Since yesterday, there have been two types of news to report; technical (systems recovery and operational status) and radiological (off-site contamination and exposed emergency worker status).
First, the technical…
TEPCO reports that they have freshwater available for “injection” into Unit No. 1 reactor, and they are currently no longer using seawater. How they have found or produced this freshwater in sufficient quantity for maintaining reactor water level above the fuel, is not in the press statement. Nor, can I find it anywhere else. The why’s and how’s of this quite significant upgrade in the recovery of Unit #1’s reactor cooling ought to be a great story, which the news media would unquestionably report around the world. Of course, the American press would spin it as negatively as possible, but that goes with the territory. Here is a prime example of the kind of information TEPCO could use to temper the news media’s thirst for timely disclosure, but it seems TEPCO either cannot or will not make the effort.
In a related report, TEPCO has also switched from seawater replenishment for Unit #2’s spent fuel pool, to freshwater with some boric acid mixed in. Be reminded, the boric acid is a neutron absorber to eliminate the possibility of low-level fissioning in the stored fuel bundles. It will be interesting to see if the new water mixture has a significant impact on the temperature of the spent fuel pool’s water. A relatively rapid drop, compared to the rate temperature has gone down with seawater replenishment, will indicate whether or not some low-level fissioning has been going on in the fuel bundles stored in the fuel pool, because seawater has no neutron absorber in it. The results of a more-rapid temperature drop could be extremely good news for TEPCO and the world. Until we know for sure, however, it’s best not to further speculate on this point alone. We’ll come back to it later.
Japan’s Atomic Industrial Forum (JAIF) reports that seawater injection has also been replaced with freshwater for water replenishment in reactor’s 2 & 3. Why this is not in any TEPCO news releases over the past 2 days is a mystery, but it’s being missing promises TEPCO something much worse…it’s a wide open invitation to allegations of a TEPCO cover-up. It doesn’t matter if these possible allegations have any basis in reality. With the news media, as well as the prophets of nuclear energy doom, appearance is more important than reality. The following is a stern admonishment to TEPCO…there’s no such thing as too much information. Wake up!
JAIF also gives us reactor water levels, reactor temperatures, and containment vessel pressures for Unit’s 1, 2 & 3. The only way this information could be available is if the reactor’s and containment’s monitoring systems have been at least partially recovered and re-energized, if not fully recovered. Here we have a third obvious example of TEPCO missing out on a chance to transmit good news to the Press, thus giving at least the appearance of full disclosure. I believe it’s three strikes and you’re out!
Now, the radiological news…
As for the current condition of the three electricians over-exposed to radiation, two of which were seriously contaminated…there is nothing new to report, it seems. I may have missed it (I’m not infinite), but one would think a timely update of their medical condition, even if it’s to merely say “they remain under observation”, would be yet another point of timely information TEPCO ought to be reporting! From my past Health Physics training and experience, along with my considerable understanding of radiation hormesis, all three are not in any sort of danger from long term health effects or cancer. The two sets of beta-radiation-burned ankles are of a concern to me, however, because burns of any type are painful and worthy of treatment. TEPCO’s silence is leaving the door wide open for irresponsible speculation on this one, and they have nothing to gain by not finding out the men’s medical status and telling the world. On the other hand, they have everything to lose by continued silence on the matter.
Several news sources report that the levels of radioactive contamination found in the secondary containment and turbine building basement drains from Units 1, 2 & 3, have roughly the same concentrations of radioactive elements as the water “puddle” where two electricians were seriously contaminated yesterday. Further, NISA (Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency) reports the analysis of the drain water reveals Chlorine-38, which is not a fission by-product. It can only have come from a process called “neutron activation”. Neutron radiation is the only type of radiation that can cause non-radioactive elements to become radioactive. This means the Chlorine in the sea water that has been unavoidably used to replenish spent fuel pools and reactor water levels for more than a week, has been passing through a neutron field and becoming radioactive. This indicates fissioning.
Where? The reactors? Highly improbable because the neutron absorbing control rods have been fully inserted into all three reactor fuel cells (Units 1, 2 & 3), ever since their automatic shutdowns concurrent with the pre-tsunami earthquake. The most probable source of the neutron-activated element is the spent fuel pools. This provides a very-telling clue that some low-level fissioning has occurred in the spent fuel pools due to using seawater as replenishment, which contains no fission suppressant like Boric Acid. This does not mean a chain reaction has happened of a magnitude anywhere near what occurs in the reactors during routine power operation. Quite the opposite, in point of fact. Tiny chain reactions happen every time reactor’s are started up, and they are so low-level they do not even begin to measurably heat up the water. I suspect that any chain reactions that might have happened in the spent fuel pools during the seawater cooling phase of this emergency were of the low level variety, for lot’s of sound engineering reasons. Regardless, even at very low fission levels, activation of the elements in the sea water will occur in quantities that could cause the Chlorine-38 concentrations reported. As a result, we can safely identify that the source of the contamination detected in the ocean water near Fukushima has been the spent fuel pools via leakage through the plant’s drains.
Is this good or bad news? I say it’s darn good news. This means the water the two men were contaminated with yesterday was not due to any break, crack, or leak from any of the three reactors, nor was it due to a loss of containment integrity. Thus, speculations of the water coming from the reactor core of Unit #3 reported by both the American and Japanese Press are completely untrue…false…fiction. Any of the international scientific organizations and industrial safety groups that continue to purport a possible compromise of reactor and/or containment integrity ought to be ashamed. We have a “smoking gun”, and it’s Chlorine-38.
In a closely related story, Japanese Vice President Sakae Muto said today that “…he can’t confirm that water from Tepco’s reactors is flowing into the sea.” (Bloomberg News) Bad thing to say, sir! We can absolutely confirm that the current leakage to the sea is not coming from the reactors. It’s coming from the spent fuel pools! And, in all probability not because the pools are leaking. Rather, the large amounts of water previously sprayed on them for more than a week has made its way into the drainage system. Now that the pools are being maintained with freshwater mixed with fission suppressant, the source of continued drainage contamination has been effectively diminished, if not completely stopped. Is this mere speculation? No! It’s sound scientific deduction mixed with considerable Fukushima system familiarity. Time for a retraction, Mr. Muto-san.
Finally, an Emailer from France, Pascal, (thanks, my new friend) reports that Le Monde, the famous newspaper in Paris, says one seawater sample from near Fukushima has a concentration of radioactive Iodine 1250 times the legal limit. I traced this back to a possible source, which seems to be Kyodo News. Kyodo says they got this info from NISA. Now here’s the part they didn’t get from Kyodo or NISA…Le Monde states that drinking 50 cc of this water will cause a serious health risk to the drinker. It will make them sick. As Pascal correctly notes, anyone drinking that much non-contaminated seawater will get sick. Regardless, where could this “drinking 50cc” statement have come from? Not Kyodo or NISA. The news media, no matter how irresponsible their reporting might be doctored up by their spin-meisters, would never have made something like this up. If they are wrong, it would be bad for business. They must have gotten this from some other source…most probably a source with a prophecy-of-nuclear-energy-doom agenda. Here, we have another example of there being a “War Against the Atom III : Fukushima” happening. Now that the operational emergency at Fukushima relative to Units 1, 2 & 3 is diminishing rather rapidly, as even the most irrational speculations of catastrophic meltdown fall by the wayside, the fictional no-safe-level-of-radiation banner is beginning to take center stage. The battle intensifies…