2011-03-13 00:23:29Fukushima
Paul D


Thought I would start a separate thread about the disaster in Japan.

This just came up on the BBC emergency page:

Noriyuki Shikata, from Japanese PM's office tweets: "TEPCO's [Tokyo Electric Power Company] efforts to depressurize the container was successful. Additional measures are now taken tonight using sea water and boric acid. "  

  Noriyuki Shikata, deputy cabinet secretary for public relations for the Japanese prime minister tweets: "Blast was caused by accumulated hydrogen combined with oxygen in the space between container and outer structure. No damage to container."


2011-03-13 02:43:56
Paul D


Quite a good report by Richard Black:


2011-03-13 08:50:40
Paul D


Reuters: The emergency cooling system is no longer functioning at the Fukushima No. 3 reactor, an official from Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has told journalists.



2011-03-13 09:39:50
Rob Painting

Probably cause a lot of anti-nuke rhetoric, just when it needs to be adopted as part of an alternative combination to fossil fuels. Drat. Not that I have any time for nukes, but better than global warming, for sure.

2011-03-13 10:38:02


I have a concern about nuclear: Mostly about the radwastes. The low-level wastes need to be kept away from contaminating people for up to 100,000 years. How do we do that? How do we do remember to do anything for 100,000 years?

2011-03-13 10:51:23
Dana Nuccitelli

My main problems with nuclear power are that it's just too expensive, and too risky from an economic standpoint.  It takes 5-10 years to build a single nuclear plant (closer to 10 years in the USA), and they always go over budget and over schedule.  And they're so expensive that they require government loans, leaving taxpayers on the hook if they default on the loan, which happens all too frequently.

Not that I'm against building any nuclear plants, but it's just not going to be a big part of the solution.  And as neal says, the wastes are an issue too.

2011-03-13 19:13:34


These are quite old reactor designs, and we are struggling to find enough low carbon energy at the moment, so it would be a shame if this becomes an excuse to delay nuclear programmes even more.  That said building nuclear power stations in one of the worst earthquake zones in the world isn't a good idea.

Fears for second Japanese reactor

A second nuclear reactor is experiencing serious problems at Japan's quake-damaged Fukushima plant, a day after it was hit by a major explosion. Meanwhile, police have warned that the death toll in the area worst affected by the tsunami could exceed 10,000...

a meltdown at reactor 3 would be potentially more serious than at the other reactors, because it is fuelled by plutonium and uranium, unlike the other units which carry only uranium. Experts say as long as authorities can keep fuel rods in the core covered with water, they should be able to avoid a major disaster. Emergency workers were pumping in seawater to cool the rods, but one report suggested the tops of the rods had briefly been exposed


2011-03-13 21:55:46
Paul D


My understanding is that the Fukushima plant closed down because of the earthquake,a lot of others power stations also closed down which removed the cooling system power.

Then the tsunami came along and damaged the backup diesel system. A double or triple whammy.

But this does raise the question of how well designed the backup systems are, especially in a location where tsunamis and earthquakes are normal events (no matter how big or small).
Why doesn't Japan have portable backup generators that can be quickly moved to where they are needed, no matter wahte the roads, seas etc are like??

Or a secondary backup system that doesn't run off electricity!
A good old fasioned steam engine?? :-)

The other issue is the fact that nuclear power stations are largely located by the sea (remoteness and cooling etc,).
You need to be confident that if you do build by the coast that you know how fast sea levels are likely to rise, how high above sea level the plant is and how quickly it can be decomissioned and 'cleaned' before sea levels reach it.

2011-03-13 22:27:23
Paul D


Re: backup systems...

How about some wind turbines on a hill near Fukushima with some energy storage of some sort. :-)

2011-03-14 01:07:29
Paul D


Another reactor at Fukushima appears to be in trouble (3 in total now), plus another completely different site further north has declared an emergency.

2011-03-17 10:02:57


This seems to be going from bad to worse.  The French nuclear agency now rate it as a 6 out of 7, worse than 3 mile island, less than Chernobyl.  

From an renewable energy viewpoint is this good or bad?  Stocks have risen in renewables, However, I have always thought of nuclear as being complimentary to renewables, supplying a low carbon base load.  Let's face it we need all the help we can get, and generating a low carbon economy isn't easy.

Although Fukushima is a distraction from the immediate tragedy of the Tsunami, I fear the real disaster will be the increased use of carbon fuels.  This will make things even worse over the long run.  I notice the Chinese have placed their nuclear plans on hold.


2011-03-17 22:21:19
Paul D


I can't really say much more about this regarding events. It shows how impossible it is to control these systems once failures start occuring. You just can't get equipment and people close enough to deal with the 'core' problems, not just for a day or so, but for weeks and probably months. It is exacberated by the fact there are multiple reactors on the same site, that IMO needs to be looked at and possible internation regulation needed to make sure that only one reactor or a max of two per site is allowed and a minimum distance between sites. This will probably raise costs. But so be it.

For me it highlights a need to cut energy use so that demand converges with supply, without the need for large amounts of nuclear energy or fossil fuels, or at least until someone sorts out fusion.

Russia used over 100,000 people to deal with Chernobyl, each could only work for 15 minutes in total. That may work in a dictatorship, but in a democracy you can't do that. Imagine what would happen in less well financed nations, such as in Africa.

2011-03-17 22:59:36
Glenn Tamblyn


One report I read said that the tsunami took out the diesel backup. They still had 10 hours of battery backup then that ran out. Then you have what is referred to as 'station blackout'.

So why not fly in new gennies, connect em up and of you go again pronto?

Because the main electrical switch room where they would need to connect in the new generators is in a basement that is now flooded and possibly contaminated! And they can't safely get in to pump out and dry the basement!!!

What part of FailSafe didn't these guys get for a Typhoon and Tsunami prone coastline?

But these plants wont ever operate again. Pumping in seawater as an emergency coolant means that corrosion will prevent them ever running these in anger again. They had to intentionally destructively decommision them to try and get control back.

Whatever may come out of this in the later enquiries, those people in the plants fighting this a real live heroes and they are in a real bad place.

2011-03-18 02:55:50failsafe
Dana Nuccitelli

Clearly they didn't plan for a tsunami.  There was a story yesterday that California nuclear plants weren't specifically designed to withstand earthquakes, either.  But most likely we won't get a powerful enough earthquake to cause a major problem.  As you say Glenn, the flooding of the generators was the big problem in Japan, which shouldn't be a problem here.  Still, it's rather concerning that nuclear plants were built a mile away from a fault line without specific planning to for an earthquake.  It actually went to the Supreme Court, and the conservatives (including Scalia) won the vote 5-4 against earthquake planning.

It's the problem with nuclear power.  They're expensive, have to be fail safe, and take forever to build.  If anything goes wrong, it's a major disaster, and the taxpayers are on the hook because nobody will insure them.

Obama has said it won't have much impact on nuclear power in the US, other than to use Japan as a lesson learned.  But clearly this will turn public opinion against nuclear power.  That's good for renewables - they can use natural gas as a backup if necessary, but solar thermal and geothermal can provide baseload power (e.g. see James' zero net carbon Australia post tomorrow, which excludes nuclear power).

2011-03-18 08:23:00
Rob Painting

"But most likely we won't get a powerful enough earthquake to cause a major problem"

Hmm, I bet that's what the Japanese authorities thought too. The west coast of the US is long overdue for a mega earthquake. No need to overreact, but I wouldn't be complacent about it either.

The other thing quickly forgotten about these disasters is the financial toll. The two Christchurch earthquakes are going to have some pretty dire consequences for the NZ economy. The present government has made a significant committment to rebuilding Christchurch, and at a time where the global economy is in trouble, I have no idea where they intend getting the money from. I expect to see a wave of governmental employees being laid off over the next 18 months or so, as they try to stump up the cash.

The Japanese economy is going to take a big hit too.

2011-03-19 05:04:08


An article which puts the radiation dose into perspective

...few in the west of England seem concerned at the natural radiation they are exposed to from the earth in the form of the gas radon, even though it is estimated to lead to more than 1,000 cancer deaths a year in this country.

But if radiation comes from an accident and has been imposed on us unwillingly, we feel we can't control it or avoid it.

It is therefore not surprising that the psychological effects of man-made and unintended radiation exposure, or even its possibility, are strong.

Many of the thousands of servicemen exposed to A-bomb tests suffered lifelong disability similar to post-traumatic stress disorder, and any effects of Three Mile Island were psychological, rather than caused by the minimal radiation exposure

The perception of the extreme risk of radiation exposure is also somewhat contradicted by the experience of 87,000 survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who have been followed up for their whole lives.

By 1992, over 40,000 had died, but it has been estimated that only 690 of those deaths were due to the radiation. Again, the psychological effects were major.

Radiation does, however, feel acceptable when used in benign circumstances such as medical imaging. You can pay £100 ($160) and get a whole-body CT scan as part of a medical check-up, but it can deliver you a dose equivalent to being 1.5 miles from the centre of the Hiroshima explosion.

Because more than 70 million CT scans are carried out each year, the US National Cancer Institute has estimated that 29,000 Americans will get cancer as a result of the CT scans they received in 2007 alone


compared to the Japan incident

"If you take one of the workers who's been exposed to 100 milliSieverts (mSv), that's not going to have any serious short-term effects," he said - "certainly nothing like the situation facing the Chernobyl emergency workers that killed 28 of them.

"The risk of a serious cancer arising from that kind of dose would be less than 1% in a lifetime - and you have to consider that the normal chance of dying from cancer is 20-25% anyway.

"As for people outside the plant - I can't see any chance of picking out the effect of the Fukushima releases against the general background of cancers."

2011-03-19 09:32:57



The above article makes sense to me.

2011-03-19 10:14:25


It's ok only if you're exposed to those levels of radiation for a short time. The real problem is not for now. Should the radiation level stay permanently high, the cumulative effect would make a large area  uninhabitable.

2011-03-19 11:02:56
Paul D


Radon is considered a problem and it does affect house prices: