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From Far Labs, a Vivid Picture Emerges of Japan Crisis  NYT/IHT

For the clearest picture of what is happening at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, talk to scientists thousands of miles away. Thanks to the unfamiliar but sophisticated art of atomic forensics, experts around the world have been able to document the situation vividly. Over decades, they have become very good at illuminating the hidden workings of nuclear power plants from afar, turning scraps of information into detailed analyses.

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Most of these computer-based forensics systems were developed after the 1979 partial meltdown at Three Mile Island, when regulators found they were essentially blind to what was happening in the reactor. Since then, to satisfy regulators, companies that run nuclear power plants use snippets of information coming out of a plant to develop simulations of what is happening inside and to perform a variety of risk evaluations.

Indeed, the detailed assessments of the Japanese reactors that Energy Secretary Steven Chu gave on Friday -- when he told reporters that about 70 percent of the core of one reactor had been damaged, and that another reactor had undergone a 33 percent meltdown -- came from forensic modeling.

The bits of information that drive these analyses range from the simple to the complex. They can include everything from the length of time a reactor core lacked cooling water to the subtleties of the gases and radioactive particles being emitted from the plant. Engineers feed the data points into computer simulations that churn out detailed portraits of the imperceptible, including many specifics on the melting of the hot fuel cores.




"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Apr 2nd, 2011 at 10:48:39 PM EST

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