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The Oil Drum | How Black Is the Japanese Nuclear Swan?
The following is a guest post from friend of TOD Nicole Foss who blogs at The Automatic Earth as Stoneleigh. The subject of Stoneleigh's master thesis at Warwick University was nuclear safety. Subsequently at Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, her research field was power systems, with a specific focus on nuclear safety in Eastern Europe.


The Japanese earthquake is a tragedy of epic proportions in so many ways. The situation continues to evolve, and the full scope of the disaster will not be understood for a long time. 

One critical aspect is the effect on Japan's nuclear industry, which provides over 30% of the country's electricity from 54 reactors. Some of the largest nuclear plants in the world (Fukushima Dai-ichi and Fukushima Dai-ni, 4696 MW and 4400 MW, respectively) are located close to the epicentre, and on the coast, directly in the path of the resulting tsunami:



Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sun Mar 13th, 2011 at 06:53:24 PM EST
The Oil Drum | How Black Is the Japanese Nuclear Swan?
The Fukushima 1 plant was equipped with 13 diesel back-up generators to power the Emergency Core Cooling System (ECCS), but all of these failed.


Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sun Mar 13th, 2011 at 07:00:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Oil Drum | How Black Is the Japanese Nuclear Swan?
A hydrogen release is very much part of a meltdown scenario, and difficult to imagine hydrogen explosion scenarios on the scale of what was seen at Fukushima 1 that would not involve compromising the reactor pressure vessel:


Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sun Mar 13th, 2011 at 07:05:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Oil Drum | How Black Is the Japanese Nuclear Swan?
Given the detection of radioactive caesium, which could only have come from inside exposed fuel rods beginning to burn, and the subsequent violent explosion, it is difficult to imagine scenarios not involving substantial destruction of the reactor.


Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sun Mar 13th, 2011 at 07:06:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is where I was yesterday. Now I'm more inclined to think the sequence of events went like this:

  1. Coolant loss and core exposure.
  2. Beginnings of meltdown create hydrogen and cesium.
  3. Hydrogen, cesium, oxygen and nitrogen are vented into the concrete surround building.
  4. Hydrogen and oxygen go boom, perhaps after the concrete weakens. Cesium and perhaps some a small amount of uranium get dispersed over a wide area.
  5. But the core survives.

If the core were exposed, it's likely it would steaming, glowing, or on fire.

Now - admittedly it looks like there's no independent monitoring, so unless there's still a TV crew a few miles away, anything could be happening.

The only way to be sure that the core is intact is to check radiation north of the plant.

But I think if there were a massive breach, the evacuees would be much hotter, and there would be thousands of radiation warnings, and not just a handful.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sun Mar 13th, 2011 at 07:23:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Nuclear insiders in many jurisdictions are notorious for being an unaccountable power unto themselves, and failing to release critical information publicly.


"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Sun Mar 13th, 2011 at 07:21:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]

I disagree with all these assertions. Looking at the full life-cycle energy inputs for nuclear power, it seems to be barely above the minimum EROEI for maintaining society, and the costs (in both money and energy terms) are front-loaded.

Scaling up nuclear capacity takes extrordinary amounts of both money and time. While construction can be speeded up, where this has been done (as it was in Russia), the deleterious effect on construction standards was significant. Uranium reserves, especially the high-grade ores, are depleting rapidly. The reduction in carbon dioxide emissions over the full life-cycle do not impress me. In addition, nuclear authorities make risk decisions without informing the public. They have consistently made risk calculations that have grossly underestimated the potential for accidents of the kind that can have generational impacts.

In my view, nuclear power represents an unjustified faith in the power of human societies to control extremely complex technologies over the very long term. Any activity requiring a great deal of complex and cooperative control will do badly in difficult economic times.

Also, no human society has ever lasted for as long as nuclear waste must be looked after. It needs to be held in pools on site for perhaps a hundred years in order to cool down enough for permanent disposal, assuming a form of permanent disposal could be conceived of, approved and developed. During this period, the knowledge as to how this must be done will need to be maintained, and this may be more difficult than is currently supposed.



"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Sun Mar 13th, 2011 at 07:24:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
no human society has ever lasted for as long as nuclear waste must be looked after.

Have you seen the film "Into Eternity"? It's a documentary on the construction of the world's first final waste disposal site in Finland. It has to be built to last 100,000 years, a time span beyond human comprehension. All sorts of mind-boggling questions come into consideration.

Do you leave "markers" above ground to warn people of the danger? In what 'language' (they considered Edvard Munch's "Scream")? No, because people would just mess with the site out of curiosity.

Do you leave some sort of archive? To whom? A caste of specialists? That concept is called "atomic priesthood", which is unrealistic since that would expect an 'atomic religion' with its myths and rituals to persist for 100,000 years.

If it's best left alone how do you make people forget about the site?

Schengen is toast!

by epochepoque on Sun Mar 13th, 2011 at 10:52:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Fill the mine shaft (I assume it's in an old salt mine or something like that) with concrete. Any civilisation with sufficiently determined archaeologists to go through a hundred meter of concrete to get to your ancient burial chamber either makes sure to check for radiation (from radon emissions from the concrete, if nothing else) or is too dumb to live anyway.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Mar 14th, 2011 at 08:23:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Filling the tunnel mouth with concrete will happen at decommissioning sometime after 2100. Are we even going make it till then? You have to hope and plan.

People could accidentally encounter the tunnel without drilling through the concrete. It is possible to dig hundreds of meters without advanced industrial equipment, without knowing anything about radioactivity. Very unlikely but possible. It's the time span that makes the whole project incomprehensible.



Schengen is toast!

by epochepoque on Mon Mar 14th, 2011 at 09:23:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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