The drama at the Fukushima nuclear power complex in northwest Japan continues. As of this morning, it appears that Unit No. 1 reactor vessel, which has been the focus of concern for two days, is now being cooled using sea water. Sea water is not the sort of cooling liquid one should use in this type of situation due to its extreme corrosive properties, but it is water and the plant operators needed it to cool the reactor system. They should be commended for doing what they did. How much damage has there been damage to the reactor’s fuel cell? At this point, it is impossible to say for sure, although a meltdown is not impossible. This hasn’t stopped the western news media from making wild speculations. These wild speculations, as well as those chronicled below, only serve to re-invigorate the Hiroshima Syndrome the public mind, and extend its psychological damage to a whole new generation of sufferers.
The problem in Japan now seems to be focusing on Fukushima Unit No. 3. It appears that the unit is experiencing emergency power failures, similar to what happened to unit No. 1 yesterday. While the scenario parallels what happened at unit No. 1, the Japanese company that owns the plant (TEPCO) has reported that the fuel cell has at least partially lost its water level inside the reactor. Any core “uncoverage” will rapidly result in damage to the fuel cell. However, news media reports of a meltdown-in-progress are an example of speculation. No one, at this point, knows the nature or extent of damage to the fuel core on Unit No. 3. On a more positive note, since the heat generated after a reactor has been shut down comes from the fission by-products, and their radioactive decay rates are exceedingly rapid immediately after shutdown, the amount of heat being generated in Fukushima 3 is at least 50% less than unit #1 because of the time elapsed since shutdown. The very short-lived fission products have decayed themselves into much lower heat-generating concentration, at this point.
It should be re-iterated from yesterday’s report, that the evacuations around the damaged units are mandated by their emergency plans. The Japanese use plans that use the IAEA’s 7 levels of emergency, with level 1 being the least severe, and level 7 being the most severe. The Japanese have issued a level 4 state of emergency. In America, we use a 4 level system on nuclear emergency declarations covering essentially the same range of accident situations. However, the 20 kilometer-wide evacuation is clearly a result of the level 4 declaration. Further, we should keep in mind that these emergency plans were created long before radiation hormesis was found to be the case.
Next, the western news media is doing their best to scare the be-jeebers out of everyone with their apocalyptic rhetoric of nuclear disaster from meltdown. The news media scenario with the Fukushima accident is a page taken right out of what they did with Three Mile Island, in 1979. For example, the news media has said all along that the Japanese officials can’t be trusted, just like the media purported about the American government reports during the first two days at TMI. It has taken the news media nearly 2 days to find someone whom they could present as an “expert” that would support their fictional prophecies of doom. In addition, wild “what-if” speculations from news media reports concerning Fukushima, have abounded during their two days of searching for someone to make it all sound real….just like 1979 with TMI.
Their search literally bottomed out when CNN’s Science Guy, Bill Nye, was interviewed last night on television. Everything he said was either science fiction or downright ridiculous. For example, he said the Cesium detected on a few people in Japan came from the control rods. He explained that Cesium absorbs neutrons (which it doesn’t) and is used to control the power level in the reactor (also fictitious). He continued that with the extreme heat that must have been inside the reactor, the Cesium “metal” vaporized into a gas and “got out” through a hole that must exist in either the inner vessel or outer vessel. First, Cesium is a by-product of fission in the fuel. Second, control rods are made out of Boron-Carbide in boiling water reactors (like Fukushima), a substance which soaks up neutrons like a sponge. Third, Cesium is an active element classified as a metal on chemistry charts, but it dissolves in water and was probably released from Fukushima 1 when they vented steam prior to the hydrogen explosion. Lastly, there is currently no evidence of there being holes anywhere in the multi-layered containment around the reactor. The release pathway is literally a matter of speculation. The bottom line is this…no matter how bad the situation in Japan actually may be, the news media will bend over backwards to keep the public on the edge of their seats by trying to make it seem many times worse. Fear “sells” many better than reality.
There seem to be two fear-infested issues being continually trumpeted by the news media; (1) a widespread radiation release and (2) meltdown. Fear of radiation, and the no-safe-level myth the news media clings to with dire faith, is addressed elsewhere in this website and in yesterday’s update. But the current news media-inspired meltdown scenarios are right out of the China Syndrome movie. For example from Yahoo! News, “According to experts interviewed by The Associated Press, any melted fuel would eat through the bottom of the reactor vessel. Next, it would eat through the floor of the already-damaged containment building. At that point, the uranium and dangerous byproducts would start escaping into the environment.” This is a China Syndrome science fiction story. China Syndrome is a myth (see the TMI page). Three Mile Island experienced a “severe meltdown” in 1979. (2009 Nuclear regulatory Commission finding) Nothing like the Yahoo! News report occurred at TMI, or ever came close to occurring at TMI. The melted fuel and control rod materials all mixed together during TMI’s meltdown, called “corium” by scientists, spread out across the bottom of the reactor and into the connected piping, where it quickly cooled and solidified. That’s what actually happens in a severe meltdown, and at this point we don’t know what level of fuel damage actually exists at Fukushima…minor cladding cracks, partial meltage of some core materials other than the fuel, partial fuel meltage, or severe meltdown? Nobody knows, at this point, but all would result in Cesium production. In addition we have the assumption that uranium could possibly be released into the air and surrounding environment. Uranium is the heaviest, densest natural substance in the universe. Saying it would magically escape into the environment in dangerous amounts is absolute balderdash! It’s way too heavy! But, the myth is certainly scarier than reality, is it not.
However, the Yahoo! News report doesn’t stop there, ”At some point in the process, the walls of the reactor vessel — 6 inches (15 centimeters) of stainless steel — would melt into a lava-like pile, slump into any remaining water on the floor, and potentially cause an explosion much bigger than the one caused by the hydrogen. Such an explosion would enhance the spread of radioactive contaminants.” Absolute fiction! This is so preposterous that a detailed critique would only serve to give unwarranted dignity to the above statement. The “bigger explosion” phrase smacks of the belief that Uranium is an explosive, which of course it isn’t! Yet more evidence of the Hiroshima Syndrome at work.
At this point, the Yahoo! News report reaches a new low in speculative spin-doctoring, “If the reactor core became exposed to the external environment, officials would likely began pouring cement and sand over the entire facility, as was done at the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident in the Ukraine, Peter Bradford, a former commissioner of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said in a briefing for reporters. At that point, Bradford added, ‘many first responders would die.’” First, there is little doubt that Mr. Bradford’s comments are confabulated into a context conducive to the News Media’s incessant desire to bring Chernobyl into the mix.* Bradford surely knows that water moderated reactors, like Fukushima, cannot have a Chernobyl-type accident. He must also know that an unrestricted release of radiation like Chernobyl is virtually impossible for western containment systems, with their robust multiple barriers. In hindsight, Bradford should have said any connection to Chernobyl is patently absurd and the news media should drop it like a hot rock.
*This sort of thing happened to me in 1986 from a national AP reporter, so much so that when my mother read it she began to cry…she couldn’t believe I would be a part of something so dangerous. I think it has scarred her to this day.
- “Water, power, food scarce in vast swaths of Japan”; Yahoo! News;http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/as_japan_earthquake
- “Japanese Government Confirms Meltdown”; Stratfor Global Intelligence;http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20110312-japanese-government-confirms-meltdown?utm_source=redalert&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=110312%286%29&utm_content=readmore&elq=0a31c40a4a1147a28a4293d7625b17b8
- “For battered Japan, a new threat: nuclear meltdown”; Associated Press (via the News Herald);http://www.news-herald.com/articles/2011/03/13/news/nh3760612.txt
- “In Japan plant, partial meltdown ‘highly possible’”; Yahoo! News;http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/ap_on_re_as/as_japan_earthquake_nuclear_crisis