Before relating today’s update on Fukushima, I want to give a “shout out” and sincere thanks to those who have taken the time to Email through the contact page of this website. Data on site activity since last Friday has revealed that thousands of people from around the world are using this site to keep abreast of the latest Fukushima news, including hundreds of people in Japan. The number of new readers goes up by a thousand (more or less) each day. All who have linked this update page to other websites are also greatly appreciated. This is the most humbling experience in my life, and I’ve had quite a few. I am indebted to you all…the world is indebted.
Back to Fukushima…
The radioactive decay-based reduction in decay heat production is now somewhere in the 0.15% range (relative to 100% power level). This places the heat generation level in Units 1, 2, & 3 in the 2 megawatt range (30,000 100-watt light bulbs). It should be pointed out that the actual amount of heat production for each reactor depends on how long the fuel has been inside the reactor since its last refueling. The “newer” fuel has relatively few fission by-products (fission fragments…waste atoms) contributing to the decay heat value, while older fuel has a much higher concentration of fission by-products and thusly has a much greater decay heat contribution. This writer has not been able to find sufficient data on the actual ages of the fuel inside the three stricken reactors, so I’m using a rough average based on the assumption of relatively old fuel. Sort of an educated guess on worst case decay heat production, considering that not all of the fuel is at the maximum levels associated with about three years old fuel cells. Information sites like Nuclear Energy Institute (a good info site) give examples that use data relative to three year old fuel, which would be chock full of fission by-products. Some of the fuel in each Fukushima reactor is maybe a year old, another third of it two years old, and another third which might be three years old. Regardless, current levels of decay heat production (assuming it is all 3 year old fuel) would take at least an hour of “uncovered” fuel to increase the existing level of zirconium damage, and two hours or more to increase whatever level of meltage we already have. These are “low-ball” time estimates. It will probably take longer times, but there’s no way of getting a better estimate of the “safe window” of time we presently experience.
The Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (another reliable info source) reports that the emergency electrical cabling to Unit No. 2, which is the one of most concern, has been connected to the damaged building, and workers are feverishly clearing a path through the rubble of the building’s outer walls (NOT the reactor containment structure) in order to connect to the plant switchgear. Once this is done, emergency systems can be restarted and the crisis for Unit No. 2 will have technically passed. Connections to the other three units at the same location will surely follow. News media reports have all (except Reuters) added that no one knows if these systems will work. No one knows if they won’t work, either.We-don’t-know reporting is one of the most insidious rhetorical angles the news media uses after the flow of actual events in nuclear situations slows down, in order to keep viewer/reader interest on edge. Once again, this is good for business… but bad for the psychological well-being of the public-at-large. Regardless, the current status of the emergency cable work is really good news, and ought to be broadcast as such.
It seems the attempt to interconnect emergency power systems of Units 5 & 6 has been successful. I can find no published info to support this, but the lack of “it didn’t work” reporting makes it likely that it has worked. Sometimes it isn’t what is reported that gives us answers, but rather an answer or two may lie in what is not reported. (Philosophy professors will love this use of logic, I’m sure)
One other really interesting tidbit comes from an E-mailer who recommended a website link to a page from the Nuclear Energy Institute on spent fuel storage specific to Fukushima. (see URL below) I reported the water level above the tops of the spent fuel cells in storage is normally at least ten feet. I was wrong. At Fukushima it’s 16 feet. Further, the amount of time it would take to empty a pool by evaporation would be somewhere between days and weeks! This strongly implies that the single AP report, two days ago, of a helicopter pilot seeing water in the pools was/is correct. In addition the NEI page states, after about 6 months of storage, fuel cell decay heat production is so low that evaporation rates cannot rapidly expose the fuel cells. Lastly, it is “virtually impossible” for zirconium fuel cladding to burn or explode. We should all give a “shout out” to the E-mailer who sent this to me. (name withheld for proprietary reasons)
Several E-mailers have asked about some suggestions for websites we all might use. The first four days of Fukushima were difficult, since most official or otherwise objective information sites were reluctant to dive into the fray before they had enough verifiable information to provide a high degree of confidence. That’s where my unique background in nuclear accident information flow came to the rescue, if you will. The past three days, many of the better sources of information have begun publishing. As far as accident time-lines are involved, I have to make a confession. It seems the best has been in Wikipedia…
I have never recommended a Wiki site before, largely due to the routinely severe lack of peer review. In this case, my research of Fukushima time-line sites has convinced me that the Wiki time-line is the most detailed, least fear-tainted, and timely of the lot. If anyone finds a better one, please let me know. For the time being, I have to say, “Way to go, Wiki!”
Please be reminded when perusing other sites; the pervasive nature of the Hiroshima Syndrome affects everyone, so much so that even the most reliable and reputable information sites will have at least some tainted information. Especially the on-going use of the no-safe-level theory of radiation exposure in reporting potential risk to the public. Regardless, below are some (but not nearly all) of the available sources of reliable internet info on the accident, using a lot of everyday language, where I have a relatively high degree of confidence…
- Science Daily – http://www.sciencedaily.com/
- Reuters – http://www.reuters.com/
- JAIF : Japan Atomic Industrial Forum; http://www.jaif.or.jp/english/
- Nuclear Energy Institute (spent fuel pool info)- http://resources.nei.org/documents/japan/Used_Fuel_Pools_Key_Facts.pdf
- Scientific American – http://www.scientificamerican.com/
- International Atomic Energy Agency – http://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/tsunamiupdate01.html
That should give everyone some places to start. For additional sites, find the list of “links” at each website you visit (that have them). Check out the links page of this website, too. The ones above haven’t been entered there, as yet. Just keep two things in mind when searching websites…(1) almost all news media sites are scare-monger friendly. Reuters seems to be least tainted. Avoid using the others, unless you have read and grasped the information contained on all the topic pages of the Hiroshima Syndrome website, and can thereby objectively discriminate between good info and bad. (2) If a site never seems to have anything positive to report, click out…click out fast. As King Arthur shouted in Monty Python’s Holy Grail, “Run away! Run away!”