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Friday, March 25, 2011

Well, It's Not Good, Anyway

Update: The water sampled at 1 has a different mix than the water sampled at 3.

I wanted to respond to several comments asking why I was concentrating on this thing. Right now I am too dazed. To understand why, see Atomic Power Review and read through the postings for the 24th and the 25th.

I initially thought the press must have gotten the radiation levels wrong in the basement incident, and then I thought I must be misunderstanding what that meant, but according to Will, no.

Also note that in this post, Will looks at the JAIF release and the comment that there may be leaking from No 2 into the plant drainage system. It is logical to assume that this then might have leached into the basement at 3. In one way, that might allow us to postulate that reactor 3 and its spent fuel is more stable than otherwise. In another way, it poses a frightening hypothesis as to the status of 2. After reading Will's comments, I begin to suspect that I don't get a third choice.

Also, a hint as to why economic analysis of the eventual effect of this might depend mightily on what may now appear to be a side issue of the massive disaster caused by the quake and tsunami. In the short term, some isolation of emissions from the Daiichi plant is probably necessary before restarting some other reactors to supply critically needed power. Any reasonable estimate of time and scope here must be revised upwards after yesterday's news about the level of contamination observed.

If you still don't understand why I am dazed, let me phrase it this way - if this were a novel, when I had reached the point at which all of a sudden this extraordinarily radioactive water showed up in this basement, I would have thrown the book down in disgust.

Also, the chemistry issues involved in this level of contamination are significant.

PS: According to TEPCO and Kyodo News, TEPCO has found very radioactive water in buildings 1 & 2. I quote:
The utility known as TEPCO is also preparing to inject freshwater into the No. 2 reactor core.

But a day after three workers were exposed to water containing radioactive materials 10,000 times the normal level at the turbine building connected to the No. 3 reactor building, highly radioactive water was also found in the turbine buildings of the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors.
One is tempted to suggest Occam's Razor and a certain explosive event as an explanation, but instead this one will bow out and hope that the engineers, geologists, chemists and physicists who will be required to get this mess under control have more presence of mind than this one does. Kyodo News is running a brief that says the No 1 water also has around the 10,000 X normal level, nicely matching 3. They're neck and neck, running for the finish line.


Earlier in the crisis, it was stated that "time was on our side". Two weeks later, is this still true? With each passing day, things seem to be getting worse not better. I'm not sure I understand the worst case any more. Has it (the worst case) gotten better or worse? Are we still looking at the potential for a reactor vessel breach? Criticality? A new explosion that increases radiation dosages in Tokyo? I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the potential trajectories. I get the sense that maybe the experts on TV aren't as sure about things as they sound. Frankly I'm confused, and I spent a summer as an intern in Bechtel's L.A. nuclear power division (thankfully I did not pursue a career in the field!).
David - don't worry about criticality.

The worst case scenario is a very bad dirty-bomb type explosion. I doubt it's going to happen.

The problem is that the best-case scenario keeps getting worse.
David- see my newer post. I cannot be sure, but signs of a troubling development seem to be mounting.

If what I think is happening is happening, then the freshwater injections might greatly mitigate the situation.

Still, the timeline for effective control of atmospheric emissions has to be extended, and there probably will be high local contamination of the ocean.
"Best case scenario getting worse." I did not think of that one! Thanks for a clear response. I guess this means they wrestle with some degree of contamination for longer. Tough to say what the impact of this will be though. In the end the broader effect will be psychological rather than a real threat to health (or so it seems). The Japanese seem to have a stiff upper lip. If it were 150mi from Los Angeles, you can bet there would be pandemonium!
David - unfortunately, now we are also moving out on the "worst-case" scenario spectrum.

See the newer post and the red link at the bottom.

Apparently I was better at chemistry than I thought (and worse at facing reality than I thought).
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