For the first time since March 11, when the tsunami inundated the Fukushima Nuclear power plant complex, there seems to be little or no new serious technological nor radiological consequences to report. Does this mean the emergency situation is “winding down”? That would be a matter of opinion. We can safely say it’s not getting any worse, and surely not “spiraling out of control” as some American news sources have broadcasted. My definition of a “winding down point” is when the first of either Unit 1, 2 or 3 is placed in the optimum safety condition of cold shutdown. That will take several more days, at least. Emergency power cabling remains to be strung through the turbine buildings and connected to the appropriate equipment before we can again be moving in the direction of cold shutdown. Before that can be done, the radioactive waters in the turbine basements need to be removed so that workers can safely resume their tasks. There are some items that should be given attention, however…

Technological –

  • Today’s reports from TEPCO confirm that 13 fire trucks have been at the facility since March 17. They have been used to pump water for various emergency mitigation tasks, including replenishing the reactors and spent fuel pools. This does not mean they were the only water pumping source for the three stricken reactors since March 17. For several days they were essentially backups for the steam-driven feed pumps for each reactor. When reactor pressures and temperatures became too low for the steam powered pumps to work, then the fire truck pumps became the main water “injectors”.
  • It appears that mobile emergency diesel generators have been brought to Fukushima in order to run mobile electric powered pumps to replace the fire truck pumps, for all three units. They are working successfully, per today’s IAEA update. Remember yesterday when I said the types of temporary pumps needed to be clarified? Coincidence?
  • TEPCO now reports that the contaminated waters in the turbine basements will be put in tanks. Condensers, yesterday’s purported location for the contaminated waters, are actually huge tanks. But, are the “tanks” of today the “condensers” of yesterday?
  • IAEA reports that the reason why the water in turbine #2 basement has a considerably higher contamination level than the other three has not been established. It seems a plausible pathway from the allegedly melted fuel cells in the reactor to the turbine building cannot be identified.
  • Water injections to the reactors and spent fuel pools, as well as “white smoke” suppressing sprays, are continuing on an as-needed basis.
  • TEPCO told the Japanese news media they were going to restrict the injection of water into Reactor #3 because the water levels are not what TEPCO and NISA expect during the injections. TEPCO says this will allow the temperature inside the reactor to increase and reduce the possible rate of leakage from the reactor vessel. WHAT?? Increase the water temperature inside a sealed container and the pressure increases with it. This is a basic law of physics, for crying out loud! If there is a leak…IF…the increased pressure will make it worse. Now, if they are doing this temporarily to see if there is a change in the how fast the water levels drop, to refute or confirm their “leaking reactor vessel” speculation…that makes a bunch of sense. But, to reduce the leak?? I don’t think so.
  • The internal pressures of the primary containments of Units 1 & 2 remain at atmospheric pressure. The internal pressure of the Unit 1 primary containment remains at about 2.35 atmospheres. (JAIF)
  • TEPCO reports that on March 27, they have used sandbags and other blockage materials to insure that no contaminated trench waters reach the sea…which segues into…

Radiological news –

  • Seawater contamination levels off-shore from Fukushima have dropped significantly. (IAEA) And there has been officially “no confirmation” that the seawater contamination came from the ditches. However, IAEA reports that March 26 seawater samples taked 330 meters from the combined outlets of the four drainage ditches contained “74,000 Becquerel per litre of iodine-131, and 12,000 Becquerel per litre of cesium-137”. On March 27, the day TEPCO blocked off the trench discharges from the sea, these concentrations dropped to “11,000 Becquerel per litre of iodine-131 and 1,900 Becquerel per litre of cesium-137”. (Makes me want to scream “Who’s your daddy?!”…but that would be unprofessional.)
  • TEPCO reports three workers checking the condition of a seawater pipe got wet, soaking themselves through to their underwear. The seawater in the pipe was tested and found to not have any contamination. The report also says they were wearing anti-contamination suits (anti-Cs), just to be safe. Anyone working on a water system should be wearing water-proof anti-Cs, so their clothing underneath cannot get wet. I see a problem here with worker radiological safety…do you?
  • The contamination level of all turbine building basements and drainage “trenches” remain at the same levels as before. No further Plutonium has been found in soil samples. IAEA reports that Pu-238 was detected in but 2 of the 5 soil samples of concern. TEPCO analytical equipment cannot distinguish between Pu-239 and Pu-240, so the two provide the same peak on a graphic read-out. Regardless, IAEA says it’s possible that only the two samples with Pu-238 were contaminated from Fukushima Unit #3. The other three revealed Plutonium concentrations “as expected”…bomb test residuals from the 1950’s?
  • All 68 food samples gathered March 24 through March 29 from eight Prefectures including Fukushima, were either totally “clean” or contained contamination levels below Japanese regulatory limits.

Political –

Kyodo News reports government spokesman Yukio Edano suggests that all of the reactors at Fukushima be scrapped. On the other hand, IAEA reports he said that Units 1, 2, 3 & 4 should be decommissioned, but not the seemingly undamaged Units 5 & 6. This is the first serious discrepancy I’ve seen between the Japanese news media and the most respected and august international organization in the nuclear community. Let’s hope this does not become endemic.

Secretary Edano further said, “Some time is needed before…we can be sure that people are safe from radiation.” As long as the no-safe-level myth is used to determine “radiation safety”, statements like this will become commonplace. He should be more specific, like, “To be sure people are safe from enormous levels of exposure that are harmful.” But alas…he continues to reinforce the Hiroshima Syndrome in the collective mind of his people.

Finally, Prime Minister Naoto Kan is pushing for the removal of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. He says NISA’s being in the Ministry makes it look like they are promoters of nuclear energy. Making them an independent agency removes the appearance of a conflict of interest. I think this is a good idea, for in politics appearance is more important than reality. Actually, NISA has continually admonished TEPCO for lax safety at Fukushima. The three workers over-exposed several days ago is but the most glaring TEPCO mistake relative to safety. There have been numerous other violations, and NISA has been on top of it. In reality, their political affiliation with the ministry of Economics has not compromised their job as overseers of nuclear safety in Japan. However, their removal from the Ministry will look good, won’t it?