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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Serious Inflation

Another Update: Because it's good reading and provides a way to think about what is really happening in Japan. The economic problems for Japan are three: financing massive reconstruction in the quake/tsunami areas, dealing with the Daiichi meltdown, and MOST SIGNIFICANTLY, raising power output so that production activity can ramp up. Asking industries to cut net power consumption by 25% over the summer is a recipe for economic troubles. It's also a recipe for economic troubles around the world in 2011.

: (Because I forgot:) Initial claims remain right in the same range. The four-week moving average crept up a few thousand, but the movement is not significant. We are under the 400K level. Over the next few weeks I expect a minor shift upward. If that doesn't occur, it will be a good sign.

Wal-Mart CEO. Believe it. I am waiting for the rail figures tomorrow before saying too much more. Since I pointed out last year that there was inflation in the pipeline, circumstances have only conspired to make it worse.

I do believe that in the end this will kill more people more people than the Fukushima Daiichi reactor problems ever will. People talk about radiation being a silent killer. BS. The whole world monitors it. While this ain't good, it is nothing compared to what could happen to lives in the US if we cannot get our heads screwed on straight and start coping with reality. Unfortunately the actual coping part will require cooperation by politicians, and that seems far in the future.

I think it was Who Struck John who commented last year that it would take several more election cycles before we could get politicians who were willing to start addressing the problems. Do we have two more election cycles to spare? I am not sure.

PS: A lot of Japanese news coverage yesterday had to do not with nukes but Chinese naval plans.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


They're not admitting it, but it will be months until they can regard the situation as "controlled".

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.

Direct links to primary data:
Links to English language Japanese news:
Kyodo 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.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I Guess You Call It Wiggle Room

I was looking at the Daiichi radiation monitoring levels releases. The detail in the tables for the last few days consistently shows the "South Side of Main Office Building" reading to be about 1,200 milliSieverts, or greater than 1 sievert/hr. This is quite a high level, because if you got a full sievert you'd be at risk of death. On the little diagram thingie, the measurement unit is listed as microSieverts.

Here's the link. I enlarged the text of the tables to check, and it does seem that it is a comma instead of a period in the tables. So I don't know. It's a very large difference; 1 milliSievert is a thousand microSieverts.

I like the microsieverts interpretation better, but is it true??? The working and living conditions at the plant are reputed to be very bad, so it would only be surprising if fatigue were NOT a major factor for the workers. It is probably unfair to blame those who are preparing the figures. Nonetheless, I find this a mite disturbing; this is information released by NISA, well, quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Don't they look at it first?

NISA main link. I foresee more scrubbing in my future. So far no word on what they will do about the super-rad water in Reactor 2's basement and access tunnel. Fresh water floats on top of salt water, so maybe the water is not all as hot as estimated. Maybe the recent effluent is more contaminated. It might be worth trying to rig up a gadget to sample further down the tunnel.

I guess Will Davis at Atomic Power Review would be the best source to follow. At least read his last two posts. They are trying to pump the water out of 1's basement but apparently it isn't clearing very quickly. The transitory theory yesterday seemed to be that less water should be put into the reactors to prevent rapid outflow. That plan has been abandoned due to a minor technical detail. Will has all sorts of little tidbits of info.

The press just seems to pick up one number or one verbal statement or the other and run with it. And the result is that they report old news as if it is new news and if you are trying to follow along you get terribly confused. As far as I can tell, not much NEW damage is happening right now, but it is just that we are finding out how much damage was done.

There is still an open question as to just how bad the condition of the fuel in Reactor 2 may be. They do have to get that water out of there to work on it. From my POV, since the same thing is happening at all the reactors with fuel in them, the logical thing to do is to drain one and measure the ratio of the refill rate to the rate of water pumped in. That would at least give you a range of possibles for the others, and it would help in forming plans to get the water out of there into some sort of temporary storage.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Reading Arstechnica On Fukushima Daiichi Plant

If you feel nerdy. There is a hot debate of the meaning of everything. Also look at this.

I watched President Obama's speech so I am feeling very depressed.

What About The US Economy

BEA's personal income report was released this morning.

In February and in "real" terms (2005 chained dollars) Disposable Personal Income fell marginally (-0.1) whereas Personal Consumption Expenditures rose 0.3.

There's a lot of detail behind these figures. In January real DPI rose 0.5. But that was substantially based on the 2% reduction in SS taxes. BEA has tried to back this factor out and finds that nominal income excluding the changes would have risen a little bit more in February than in January. That's good.

Another way to backcheck this:
Employer contributions for government social insurance increased $1.0 billion in February, compared with an increase of $8.9 billion in January. The January change reflected an increase in the tax rates paid by employers to state unemployment insurance funds, which had boosted January contributions by $7.5 billion.
So the January increase without the tax change was 1.4 billion and the February increase was 1.0 billion.

Nonetheless, higher costs of living are now cutting into real incomes. I think this will have a slow effect this year, but I wonder what the heck happens next year when the 2% cut expires? Nominal month over month DPI for January increased 0.8, and it has to have something to do with consumer spending. BEA pegs the change at 105.4 billion, which pleases me because it is about what I had calculated.

In February, non-durable purchases increased 0.4 whereas durable purchases increased 1.4%, the vast majority in motor vehicles. Cars are carrying this economy.

The back story here is that the big tax changes (expiration of MWP, 2% SS tax cut for individuals, increase in unemployment insurance contribution rates for employers) work very differently for those at different income levels. Individuals earning around 20K annually won't have seen much of a change. Individuals earning considerably less got a tax increase compared to 2010. Individuals who earn considerably more are getting a nice tax decrease and corresponding increase in their paychecks, compared to 2010.

When you add the inflation into the mix, things are going to get tight here for lower income households. Those households tend to spend more of their income on unavoidables like food and fuel. Usually May marks the beginning of the best period of the year for households on tighter budgets. Winter heating is over and summer cooling has not yet begun. Gas prices might be high enough to nullify that.

From checking what's happening in the grocery stores, I have decided that I may have been too optimistic about the timing. I would think a slight downturn would begin at the end of this year, but it will probably pick up speed when taxes are increased in 2012. Or maybe we won't increase them. It will be an election year. Admittedly that would just drive another nail in the coffin of our federal budget problems, but when did politicians ever let that type of thing concern them?

The unfortunate fact is that PCE does not bear evenly on households at different income levels, so you can greatly expand the range of possible real income rates for households of different compositions.

Just Some Odds and Ends

Update: Yup, they found it. Plutonium. In the soil, must have come from the spent, exploded, fuel pond over reactor 3. This testing was announced a few days ago and was being done by an outside agency (the testing). That's a very hot site they have there. See Kyodo News. End update.

The whole trench water deal is not surprising. It would be more surprising if there wasn't contaminated water on site given everything that has happened and the need to douse the fuel pools with massive quantities of water. Will Davis.

You wouldn't want to put the very highly contaminated basement water in the ocean, but most the trench water is less contaminated. Given the overall situation, if speed forces pumping some of that into the ocean it might be the best option. People get a little neurotic about radiation; what you just can't do in normal chronic operations is acceptable in an emergency as a very short-term solution. Sure, if you have another quick, feasible solution, use it. But this stuff is going to dilute very rapidly in seawater. (Testing offshore.)

There is not a ton of news coming out, so I suppose they are trying to -- reconsolidate and plan.

JAIF has a summary of some of the major issues.

The Japanese are doing a plutonium survey of the area surrounding the plant. This is probably because they got better video on 3 and some heavy equipment seems to be in the spent fuel rod pool, so damaged fuel rods there are a definite possibility.

I don't know what the feasible opportunities for significant control on reactor 2 are. Surely getting rid of the contaminated water quickly so you can assess the leak rate would be the first step. They are facing a mountain of difficulties. To date they have avoided major contamination of the countryside. Obviously they can't stop water circulation in the reactors.

The high amounts of Lanthanum 140 and Barium 140 reported in the latest test results on the basement water probably have a lot of significance.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

But It's Only Temporary

Update: This morning NISA directs us to a reassessment of the No 2 water and a resampling of the water yesterday. One possible explanation is given at WaPo.

Will Davis at Atomic Power Review.

I'm hoping Edano's statement about the temporary nature of this problem means that it has already passed the active stage, but who knows? The statement is terribly ambiguous; once fuel has melted down it has melted down, so I am assuming this really refers to activity of the melted fuel. I don't even understand why this is news; it seems to me that we have known through most of this ongoing incident that fuel melting occurred. So maybe I'm just so stupid I'm missing something big in this announcement - that's why I think you should read Will.

Read down through Will's posts for a broader picture.

Other stuff: S. Korea has picked up Xenon, which is a marker of recent fission releases generally. However the detection has been ongoing since the 23rd. See more about Xenon and its activity. Xenon tends to build up in low-activity times; you could argue that this detection is perhaps favorable.

Fission by-products. I still think that some one more informed than I can get a lot of hints about what has been happening in the reactors from the testing results on the different pool contents. See for example Lanthanum (read to the end), and then look at the test results released. If the iodine results weren't right, maybe some of the others weren't either.

In other news, the official date of Tokyo's cherry blossoms opening is today (March 28th). May it be a good omen for them.


Saturday, March 26, 2011


It wasn't Iodine 134!! Article here. Saved!! They're not retracting the total radioactivity measurement, but still this is great news. Latest NISA updates at this page. The release for the basement pool nuclide test results has not been updated to reflect the above news. I thought it was very interesting to look at the results for all of the reactors together. Unit 4 was sampled on the 24th. A lot more information on reactor conditions.

Huge spike in the fallout readings over Yamagata compared to yesterday. Atomic Power Review, nicely unhysterical but yet realistic. If only those levels of Iodine 134 were a mistake.... Also, I forgot. The Japanese are going to embark on a new strategy of covering the intake pools of water at their water treatment plants so rain doesn't fall directly into them. Also they are looking at using some filtering. This is a very practical strategy which could greatly help the situation. I have been looking at the TEPCO updates and the only thing I can find is a correction of wind direction on the plant radiation readings.

Well maybe there's some hope - Kyodo News has a brief that TEPCO says it made some sort of mistake on the water in Reactor 2!!!!

NISA released a ton of data. It's the 26th in Japan; here is their release page.

Of particular interest to me were TEPCO's nuclide testing results on air and water.

For air, take a look at this. Radiation levels are reported decreasing, but the nuclide levels in the air don't seem to be dropping that much. If you really know your stuff, which I do not, these readings reveal a lot. The level of the short term stuff is a marker for current emissions.

As for the seawater, this one struck me. Te-132 isn't going to be around very long. I think it goes to I-132, which is very transitory. If you look at that last link, it gives you some expected yields.

I am very uncertain, but I think what we are seeing here is current emissions from the core.

Contrast that to the water in the basement at 3. Technetium (Tc), for example, is from a human POV effectively going to be around forever. That could have come from damaged fuel rods in the spent fuel pool.

I did take college level chemistry. I got a good grade, but frankly I sucked at it. I have been quietly having my own private melt down over these analysis reports, and by now I am ready to know the worst. If someone could point me to a useful resource on the subject, I would appreciate it.

In another recent release on its website, I noticed that TEPCO had added a comforting line about not thinking any core coolant release had happened on reactors 4-6. This line was absent for reactors 1-3. So I guess they have concluded that the isotopes aren't encouraging.

See, this is what happens when you looking for info. Other people are also freaking out about these numbers. Your first impulse is always to say that it is a mistake.

UPDATE: See Kyodo News for the briefs on radiation numbers. This is - very ugly. Also this is from Reactor 2, which as I pointed out quite some time ago, is likely to be in the worst shape. What's the three-headed Godzilla monster called? Atomic Power Review.

Note: The half-life of Iodine 134 is less than an hour. Thus the news that very high levels of Iodine 134 are being found in the water at 2 strongly imply fission and a pretty big leak. This stuff hasn't been hanging out for long.

NHK providing coverage now.

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.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Now That's Hot

NISA's release, confirming radioactivity level of the water and also 400 milliS/hr at the surface of the water.

Update: Article on the reactor 3 contamination. A "volunatary" evacuation out to 30 km was recommended.

It sucks, but....

Okay, so I have been following the beta burn story. The radiation levels TEPCO reported in the water were extraordinarily high:
The company says 3.9 million becquerels of radioactive substances per cubic centimeter were detected in the water that the workers were standing in. That is 10,000 times higher than levels of the water inside a nuclear reactor in operation.

The level of radioactive cerium-144 was 2.2 million becquerels. Also, 1.2 million becquerels of iodine-131 was measured.
This seems to imply that reactor 3 has a containment breach or a very serious situation in the spent fuel pool. TEPCO said it had surveyed the area within the day and found no water and much lower levels of radiation. The workers who were trying to run the cable ignored their dosimeter indicators. Apparently two were not wearing boots, and those are the ones with the burns. As to what may be the problem, here is a much earlier post at another blog.

I am sure that experts will discuss this. One of the places to look might be the IAEA accident log.

TEPCO also released information about high levels of radiation at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Station. I say high not because they are dangerous, but because they exceed the allowed levels. There is careful monitoring for radiation at and around nuclear plants. After an investigation TEPCO decided that the radiation did not come from this plant and were probably due to Daiichi's emissions. What's notable is that this plant is on the west side of Japan:

View Larger Map

Water at 18 water purification plants in six different prefectures has now tested above the 100 becquerel level at least once. Often the level will drop down in a day or a few days.

Update: ZAMG's map seems to show how the west coast plant picked up those levels (which are not high in general terms):

Yet Another Nuke Post

Unfortunately when working on reactor 3 (laying cables) several workers were injured. Article. Two are thought to have burns and all three got exposures higher than 150 milliS, but not above 200 milliS.

Otherwise things seem to be proceeding pretty well. The last NISA update for 3/24 currently available shows relatively high pressures in No. 1, in the reactor vessel, the containment vessel and the suppression vessel. By now they may already have done something about it. It looks like they are pumping more water in there, and some is turning to steam, which raises the pressures. They can vent if they have to, but of course they want to do so with some safety margin, after clearing workers from the area, and when winds will tend to blow it out to sea. (Found article on this.)

They are publishing a lot more information (they have more) now with each release.

The one plant in Tokyo that was showing the levels of iodine over 100 becquerels/liter has now cleared somewhat, so Tokyo has lifted the infant/water warning. Several water treatment plants north have found higher levels and have imposed warnings.

Radiation monitoring of different types is being published here. Although generally radiation readings have been dropping, in some places out of the 20/30 km zone the soil and water is very significantly contaminated. Look here. Once additional emissions from Daiichi are controlled, the iodine concentrations will drop relatively rapidly. The cesium levels will be around for a long while.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Something Interesting

But which I do not understand. This is from the last NISA update on the Daiichi plant:
・ From 8:30 till 9:30, and from 13:30 till 14:30 on March 23rd, Niigata City Fire Bureau and Hamamatsu City Fire Bureau gave guidance to TEPCO as to the operation of large decontamination system.
I'm guessing this is a decontamination system for radiation?

Lights on at Reactor 1!

Japan, ZAMG & Contamination

By now one would hope that the very worst fears over the Japanese disaster including the nuclear crisis are fading.

However we now move into another type of trouble zone. It seems clear that TEPCO and other workers at Daiichi are making progress, but we are far from significant resolution. Contamination levels locally are rising. Further, the general rescue and relief efforts for the survivors of the quake/tsunami enter a difficult point now.

At the end of next week we can probably begin to guess at the economic impact with some probability of being off no more than 20-30%. Right now that is not possible.

The next few weeks will be very difficult for the government. It is hard for the people in the worst hit areas to understand why more significant relief has not arrived. It is even harder for the government to manage public perceptions of risk (you don't want to understate or overstate) due to a series of communication errors, which, to be fair, were partly the fault of external organizations like WHO. Having been just told that there's no need to worry about food and water, the Japanese government is now forced to implement a bunch of control measures due to food and water contamination. This is the sort of thing that will really worry the general population.

The relief efforts: By now the severely hit areas have mostly exhausted local supplies of food. water and fuel, and are utterly unable to provide medical care for a substantial portion of the refugees who need it. The only solution is to move a lot of refugees out in groups, because without power almost everything is difficult. A population without clean water is a population at high risk. The Japanese authorities are working on the exodus solution, but it will be very difficult to implement culturally. Also many of the refugees have hopes of finding other family members. Unfortunately the growing suspicions about the government will make the task of moving refugee groups out far more difficult.

Transport routes to the NE are still quite constricted. There has been a lot of road damage. Ports, which can in some local areas handle a surprising amount of supply shipments, have been substantially damaged. The initial clearing operation is complete for main roads, but truck drivers are experiencing locally difficult roadways with partially washed out portions. In some areas there is some tidal flooding (although I don't think this has impacted main routes) because the coast has subsided and they are seeing peak spring tides this week.

The Daiichi plant crisis: My guess is that after Thursday we will know more about conditions and possibilities for control at the plant. So far the plant is still workable for major control measures. That is the most important element. They have some robotics and may be able to do some of the riskier work with robots. The information being released on the plant is now much more detailed.

Yesterday, however, the Japanese government had to issue a string of warnings and embargoes on foods produced further away from Daiichi and even one warning about Tokyo tap water, although the higher contamination found there was only in one out of five water plants and was relatively low level. But still, once you have to tell the population of a major metro area that their infants shouldn't be drinking the water, you know the situation gets difficult immediately. The mother who will give her three year old water that she has been told is too dangerous for her infant is a rare phenomenon. Bottled water in Tokyo is going to be very difficult to find. This marks a major negative turn in the general situation. {Edit: The reporters were clearly confused as to why the government said it was no risk but not to use the water (or eat the vegetables). There are two reasons to give the warnings. The first is that risk from accumulated exposure over a period of time is very different from short-term exposure. The second is that due to the very erratic pattern of contamination, the particular tests probably imply much lower dosages for most ingesting the general flow, but higher dosages for some. Since you can't know the real maximum, once your test results go past a certain level avoidance of the source is wise.}

As a result of the bad testing results, the Japanese government expanded testing instructions to six provinces (prefectures).

Because some emissions from the plant will continue for weeks, and because there is quite a bit of emissions in the air already, some of which has been transferred to the soil (and milk, water and crops), it is likely that problem areas will continue to spread. This sort of contamination is always erratic. It does not correlate well with distance from the site, because it is dependent on weather patterns and precipitation. Thus they can't predict exactly where serious levels of contamination are going to show up without pretty widespread testing. To understand how erratic it is, you might want to look at the Chernobyl cesium map. However, this map is huge and will take a long time to load. It might lock up your computer, so be careful.

ZAMG continues to update their dispersion pattern maps for the Daiichi incident. English speakers should read this pdf first, especially noting the color scheme and the correlating contamination levels. Quite a bit of the "plume" depicted actually carries radiation levels that are about at background level, so do not make the mistake of running while screaming when you go to the main page and see the plume hitting CA.

What US radiation monitors are detecting are very small quantities of short-lived fission by products rather than higher than average levels of radiation. World-wide radiation monitoring networks are looking for this sort of thing because it tells you that something has happened. Radioactive materials with half-lives in days or a few weeks do not waft around the world normally.

The estimate of 20%-50% of Chernobyl emissions seems to have originated with ZAMG. It also seems to be decently grounded. This is probably a Level 7 incident and certainly a Level 6. Link. Some of the contaminated areas will not be usable for agriculture for years, although to date those areas are small. High levels of iodine have mostly been reported; iodine doesn't sit out there for long. But the growing levels of cesium being reported would cause a much longer period of quarantine.

The power situation: TEPCO is projecting that as weather moderates, the blackouts will be mostly or completely abated. However it is also projecting that in the summer it will be forced to use blackouts again. The government and industries are supposed to be discussing the power supply situation with an eye toward imposing rationing on some industrial plants. I think until this is resolved it is impossible to say too much about the six-month impact on Japan's economy.

There is another thing I am watching closely. I wonder what the effect on ocean transport off the n/w coast of Japan will be. It is too soon to predict now, because we do not know what the situation at the Daiichi plant will be in several weeks. However I would hazard that it will be difficult to cross the plume ocean zone repetitively without incurring significant vessel contamination for slower shippers. This would be less of a problem for a vessel used to transport oil, coal or the like, but a potentially serious problem for a vessel used to transport goods such as foods.

I am pretty sure that shellfish from the plume area off Daiichi shouldn't be eaten.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

George Monbiot Makes Sense

Brian straightened me out: the 500 milliS is real but from a few days ago. Still, ack. Clearly these people are not wimpy, but even spikes that high imply a high degree of difficulty. They'll have to go into replace the pump.

Radiation map. The "under review" prefectures are not shown, but Ibaraki south is.

: Halting work on number 2 reactor according to Kyodo News brief due to 500 milliSieverts radiation readings. I'm not sure what that means, but it is very high. That's MILLI not micro. (The readings we've been seeing in the JAIF updates are thousands, but they are in microS. So 2-3 milliS vs 500 milliS? This is probably right at the reactor. I hope. End update.

Update: They're still working away at Daiichi. They have more of the gauges working, but the results are not necessarily encouraging, so they are stepping up work on the reactors.

In the meantime, the vegetables that were not harmful yesterday are not consumable today. Vegetables, milk, water and probably some sea food is contaminated, so it is hard to figure net exposure levels. They basically just have to halt shipments. They are shortly going to test the pump at reactor 3. End update.

Another quake in northeastern Japan. No SEVERAL QUAKES:
Several strong earthquakes jolted northeastern Japan on Wednesday morning, after the area was severely damaged by the March 11 devastating quake, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

No tsunami warnings have been issued so far.

Among them, a quake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.0 jolted mainly Fukushima Prefecture, where a disaster has been unfolding at a nuclear power plant in the wake of the March 11 quake, at 7:12 a.m.

The quake measured upper 5 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of 7 in Iwaki, Fukushima, and 4 in several locations in Fukushima, Miyagi and Ibaraki prefectures, according to the agency.

It was followed by additional quakes, one of which also measured upper 5 in Fukushima Prefecture and lower 5 in Ibaraki Prefecture.
End update.

Really. I am slightly less enthused by nuclear power than he, but that's because I think the danger of global warming from fossil fuels is hugely exaggerated based on evidence.

But still:
Before coal became widely available, wood was used not just for heating homes but also for industrial processes: if half the land surface of Britain had been covered with woodland, Wrigley shows, we could have made 1.25m tonnes of bar iron a year (a fraction of current consumption) and nothing else. Even with a much lower population than today's, manufactured goods in the land-based economy were the preserve of the elite. Deep green energy production – decentralised, based on the products of the land – is far more damaging to humanity than nuclear meltdown.

But the energy source to which most economies will revert if they shut down their nuclear plants is not wood, water, wind or sun, but fossil fuel. On every measure (climate change, mining impact, local pollution, industrial injury and death, even radioactive discharges) coal is 100 times worse than nuclear power. Thanks to the expansion of shale gas production, the impacts of natural gas are catching up fast.
He's right. If you take just coal mining deaths, it appears that coal has already directly killed far more human beings than nuclear power is ever likely to do. Not that we can afford to get by without it.

As for Japan? Japan has little alternative to nuclear power as a substantial energy source.

I'd say that our only real choice is not to be sloppy and complacent about the real risks of nuclear power. I fear we are currently nearing the danger line. Safer and more centralized storage or reprocessing facilities for nuclear fuel rods can do a lot, and we are nearing the point at which we should be building more plants so that we can shut down older plants.

Honshu (mainland Japan) is slightly larger in land area than Minnesota. Honshu's population is around 100 million, somewhat larger than Minnesota's 5.3 million. The middle of the land is mountainous; a lot of the population is concentrated on the flatter, coastal areas. It takes a ton of electricity to keep those cities viable.

The Daiichi accident is quite serious as nuclear accidents go. Nonetheless, it appears that most of Honshu is going to escape with almost no real contamination. We don't know the endpoint yet, but it is unlikely that this will get much worse (it's plenty bad already).

The reality is that this accident isn't endangering nearly as many lives as those endangered by being without power in Japan in the wake of the twin quake/tsunami disaster. Lack of shelter and warmth is one of the basic human deprivations that shows up rapidly in mortality statistics.

Power In To Reactors 1-4 Now

Power into Control Room 3 now.

Depending on the damage, it will take some time to do much with it, but this is a very big step.

They are still putting water into 4 with the concrete pumper. Reactor statuses (already a bit out of date).

Last update on prefectural radiation levels. You can see that they are still very low except for the omitted areas. The omitted areas: Ibaraki. Fukushima.

It is the net exposure that is of concern, and net exposure has to be calculated from ambient + ingested. The dosages given are in microsieverts/hour. In 30 days there are 720 hours, so if you were exposing someone to levels of 10 microS over a period of month that's 7.2 milliS, and if you had people drinking contaminated water and food, total exposure could amount to harmful levels.

Still, right now this is relatively safe as long as they don't eat the food and stay away from the tapwater when it is showing contamination. Staying inside provides a lot of short-term protection. Over time inside contamination levels rise. High levels of isotopes have been detected in seawater, but they need to do much wider sampling. I don't think anyone should eat any shellfish from that region of the coast.

I have been following the logistics of the rescue effort. At this stage it is Heartbreak Hill. The struggle to get food, medicine and warmth to the most fragile individuals is desperate. The government is trying to stage wider evacuations of refugees from the quake/tsunami event.

There is very good coverage at NHK.

The great news is that the Tokyo area is still very little exposed.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Further Difficulties

They got power into 4!! That's the one with the live fuel rods; they'll try to set up some way of cooling it. A high-powered pump in and even a passive drain would probably do it.

Press conference: Work is scheduled to resume later.
Even though 2 & 3 are still smoking, it appears to be steam rather than combustion. They are making assessments, and will make decisions as to the work plan by noon. They are very focused on trying to get live power into 2. Radiation levels pretty stable. They are not sure about further spraying.

Work resumed. NISA press conference at NHK.

: Work has been suspended again at the plant; NISA press conference in a bit. More smoke from reactors 2 and 3. End update.

Smoke was seen at Nos 2 & 3 yesterday. TEPCO pulled out its workers briefly. Article.

After the darker smoke at 3 faded TEPCO sent people back in, but it is being announced that spraying on 3 was just halted due to further smoke. NHK is covering it right now. According to a presentation on NHK just now, yesterday afternoon there was a rise in radioactivity in the compound which has since declined.

Kyodo News is broadcasting halt of spraying as a brief.

But here is some much better news; the worker with high hourly exposures was exposed on the 14th. A lot of good info in that article.

Work on restoring power will resume on Tuesday, their time. They have been making progress at limiting radiation emissions, though. Plant radiation readings as of most of the 21st.

On the 21st, they issued a directive to take KI to:
...the directive of the administration of stable Iodine were issued to the Prefectural Governor and the heads of cities, towns and villages (Tomioka Town, Hutaba Town, Okuma Town, Namie Town, Kawauchi Village, Naraha Town, Minamisouma City, Tamura City, Kazurao Village, Hirono Town, Iwaki City and Iidate Village).
Those are all places pretty close to Daiichi.

US Armed Forces were helping with the spraying operation on 4 on the 21st. TEPCO release. I think they've had a unit in there longer, though.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Battle For Tokyo Continues

It's not like Tokyo is going to vanish in a radioactive cloud, even under the worst scenario (barring Mothra, comet strikes, and sudden volcano emergence under Daiichi).

But the Japanese are mounting a massive effort to control emissions, especially while winds veer towards Tokyo. They had been going to vent the pressure vessel on 3, but decided not to right now because of the emissions.

So far the Tokyo area has received very little radiation exposure, and they are trying to keep it that way. Also they are spraying on 4's pool today. There isn't any fuel in the reactor - it's in the pool.

Review of current progress at WNN.

Kyodo News (power into 2, now they try to get stuff working); Reactor status summary.

They're planning to use two tanks for rubble removal to clear better paths for the trucks. They are achieving great things under the circumstances.

What has already been sown.

Update: I have been listening to NHK, and they are reporting a rising death rate among survivors. This is the hardest stage.
Radiation levels at the Daiichi plant as measured by TEPCO.

HUH? Look at reactor 3's suppression chamber pressures?

Again, they are preparing tanks to use for moving radioactive rubble close to the reactor buildings.

A construction company from MIE volunteered two special water spraying vehicles for use at 3 and 4. The last total I saw for 3 was 3,700 tons of water - about 3 times the total pool capacity. They have dumped at least 160 tons of water on 4, probably a lot more by now. Note: the construction company is sending the vehicles with operators.

Kyodo News is reporting 1 worker at Daiichi was heavily exposed (150 milliS/hr) without details. I hope it is not the one who was injecting seawater yesterday into No 2's spent fuel pond per this TEPCO update.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

2,000 Tons Of Water

That's the estimate of what they have sprayed at or on the No. 3 spent fuel pond. The capacity is 1200 tons. I have to think they've done all they can now, unless the thing is leaking so badly that all they can do is keep pouring water on the stuff. SDF is now reported to be spraying at 4.

WORM (World's Only Rational Man) is blogging on this. See this post; an interesting character with background and perspective. And unfortunately, this was correct (but microsieverts, not millisieverts). I know because there were a bunch of matching observations and it is where some of the high contamination levels were reported. Winds have a huge amount to do with exposure. Start multiplying it out, and over time these are pretty bad exposure levels.

They're slowly getting power to the reactors. The construction of the whole ensemble, including the control room, is very hardened. But looking at the rubble (quake, aftershocks, tsunami, explosions) I think it will take them some time to do anything with the power. The conditions for reconstructive work are the worst I can imagine. Maybe you have a better imagination than I do.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Hmmm, Attrition

Update: Trace (VERY small) amounts of cesium and/or iodine are being detected in tap water in Tokyo areas and north. These are very small traces that are not a concern at this time. End update.

Japanese government announced testing outside of the 30 kilometer zone showed contaminated milk and spinach. Precise details aren't provided, but the milk level was said to provide an annual exposure level equivalent to 1 CAT scan. This becomes more serious when you consider the cumulative dosing from water, air, contact and local food. They are throwing everything they've got at cooling No 3 spent fuel pond and will try spraying at No 4's pond later today. The winds are supposed to shift more southerly over the weekend. Pressures and temps at reactors 5 & 6 are coming down or stable, water levels have risen over the last couple of days. Cables connected at two reactors. (I forgot - they bored holes in the buildings for 5 & 6 to vent hydrogen to avoid any further explosions. NHK is covering the contaminated food story. End update.

Among the other problems they are having at Daiichi, attrition of workers is going to get pretty rough. They raised the exposure limit to 250 millisieverts from 100 millisieverts. TEPCO announced today that some workers have already reached the 100 millisieverts exposure.

Reported at NHK: At Reactor 1, 10 milliS. At Reactor 2, 15 milliS. They have the power cable out there (although they sure can't afford shorts or arcs!!) but they are obviously having trouble hooking it up and repairing equipment. That's time intensive. It sounds like the new rule is that when you get to 100 milliS in a day, you get pulled out. This is not the right way to solve the unemployment problem. (Update: no, according to this they booted it to 150 milliS per shift because too many workers were going over. But once you finish your shift you do not go back. The health ministry booted it up to 250 milliS; TEPCO was holding to the 100 milliS. )

Updates: JAIF. NISA. I was not enthused to read in update 31 that JAPCO showed up:
16:48 JAPCO reported to NISA Accidents and Failures with regard to Tokai Unit 2 (Failure of the seawater pump moter of the emergency diesel generator 2C) pursuant to the Paragraph 3, the Article 62 of the Nuclear Regulation Act.
Hopefully they are getting another generator there pronto. '

Water spraying continues at Daiichi No 3 and sometimes at 1. It does not seem to be doing much. Steam continues to boil off on 3. White smoke continues to emerge from the blow-out panel on No 2. Temperatures at Nos 5 & 6 (cold shutdown) spent fuel ponds are still rising slowly, even though a backup diesel generator has been running supposedly alternately on both. Nos 5 & 6 reactor water levels are up. The update says they are injecting water into the reactor vessels and the spent fuel ponds since they got the backup generator running.

If you go to page 14 of the release, you see that they are now picking up more contaminated evacuees.

Note: It sounds like they are mounting a tremendous, all-out effort. They have manufacturer's engineers on site working in protective gear. They are evacuating the hospitals and nursing homes in the exclusion zone (20-30 km). Coverage of municipal governments pulling out.

***TEPCO reports that temp in Reactor 5 spent fuel pool drops. Trying to restore electricity.

***NHK briefly mentions that cement trucks are being sent. One hundred more firemen dumped into the breach; Toshiba has a lot of techs on site in protective gear.

ZAMG Plume Page

This is the Austrian Meteorology's fallout page for Daiichi. (Zentralinstalt fuer Meteorologie und Geodynamik).

There are animated maps. For English speakers, there is this link. Read that first to get an idea of what the color coding means, then go back to the first link and look at the maps. Basically the orange areas would be worrisome mpacts only if exposure at those levels were very prolonged. The winds have been very favorable; the end of the future projection shows an unfavorable shift in the winds by Sunday. The violet (second from right) probably marks a potential of adverse impacts at exposures of a month or two. It varies hugely though. A huge range of possible exposures is shown for each color on this map.

The basic point is that the Japanese are working under a time threat; they are trying to ratchet down emissions (and reported emissions at the plant are now in the microSievert ranges) so that they do not increase areas of land exposure.

The rightmost (red?) scale is the top. As you go left it diminishes. The leftmost is 100 nanosieverts. 1 millisievert = 1,000,000 nanosieverts.

100 millisieverts an hour is the upper range of the top.

There are 8,765 hours in a year. 168 hours in a week. Thus 876,500 nanosieverts in a year = .9 milliS, probably 1/3rd of the dose that the lowest-exposed Americans get annually. Many get much more.

The area of potential adverse impact is still very small and very local. Exposures to people outside of the color coded areas would be in the picoSieverts. 1 milliSievert = 1,000,000,000 picoS. Possibly the US needs a new surgeon general.

Background on the Japanese efforts and results.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

World Nuclear News Update

Worth it.
Power cable in.

NISA 28th update, as of 5:30 on the 17th their time. Diesel generator working and is being used alternately for both 5 & 6. Some data on those reactors.

KI and You; it's not necessarily a beautiful relationship.

Philly Fed and Others

Since I have been admonished to stick to economics, and since this is mostly good news (I don't think we need anything grim at the moment):

Philly Fed March. A great report. The headline reading is really good - it's back to the 03 high - but what's particularly pleasing is the special question regarding changes in anticipated production in the second quarter. Over 75% of respondents expected an increase. That is about 19% better than last year. I was waiting for this report because Philly Fed often shows dependence on home construction. Home construction is not great, so I think this report is even better than it would appear. It did show the higher pricing trends that absolutely every report is showing.

Industrial Production: The monthly change is -0.1, but that's not indicative of the underlying trend. We have a little annual capacity growth!!! Capacity utilization is still rising. Because of better weather, there was drop in utilities. This is good for consumer spending long term. Detail:
The production of consumer goods fell 0.5 percent in February, largely because of weakness in consumer energy products. The output of consumer durable goods rose 2.4 percent, with gains in all of its major categories. The production of consumer automotive products advanced 3.5 percent, and the index for home electronics moved up 1.0 percent. The index for appliances, furniture, and carpeting climbed 3.1 percent, which almost offset its decline over the two previous months, and the production of miscellaneous consumer durables increased 0.6 percent. The output of non-energy nondurable goods moved down 0.2 percent. Reductions in the production of foods and tobacco, of chemical products, and of paper products more than offset an increase in clothing output. The output of consumer energy products fell 5.2 percent, largely because of a drop in residential sales by electric and natural gas utilities.

The output of business equipment rose 0.5 percent in February; the average monthly gain of nearly 1.2 percent in January and February was unchanged from the average rate of increase in the fourth quarter. Within business equipment, the output of transit equipment moved up 1.2 percent in February, and the index for information processing equipment increased 0.6 percent. The production of industrial and other equipment rose 0.2 percent--lower output of farm and construction machinery partly offset gains elsewhere in this category.

We knew consumers were pushed by prices.

Last but not least, initial claims are continuing their notch down. The trends is about 50K less initial claims YoY. Since the monthly employment report is good and monthly Treasury HI receipts were good, we have a symphony of employment positives.

I am very anxious to see the next two months of CFNAI.

The massive move in the yen against the dollar will cost Japanese manufacturers quite a bit if they have contracted for deliveries in dollars. It's too soon to tell much else.

Where Is Mothra?

Last on this: Kyodo has a run down on TEPCO's reported radiation levels in the afternoon at Daiichi, plus the exposure to the helicopter crews after their drops. At 1:30 the level at the administration building was 4 millisievert which was a rise from 3 millisievert measured earlier. Chopper crews netted less than 60 millisievert. These are hourly exposures. Since levels at the plant are fluctuating it is harder to know net exposures for the workers there.

There is no word on how much of the debris on the ground at Daiichi has been cleared. It must be very hard to get vehicles in. TEPCO had said earlier that one of their problems in connecting power to 5 and 6 was the rubble.

For the US, dawn will be rolling from east to west, and radioactivity levels will remain low, regardless of talk about "plumes".

But in Japan, it is Thursday evening, and the apparently ceremonial chopper drops of water on Reactor 3 were Thursday morning. The police with water cannons were next. I am not sure what happened exactly, although one suspects that it was something like a scene from "Police Academy", but the police did not actually get any water on the reactor.

Last NISA release shows negative reactor pressure on 2 at Daiichi. That's a gauge reading. 3.10 on the 17th. Last World Nuclear News update showed decreasing radiation levels on the 17th. Maybe that's why - maybe a lot was coming from No 2?? TEPCO is resuming more news releases. Update on No 3. JAIF's last reactor status update shows no reading on reactor pressure for 2. That is as of 10 PM on the 17th. Radiation levels reported in the 20-30 kilometer zone around Daiichi for the morning of the 16th. You have to pay attention to the footnotes, because three different ways of measuring radiation are being reported.

SDF got the "your mission, whether you chose to accept it or not" speech from Kan, and spraying of water from the ground has just recently started. Kyodo News reports rising radiation. Presumably that's due to radioactive steam. NHK should have live coverage.

30 tons according to NHK. TEPCO says the water hit the target and that there was a steam release. They will try again tomorrow. TEPCO also says they are getting much closer to connect the outside power cable. Once they get power, they can maybe get the pumps on 5 and 6 working, which would help to cool the ponds there. But it will not help at 3 and 4.

Another quake, fortunately lower intensity, at 9:32 their time 5.8 magnitude estimated. Major train disruptions.
9:55 another quake, lower magnitude.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Atomic Power Review


Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said Thursday he has given the go-ahead for Self-Defense Forces helicopters to drop water onto a troubled reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant as the radiation level was 4.13 millisievert per hour at an altitude of 1,000 feet.

The level comes to 87.7 millisievert at 300 feet, the minister also said.

The choppers were lead-lined for this operation. They are going back and forth doing the best they can on a flying run to drop the water. This is really QUITE dangerous. (NHK says that allowable crew exposures have been raised to 100 millisieverts for this emergency. After four drops the choppers left.

The second drop missed basically, but No 3 is sure smoking or steaming!!! Watch at NHK.

Further update: NHK is showing it live. SDF chopper dropped water on No. 3. Who Struck John provides a really excellent blog resource in Georneys. Interviews with a nuclear engineer. End Update.

Further Update: Police have arrived with water cannon, NHK reports smoke or steam rising from 2, 3 & 4 reactors. Kyodo reports SDF chopper measuring radiation levels above the plant. End update.

: Off topic. According to this story at NHK, on Tuesday ( it is now Thursday in Japan), Japan's science minister said that testing had detected radiation levels as high as .33 MILLIsieverts 20 kilometers out from Daiichi. NNW.

Now if so, that is a very high number at that distance. They also said they got measurements as low as .22 MILLIsieverts per hour. It is extremely frustrating, because they have not measured since and they only took 3 measurements over ten minutes. I presume after that they booked for shelter.

Levels this high are real concern, although people can cut exposure by staying indoors. For a while. There is air exchange, or you have done the duct tape/plastic sheeting thing too well and you are dead. At .33 milliS per hour in a week you would get 55 millisieverts. At .15 (less than half) you'd get 50 millisieverts in two weeks. That is where I think you have a risk to human life, because you cannot predict total exposures well; they vary substantially. And this is 20 kilometers out. Nor does that give you much margin. Nor are they testing. Tuesday was a high exposure day, but without testing.... The worse this situation gets the more dangerous the evacuation gets, because people get more exposure when they are out in the open moving.

I did work on some disaster plans for facilities around nuclear plants, and at this point, the plan would say "grab essentials and leave for good." As soon as you observed these levels, that would be it, because it is not a one-shot phenomenon. It is continuous, variable, and rapidly mounting exposure. I'm hoping this is a micro->milli mistake.
End update.

There is a blog up with helpful updates and commentary. Atomic Power Review. I don't know anything about the author, but I read through a bunch of recent entries and the author does seem to know what he is talking about. Like spent fuel rods going critical. As far as I know, it can't happen without somehow resealing them in a container, plus they'd have to be recent, plus they'd have to be broken up, and even then it would be a remote possibility. I'm going to have trouble believing this until Mothra shows up.

TEPCO is trying to run a line through to Daiichi. Supposedly they got spare pumps in. And engineers hanging around. But without the power, they can't restore real cooling operations. They got Daini settled once they got offsite power (although they had to work through some equipment failures). Anyway, if they can get a power line in perhaps they can settle 5 and 6 down and then start work on the other sites, which probably have signficant equipment damage.


Update: US flying drone over Daiichi plant to see if they can help pinpointing sources.
Further developments: Some Japanese companies are refusing to deliver close to the exclusion zone. Tap water in Fukushima city showed trace cesium contamination in the morning there, but had cleared by the afternoon.

Radiation 6,600 times normal was detected in Namie, which was reported as being beyond the 20km exclusion zone but within the 30km "hide inside" zone. Still, normal in that area is probably around 0.005 microsievert so that would only translate to 33 microsievert/h, which is not a threat to human health on a short term basis. A full week of that would net you 5.5 millisievert. Nine weeks of consistent exposure at that level would net you almost 50 millisievert, which is the maximum annual dosage for a radiation worker. At that point, one would be concerned and have to widen the evacuation area.

However none of these levels have been consistently reported. These are highs. The tap water contamination might be more of an issue, but if they can keep emitting steam instead of fire/explosions, they should be able to keep that down. End update

The scale of the disaster in Japan is such that it makes it hard to write about more mundane matters. In actuality, right now far more people in Japan are endangered by the quake/tsunami damages and shortages than are threatened by four unstable nuclear reactors. You have, at a minimum, 50K people out there with shortages of food, water, heat and medicine and also medical needs. A better estimate would be 200K. Since the major impact areas experienced complete rubblizing of their roads and other transport systems, the first task is to clear the roads to restart transportation, restore power, and restore clean water.

Having written that last sentence, a cloud of incredulity fogs my senses. That is one eventuality that I had never considered. One would think that four unstable reactors within 180 miles of a population center as big as Tokyo would be about the worst, but no, it isn't.

Further, with many ports being damaged, the exclusion zone around Daiichi is going to pose additional problems restoring land transportation. Any main traffic arteries going through there have to be rerouted.

If the damage and radiation limits can be kept relatively low and local, then Tokyo is mostly impacted by power shortages. This is far more of an issue than one might think; the entire area is dependent upon the train system, which needs electricity.

However the best-case scenario now is that the relatively controlled emissions at Daiichi will go on for at least six weeks, so I cannot estimate the total impact. Recovering full power (even at reduced consumption levels) in and around the Tokyo area may take a very long time. The latest news today is that there appears to be further steam emissions at reactor 3 (reported around 10:20 PM their time), but they think the containment vessel is basically intact. And they should know from radiation levels. Still, it is hard to lift the exclusion zone under these conditions.

You can't restart any of the reactors at Daini until you are sure that the situation at Daiichi is under control as regards radiation emissions. I do not believe that any of the reactors at Daiichi should be restarted ever. Since the site will remain mildly radioactive for a very long time, rebuilding reactors there might make sense. But trying to ever restart 5 or 6 given the impacts to which they have been subjected seems like lying down in front of a train.

The Bank of Japan responded on Monday and Tuesday by simply hurling money out there. I do not think that the immediate effect on Japanese bonds will be quite what some think.

Immediate payouts by insurance companies are likely to go back into bonds substantially in the near term. Obviously Japan is now facing some form of fiscal crisis; public debt levels were estimated close to 200% of GDP before this and the need to borrow to rebuild is obvious. Most of the debt is owed to their own residents and financial institutions. One would think that massive inflation would be the answer, but it is hard to know. It is hard to get massive inflation with those demographics and the import needs.

In terms of the area of damage and the fiscal impacts, I am using Katrina in the US. Power and roads were knocked out for hundreds of miles continuously. The first task was to start working inwards clearing the roads. After that power companies could get in. Of course, the US was not working under the handicap of such a population density, which greatly complicates logistics, nor the nuclear issue, which also does so.

Because of the scope of the damage, one would expect that a lot of the money would pool into the banking system as it did in Katrina. The banks in the affected areas were swimming in deposits and could do little with them due to low monetary demands. So you want to separate this into 3 month segments to project forward. In the worst-hit Katrina areas, it took over 12 months for much to get going.

US Treasuries have gone up as buy-ins continue.

China is donating fuel to Japan. It would appear that a major international relief effort is needed for Japan to bridge some of the worst issues.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Here It Comes

TEPCO says it can't check the smoke plume. Radiation levels too high.

TEPCO also says smoke may be coming from 3 - 514 rods in the spent fuel pond there. The situation is now "developing rapidly". We have fires at 4, and possibly 3.

Edano just announced suspect containment breach at reactor 3. Also maybe 1. But don't buy panic and buy fuel to get out of town, because they are not advising further evacuation. I'm thinking the public is not reassured by this advice.

Edano also says the US armed forces might need to help with the "cooling" operation at Daiichi. BE ALL THAT YOU CAN BE!!!!!

PS: Gallows humor. Someone on DU thinks the obvious solution is for the Japanese government to nationalize the nuclear plants there.

PPS: Measured radiation levels dropped enough that some workers are headed back. The highest I heard in the press conference was 6 millisieverts. But levels went up and then down, then moved up again, then dropped again (according to press conference). But trending down.

Nope: This just in, news flash at Kyodo News, they are moving the workers out again!!! They are suggesting that it's Number 2. NISA told them to get out. It's not clear who has the right numbers. NISA earlier gave a news conference to correct the previous news conference, and at that point workers were supposed to be heading back.

What ever else is going on, event the higher numbers given at the plant still do not translate into danger for Tokyo area residents, much less US residents. The concern is how high they'll get in the future. Anyway, the lower level figures given are high enough that it is going to be difficult to keep workers in the plant due to rapidly accumulating exposures.

More tremors in another place - Kanto.

One thing is very clear - they don't really know where the pulses of radiation are coming from!!!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Very Helpful Radiation Converter

Update: There is going to be a lot of news because today radiation levels in and around Tokyo are going to spike (although not to dangerous levels according to what we now know) and TEPCO reports that it is having problems getting water into the spent fuel pond on Reactor 4 at Daiichi End update.

Reading the news is going to get very confusing. This calculator will help you convert the sieverts and picos into something meaningful.

1 millisievert is a tenth of a rem. You can consider a rem equivalent to a rad for many types of radiation.

You also might need this calculator, which gives you the grays (absorbed doses). Or in table format.

If all that completely confuses you, you might want to start here.

In general, radiation you ingest is a lot more harmful than just exposure. So the type of particle fallout that gets in air and water is very harmful. The fire at number 4 reactor at Daiichi would appear to be the final blow; radiation levels have gone ballistic. A microsievert is a thousandth of a millisievert. Earlier we were getting numbers in microsieverts. Now we are getting numbers in millisieverts. A millisievert is a thousandth of a Sievert. I can no longer type, I swear.

1 milliSievert is supposed to be the max annual nuclear exposure to the public from a nuclear plant. But there are quite a few places in the world where person would get far more than that just from natural radiation. So you certainly have a safety margin. When they say that radiation 400 times the annual legal limit was tested at a plant, they are reporting 400 millisieverts. Usually these reported levels are very short term. Also they drop sharply with distance.

However if you were exposed to 400 millisieverts/h for 20 hours, your net would be 400 X 20 = 8 sieverts. This would not be good because it would be equivalent to 800 rem and you would become very sick and have a good chance of death. 5-8 sievert is considered severe exposure. 1-2 could make you quite ill, even though it is considered "mild" exposure.

So I do not think they can keep workers at Daiichi for very long. Also they are asking everyone for 30 kilometers around to stay indoors.

US residents do not need the duct tape and plastic sheets. If you start to feel nervous, draw the curtains and/or let down the blinds and have sex. It will do far more for your health.

TEPCO says the fire at No 4 reactor at Daiichi is out. They think.

PS: And for the humor only, S&P is considering a possible credit downgrade of Tokyo Electric (TEPCO).

PPS: Mark does the Seattle math.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Hydrogen Explosion at Daiichi Reactor Three

AND LAST UPDATE, YES, REALLY LAST - Big spike in radiation readings at Daiichi. End update, this is it folks. Again no US danger, should be no European danger, very little danger China/Koreas with this type of reactor, but people outside the evacuation area in Japan are now at risk of meaningful exposure, and the worst possible circs on the ground exist to mitigate. Very, very difficult circumstances to control this situation at Daiichi plant. Three reactors melting down at once has horrific potential.

MELT DOWN CONFIRMED AT Reactor 2 - TEPCO press conference interrupted "debris at bottom of vessel" (IMO VERY LIKELY THAT REACTOR VESSEL IS BREACHING NOW.) Also press conference confirms that if containment violation (containment vessel at 2 fails) then work to stabilized reactors 1 and 3 must cease. They will have to vent containment vessel anyway, so I would think it is too hot to continue working on reactors 1 and 3.
End last update, watch news, there is gonna be plenty of it. Pray for these people. No danger in US, but spare fuel rods were stored at 3 and apparently exited the building when it exploded. Therefore dirty bomb conditions around the area in Japan???

It's going, folks. The fuel rods at Reactor 2 are fully exposed again.
(TEPCO attributes this to a closed steam vent in the reactor) And what about reactors 1 and 3, which need constant cooling and aren't getting it? By now reactor 1 should be in trouble again.

Reactor 2 is Going To Melt Down
Fuel rods at the quake-hit Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant's No. 2 reactor were fully exposed at one point after its cooling functions failed, the plant operator said Monday, indicating the critical situation of the reactor's core beginning to melt due to overheating.

The rods were exposed as a fire pump to pour seawater into the reactor to cool it down ran out of fuel, Tokyo Electric Power Co. said. The firm had reported the loss of cooling functions as an emergency to the government.

TEPCO said water levels later recovered to cover 30 centimeters in the lower parts of the fuel rods.

The seawater injection operation started at 4:34 p.m., but water levels in the No. 2 reactor have since fallen sharply with only one out of five fire pumps working. The other four were feared to have been damaged by a blast that occurred in the morning at the nearby No. 3 reactor.
Just watch the news networks. This thing is going to meltdown through the reactor casing now, I bet. It's never happened before.
PS: If any of you are getting the idea that I know anything worth knowing about nuclear energy, forget it. My gig is the study of complex interrelated systems - how they work and how they fail. Which is why I try to buy the simplest cars possible.
End Update.
We are out of the failure cascade and into total disaster mode. Japan now needs to expand the evacuation area, bring in other workers who don't know the systems, bring in assets they don't have, and work in a totally hot environment.

: Yesterday the supply of seawater in the pit used to get water to pump into reactors 1 & 3 failed. Pumping was halted for about 2 hours and then resumed on 3. Today the plot thickens; the Reactor Core Isolation Cooling system failed. TEPCO press release. Reactor 2 was the one with low but stable water levels. At this point they should try the seawater/boric acid route with 2, but can they? NISA reported some much larger observed radiation figures yesterday around the perimeter at Daiichi in update 22. NISA also reports eleven injured in the hydrogen explosion at reactor 3, and claims that the evacuation is just about complete. At this point, attrition of the workers is starting to set in. There are reports out that they are venting reactor 2 to ease pressures there. Well, they're going to have to pump water in also! The hotter that thing gets the more likely hydrogen explosion number 3 is. End update.

No details yet. Reuters. Kyodo Wire. This was almost doomed to happen. More info. Info at World Nuclear News. TEPCO press release:
At approximately 11:01am, an explosive sound followed by white smoke
occurred at the reactor building of the Unit 3. It was believed to be a
hydrogen explosion.

According to the parameter, it is estimated that the reactor containment
vessel remains intact. However, the status of the plant and the impact
of radioactive materials to the outside environment are presently under

Some workers have sustained injuries. Ambulances are on their way to care
for them.

TEPCO continues to take all measures to restore the safety and security of
the site and are monitoring the site's immediate surroundings.

Other sources report eleven injuries.

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