwest top floor, and severing massive pillars, exposing spent fuel pool to the air, and sending massive radioactive steam cloud for weeks and still leaking to this day) and reactor 4 (also blew out concrete walls, even though the reactor WAS EMPTY, thought to be hydrogen leak from 3)

Every method of containment failed

Fukushim Daichi Nuclear Accident Killed More Than Chernobyl

Officially nobody died from radiation. But my calculation is that hundreds have already been declared to be fatal victims of the evacuation by local authorities. That's not counting the likely 1000-plus people who have committed suicide after their livlihoods in farming, forestry, ranching, fishing or whatever has been destroyed. Based on this, far more people have died in the first year than Chernobyl which only claimed a dozen or so operators and firefighters in its first year.
    • #1,#2: 2 workers drowned in turbine building 4 from the tsunami
    • #3 1 worker died in crane from earthquake at Dani (#2) plant
    • #4 May 2011:  The first worker died of a heart attack in May, Nobukatsu Osumi was carrying heavy equipment on foot to build the contaminated water processing facilities. Died of a heart attack at age 60, determined that his cardiac infarction was caused by excessive physical and mental burdens arising from working overnight wearing protective gear and mask. His wife tried to get his death classified as an industrial, if not a radiation accident.
    • #5 August 2011: worker became ill and the doctor diagnosed as [sudden] acute leukemia [symptoms same as radiation sickness] hospitalized for a week, then passed away...there was no irregular white blood cell count based on his health check up
    • #6 October 2011: worker in his 50s was working near the contaminated water tank,fell sick on 10/5, and died the next day.
    • Jan 2012: worker in coma:complained of sickness at 2:20, in coma by 4:30. There is no corresponding report of his death, nor that he ever got better. 
    • Unreported: 21 years old Fukushima worker died of cardiac infarct. Not reported, no autopsy. He died when he was at home, and he was working at Fukushima plant since March to July.
I can't think of any nuclear or fossil fueled power plants that have 3 people suddenly get sick and die within a day or a week  over the course of a half year. That is an extraordinarily high death rate for ANY reason, radiation or not. It is also bothersome that none of those who died have names except Mr. Osumi.

Things nobody knows knows about Fukushima after a year

  • Was reactor 1 doomed by the earthquake as radiation leaks were detected and workers saw pipes breaking and leaking immediately after the quake?
  • Did any of the workers who died or contracted cancer suddenly (within 1 day)without explanation really die from radiation exposure, or just overheating, or both?
  • What exactly happened at Unit 3 explosion?
    • Why no detailed description of the massive damage - the entire top northwest floor collapsed, including the massive vertical pillars. Unlike #1 where the roof fell down and the side panels blew out, the upper west wall pillars pivoted and fell over, and many of the massive vertical pillars of the top 2 floors were blown out, even though they were reinforced concrete. 
    • Where is the refueling platform? Was it blown sky high or into Turbine building #3?
    • Was it Arnie Gundersen's "prompt critical" theory: hydrogen blast knocks spent fuel into a criticality?If so, why is there still water in the pool?
    • Was it Ian Goddard's steam explosion theory? Hot fuel hits water at bottom of containmentmaking steam explosion This makes a bit more sense since this would explain how dark uranium would create a dark cloud which leaks out of the reactor cap (but if the cap is still there, why the vertical explosion?)

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