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Saturday, June 04, 2011

Fukushima Disaster - This Should Be Interesting

JAIF publishes a daily compendium of news articles from the TEPCO releases and conferences:
The operator of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant says steam was observed coming out of the floor of the No.1 reactor building, and extremely high radiation was detected in the vicinity.

Tokyo Electric Power Company inspected the inside of the No.1 reactor building on Friday with a remote-controlled robot.

TEPCO said it found that steam was rising from a crevice in the floor, and that extremely high radiation of 3,000 to 4,000 millisieverts per hour was measured around the area. The radiation is believed to be the highest detected in the air at the plant.

TEPCO says the steam is likely coming from water at a temperature of 50 degrees Celsius that has accumulated in the basement of the reactor building.
I'd say chunks of the core are implicated here. That's over 120 degrees Fahrenheit - no way the water in the basement can be that hot on its own. The water being injected into the reactor vessel, and draining down into the pressure vessel, could be carrying small fragments of the core that would heat the water in the basement through decay, or there may be a blob of it down there.

The, ah, containment is spreading. The current plan to establish a cooling circuit for this reactor, at least, is not feasible under these conditions. If you go over to Atomic Power Review, you can follow Will's link to a video showing the steam; most people would say that the basement is boiling, This is the first Basement Boiling Water Reactor that I have encountered*, although it got very close to this in Chernobyl. No further word on basement water levels. Yet.

As previously noted, TEPCO found that the water level in the basement at reactor 1 had begun to drop. This happened recently, and I'd say it raises the blob odds pretty high!

I don't think the Hamaoka reactors will ever be restarted.

*In the literature, and that's as close as I want to get to it.

Update Sunday: The latest JAIF compendium.
The new pressure gauge shows reactor 1 pressures just a bit above atmospheric, i.e. "What containment?"

Ditches around Fukushima (non-evac areas) are showing levels of radioactivity that demand pretty immediate cleanup. (up to one hundred microSieverts in the detritus in the ditch). This is not surprising at all, because cesium, for example, winds up in drainage areas. Atmospheric above ditches is more like 3-4 microSieverts per hour, but over time, the potential exposure to the population adds up. Conditions around low-lying homes would be similar. If conditions get dry, and windy conditions develop, radioactive dust in the air could be inhaled and be a threat to human life. Extensive mitigation is necessary. Authorities are advising people to wear masks in this area when they are outdoors.

I liked this story on Will's site too link , followed by this one on why we need to get rid of the Commerce department link . And then I read this one about shutting down any oil coming in from Canada, link . All of this regulation prevents economic growth and jobs. Given the stuff I read from folks on the left, folks who haven't spent as much time living without electricity as me, but somehow think we should all go back to that lifestyle, none of it surprises me.

Those were good links; thanks!

My inner self is tied at 50%-50% betting on the probability that:

(1) the Lefty Progressives are trying to destroy stability so they can take over and realize their dream that "Central Control by wise Socialists will bring Utopia",
(2) the Lefties blindly believe that peace, prosperity, clean water, cheap power (etc) are eternally provided by nature (sort of like wind/ rain/ oxygen); so if they need money for their fanciful projects they can just tax more from "the rich" who have tapped into this eternal supply; the same thing with electricity -- natural power "just is", so they can divert us from "bad power" like fossil fuels to "good power" like windmills, sunshine, and unicorn farts. From that viewpoint, it will be as easy as unplugging your TV from one electric outlet and plugging it into the socket across the room. Right-wing naysayers are just too lazy/ greedy/ evil to acknowledge this blinding truth.

Heck, maybe the Lefty mindset is some weird amalgam of both. I admit: I do not understand the multiple idiocies of the Left. I do not understand their contention that theirs is the "reality-based" world view. I do not understand how they can be so blind to the harsh reality that there are trade-offs for every action undertaken by anyone, and that some of the policies they want to implement have VERY BIG (and very predictable, not "unforeseen") negative consequences. (Additionally, much of what they propose is so poorly studied that there is NO guarantee that it will actually bring about the "good" which is their alleged goal).

I'm very pessimistic that in the USA, where half the population is subsidized by government in one form or other, it may be impossible for "shrink government and slash expenditures" candidates to prevail over the "don't worry, we'll take care of everything" Progressives. {{Insert deep-funk emoticon here}}
Teri - good links, and I think Will's site is fascinating in general. A rare perspective!

A_Nonny - I choose #2, but I think to be more accurate you should substitute "non-technical" for "lefty".

I am a little stunned that your mind would make the same link as mine, because I was thinking just this morning about how this lack of understanding of the infrastructure (financial, power, regulatory, cooperative) that underlies society as we see it is drawing us all nearer to system failures of various kinds.

The most important aspect of this lack of understanding involves not even grasping the tradeoffs involved - the default is taken as the world as we know it, whereas the default is starving, freezing people.

There is no such thing as "safe" power, but it is also not safe not to have power; all the societal choices we make along these lines mitigate some evils and create other evils.

The baseline for our societies is mass death, not wandering in an Eden of plenty. The baseline for banking is extreme and consistent instability and a series of panics - what are now known as depressions.

I understand why you consider this a creature of the left - the mindset you describe has been adopted and sponsored by the progressive left, and its godparent is Paul Ehrlich, whose long record of perfect failure is perfectly matched by a long string of prizes, prize money and academic recognition.
Teri - perhaps the most amazing thing about the whacked-out wing of environmentalist activism is that on the one hand they strongly support urbanism, and on the other hand they do not comprehend that whereas people like you and I can live in the wilderness consuming very little electricity and fossil fuel, the same is not possible in the city.

Cities, by their nature, require high energy consumption. Tokyo without trains and AC is not a survivable habitat.
"The, ah, containment is spreading."

Hah! I nearly spit out my drink.

I would think that the robot would find the hole left by a large blob of molten fuel rod crashing into the basement. I haven't been following those videos, though--maybe it's just too messed up down there to see much.

On the other hand, I don't know what the surface tension of molten uranium is--does it act like mercury and blob together? I'd guess not, but I've no real clue.

This all seems to be "not good", to use a technical term.
Neil - the state-of-the-fuel problem is a sensitive dependence on initial conditions problem, and estimates have been changing as more is discovered about early conditions.

We know the starting point right after SCRAM, but since the monitoring systems shut down quite quickly, and since many gauge readings were either lost or have since been proven faulty, at this time there is a wide possible variance in the state of the cores.

Here is an an article on Reactor 1 after the water gauge reading was discovered to be faulty, and here is an article on varying model predictions for 2 & 3.

The behavior of the core depends first on temperatures and then on how the fuel rods have initially degraded. It is relatively easy to cool the discrete rods; if they blob up on top of the fuel rod structures (at these reactors they are inserted from the bottom) then they will be slower to cool but most of the fuel may not hit the bottom of the reactor vessel. Alternatively, they could melt into a blob and then the blob could melt down and sort of slowly spatter on the bottom, or the initial conditions (depending on how much or any of the water was over the fuel rods initially) could be such that the blob kind of flows over and hits in larger chunks.

The melted fuel will mix with other materials and characteristics will change as it does.
Note - early on it was believed that the fuel rods were mostly covered during most of the crucial initial days - since then this appears likely to be untrue but the situation varies in each reactor.

If the rods were mostly covered, then they could melt but sort of in a crumbly, slow way.

As for the video and reactor 1, the torus (suppression vessel, catches steam and is wet) should be underneath the floor (sort of in the basement. Fuel exiting the reactor vessel should drop down to the drywell.

Containment goes
Primary - cladding of fuel rods.
Reactor vessel - Reactor vessel has direct vents (controlled by normally sealed valves) to the suppression vessel torus; several large pipes extend from the reactor vessel to the suppression vessel.
Containment vessel - drywell underneath reactor and an outer, very strong structure encasing the entire reactor vessel.
Building - okay, none of these buildings are intact.

So this becomes confusing now, because TEPCO doesn't think the suppression vessel pipes are ruptured or that the suppression vessel is, and in any case that wouldn't account for the water level dropping in the basement.

On reactor 2, the steam inside the building was thought to be coming from damage to the suppression vessel underneath the floor, but now I am wondering.

This is mostly surprising because reactor 1 has less fuel, and in general less fuel should be more stoppable.
I guess I don't know what the "basement" is. Is the steam coming from the containment toroid, or from a space underneath the containment vessel?

So there's another possibility here (at least, given my limited knowledge). Maybe whatever is in the basement didn't come from the reactor vessel. Maybe it came from the spent fuel pond.
Well, I suppose when the corium hits the Earth's core, the problem will be mitigated. :(
Well if the "basement" means the containment vessel, then the article on Reactor 1 is clearly wrong--there's fuel in the torus and the torus is leaking steam.

Like you say, it's confusing. It sounds like it's still a local problem, although perhaps those first couple of days were a closer-run thing than most people thought.
Neil - there should be no way significant amounts of fuel could get into the torus (suppression vessel). Earlier TEPCO said that there didn't seem to be much water in the drywell!

The drywell shouldn't be steaming off from that location. The water in the basement is below the water level in the surrounding soil, especially after the torrential rain. This raises a real question of where the three inches of water could possibly have gone. TEPCO had suggested before that it had steamed off. That is a remarkable claim which may be true, but if it is true, other things of significance must be true.

Given the amount of water being injected into the pressure vessel, three inches of water drop in the basement is actually far more. This is an immense volume of water.

One suspicion I developed is that the water level in the basement got so high from the rains that it rose and somehow flowed through into the lower part of the drywell.

The radiation levels reported are 3-4 sieverts an hour - that's quite impressive. No one is going into the basement to check.

Yes, the problem is local, but the locality affected keeps growing. There is now close to 180 kilometers of coast that has significant radiation contamination. It appears unlikely that TEPCO can block considerable more seepage for at least six weeks, and the situation at reactor 1 is not known, but clearly not that stable.
Neil - no, the basement is not the suppression vessel. However the suppression vessel is underneath the floor. It's possible that the suppression vessel could be leaking into the basement.

But as the reactor 1 article stated, TEPCO figured that there were holes in the containment that were leaking water injected into the reactor vessl, which drained through holes in the containment vessel, which then drained into the basement. All of that is very well, but where is the steam coming from??? The reason, as far as I could figure, that TEPCO thought there were leaks in the containment vessel was that there was very little water in the reactor vessel and very little water in the drywell.

Earlier readings on the basement water at 1 were high, but significantly below the 3-4 sieverts an hour.
There's the real puzzler--I seem to remember radiation readings from the basement of Reactor 1 that were high, but nothing like 3-4 S/hr. It sounds like it has gotten hotter down there both thermally and radioactively.

What the heck is down there, and when did it go?

If we're talking about the non-containment space at the torus level, it could theoretically be spent fuel that dropped into that space, assuming enough damage to the pool and the floors.
Would it be that hot? And they have been in reactor 1 very recently - the spent fuel would have had to drop down through the building, and they would have noticed.

But yeah, this is the mystery of what's where in the basement!

If enough spent fuel rods ended up there, they could generate enough heat. And one would assume that should they have ended up there, they would have been damaged in transit, so certainly the fragments would be emitting high levels of radioactivity.

However I see no way they could have gotten there.
Mom- The support for urbanism comes from the LEADERSHIP of the environmental movement,and it is completely understandable. The goal of that leadership in both the short and long term is not environmental improvement, but the attainment of mass political power so that they can impose their utopian agenda, as they view the present order as corrupt and therefore irredeemable.

Urbanism makes complete sense when viewed as a political strategy rather than an environmental one: urban politics have always been more easily manipulable than suburban politics.

Given the choice, the leadership of the environmental movement always chooses political power over environmental progress. Some notable, and formerly top-level environmentalists have been purged from environmental groups or blacklisted for suggesting " green " organizations should seek environmental improvement instead of political power and political control. The rank and file may see that urbanism is inconsistent with environmental improvement, but environmental progress is not what the leadership seeks: it wants political power; organizing and controlling a mass political movement under a green pretense is the means to gaining that power.
I had a woman in MO once tell me that, if society collapsed, the people from Portland would come in and cut down all the trees in the Gorge. She was mad because I said we could blow the bridge and keep them out. It was that point that I realized how demented the Peak Oil folks can be. It's as though they want society to collapse, to force them to have to live differently.

If you've never done any physical labor, I guess it's easier to romanticize it.

Yes, I think there's a lot of that with those sorts of people. I'm only one generation off the farm (all my grandparents farmed full-time and successfully got through the Depression), so when people talk about growing their own food I mostly think about what they'd have to give up.

Not that modern farming (or even hobby-farming) is a bad way of life, but real subsistence farming is awful.
Neil - bingo. Been there done that.
Neil - same folks who can't imagine cleaning their own houses, mowing their own lawns, fixing their own plumbing or their own cars.

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