Wednesday, March 30, 2011
The major problem right now is that they are stuck on the water. They were pumping out of Reactor 1's turbine basement (much less radioactive), but they got halfway (20 cm left; 40 cm~16 inches) and the tank was full. The last thing I really saw on this is that the plan is to pump basement water to the condensers, which are full, so they want to pump the condenser water to another containment system, which is full. It just goes down the line, ending in this current theory that they will build a containment pond.
Well, do they have time for that? Nah. The alternate plan seems to be into the tank barge, but I gather it is not there yet and in the meantime the radiation levels in the seawater outside the plant discharge keep climbing. Will calls the levels "incredible". I didn't use that word!
Under normal operating circumstances, the radiation contamination in most nuclear waste water is quite low. If they can't get a barge there soon, they should just pump the older, less contaminated stuff out to sea and pump the highly contaminated stuff into the existing large tanks (which are used to let decay processes reduce water contamination levels). Obviously the highly contaminated stuff is getting into the sea already; mitigating is going to net less damage to the environment than trying to do it right when that is impossible.
In the meantime it is not as if other problems leave them alone. In the last NISA update I read there was a notation about a problem with a pump at Reactor 2 in Onagawa NPS along with the some sort of accident with an oil tank. I doubt that's much of a problem.
They are now planning to spray resin on the Fukushima Daiichi site to prevent contaminated soil from blowing off. Also there is mention of tarping the reactors to try to lessen atmospheric contamination. It's not really tarp - it's some special fabric, but the idea is that you trap the steam emissions. Of course this will keep more emissions at the plant, so that will pose some problem at least.
There was a trouble notification at Onagawa NPS on the 29th. Failure of pump and collapse of oil tank. I think this is not that much of threat because by now those reactors should be in very cold shutdown, but it does at least suggest that earthquake damage will have to be carefully inspected and remediated before any quaked plants can be restarted.
In terms of the overall situation, a plan to ask companies to cut their summer power usage by 25% is being discussed. Given that parts shortages and chemical shortages, etc, are already impacting world auto production, I am going to hazard that we have six to eight months before semi-full production runs can start. It's pretty widespread. For example, I have seen stories about steel plants starting up their power plants and shunting the power to the utility companies, and an annealing plant in huge trouble (it's got power but very few orders), etc.
Auto plants in the US and Canada have had drops or halts in production as a result. It seems reasonable to assume that the shortages will take months to resolve even if production is shifted out of Japan.
There is also significant impact on electronics production. A lot of goods exported from China are assembled there, but the majority or plurality of the components comes from elsewhere.
On Friday I will have rail carloadings and then I'll feel prepared to make a better guess as to the likely effect on the US economy. However here's one hint - I thought we were pretty much at the tipping point already.
The news coverage of this incident in the US is hysterical. In Japan it is painfully formalistic and becoming quite surreal, as officials state things that were obvious more than ten days ago. I find it very discouraging that they have known about the water problem for so long and have not yet worked out any real way to go forward. Implementation of any such plan will take time. Are they going to take another couple of weeks?
In the meantime, the special concrete truck with the long spraying arm failed and has to be repaired. Three more contract workers got doused with water outside Reactor 2's turbine building when they were removing a flange:
When removing the flange of pipes of Residual Heat Removal Seawater System outside the building of Unit 3, three subcontractor’s employees were wetted by the water remaining in the pipe. However, as the result of wiping the water off, no radioactive materials were attached to their bodies.These guys are starting to look like redshirts in Star Trek. The longer this goes on the more risk to the workers; it is time to fallback and regroup. A bad but workable plan is always preferable to a theoretically better but practically impossible plan. What's really disgusting is that they are letting the water levels in the reactor vessels drop further. Will thinks they are trying to reduce leakage this way. That may come at a high cost.
There's another rather dire theory about why they might be doing this, but I think it is a very small possibility so I won't bother with it. Robots are being sent in from several countries. It looks like Rouge Adair is on her way from France, and I am betting that the rad-tarp proposal and the resin ideas came from outside sources.
At this point I will not cover this situation much any more. I recommend Atomic Power Review for ongoing technical coverage of what is a truly hazardous situation.
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Links to English language Japanese news:
The increasingly bizarre stories in the US press are awesome works of misinformation. Cognitive dirty bombs. Will covered Newsweek yesterday. AP apparently does not know that in the US, nuclear power plants do have backup generators in case of loss of power. I hope people like Will can continue to make the effort to try to correct these errors; we should be mitigating real risks rather than imaginary ones.
Economic activity has become dependent
on government spending or the Fed's
manipulation of interests rate and the value
Of the dollar. We are too dependent on low
energy prices to continue to trash the dollar.
Who knows what comes next.
I like that they're starting to mess with the flow rate into the reactors. That's the first sign I've seen that they are tweaking the inputs, attempting to really understand what the heck is going on. I had to laugh when the radioactivity of the leaking water pegged a meter at "GET OUT", which was duly reported as >1000mSv.
It's also good to see some drastic ideas being used--the resin coating for the ground, for example. TEPCO seemed to be focused on handling the issue by utilizing the normal resources of the plant, when the situation was crying for drastic intervention.
Once the tsunami broke stuff, they had a highly complex system with multiple poorly-understood feedbacks, some of them positive. The only way to get such a system under control is to eliminate or control the feedback paths one by one until you finally have a more-or-less linear system. It looks to me like they're finally succeeding at that, so I don't think this is going to get much worse than it already is. It's going to remain a local problem.
The downside to that theory is that it isn't going to get better very quickly at all.
For that matter, the basement water is probably a lighter super-contaminated layer on top of a less contaminated layer.
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