Saturday, March 12, 2011

Explosion - UPDATED 4x

There has been an explosion at the Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant in Japan. Reuters:


Jiji news agency said there had been an explosion at the stricken 40-year-old Daichi 1 reactor and TV footage showed vapor rising from the plant, which lies 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo.

Japanese media said an explosion blew the roof off the reactor, raising fears of a disastrous meltdown at a nuclear plant damaged in the massive earthquake that hit Japan.


 This is really, really not good news.

MORE INFO:  CNN has this:

(CNN) -- People across Japan and the world watched nervously Saturday as crews at a nuclear plant struck by an earthquake, a tsunami and then an explosion in the span of 36 hours resorted to drowning a feverish nuclear reactor in sea water in hopes of preventing a meltdown with potentially catastrophic implications.


Although government officials painted a hopeful picture, saying crews had begun implementing a backup plan to flood the reactor containment structure with sea water, a nuclear expert said the situation is dire even if it is already under control.

"If this accident stops right now it will already be one of the three worst accidents we have ever had at a nuclear power plant in the history of nuclear power," said Joseph Cirincione, an expert on nuclear materials and president of the U.S.-based Ploughshares Fund, a firm involved in security and peace funding.

If the effort to cool the nuclear fuel inside the reactor fails completely -- a scenario experts who have spoken to CNN say is unlikely -- the resulting release of radiation could cause enormous damage to the plant or release radiation into the atmosphere or water. That could lead to widespread cancer and other health problems, experts say.

People who think nuclear power is a viable solution to our future energy problems, please take note: along with Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, this is the third catastrophic failure of a nuclear plant... by "catastrophic" I mean causing irreparable hazard to the public for miles around and for many years... in only 25 years. When will the MOTU come to their senses and abandon this intrinsically dangerous technology?

UPDATE: Bill Egnor of FDL provides a simple explanation of nuclear reactor technology and how a meltdown can occur. If I understand what Japanese officials have announced, the problems are contained, and the likelihood of a meltdown is very low at this point. That doesn't change my opinion of the danger of nuclear power generation in general: basically, they may have gotten lucky this time. But considering that a nuclear plant is forever, what is the likelihood that there will be no catastrophic failures, century after century?

UPDATE Sat. 1:50pm CST:  Scarecrow of FDL, a professional in the area of power grids but not a nuclear power expert, explains the sequence of events at the two Japanese plants and informs us that a total of five reactor units (including the original #1) are at risk. Apparently the failsafes initially worked, but the pumps providing cooling water were dependent on a connection to the general power grid, which was lost during the earthquake. Emergency generators, possibly diesel-powered, were hooked up and were successfully powering the pumps... until the tsunami hit. A final failsafe was activated, one that uses batteries to power the control system of a steam-driven facility that can continue to push cooling water through the core... for as long as the batteries last. Best available info is that the batteries are good for about 8 hours. Operators are trying to obtain and install replacement batteries, but the status of that process is unknown. Failure would probably mean meltdown and radiation releases. Stay tuned.

UPDATE Sat. about 4:00pm CST: The New York Times is reporting that officials have announced that the reactor has been flooded with seawater, averting the danger of an imminent meltdown. Time will tell.


  1. I hope this takes care of the idea we can use nuclear power to solve our power needs...

  2. Unlikely, ellroon. Nuke proponents are already on the threads, chattering about how this plant is 40-year-old technology and plants constructed today would be soooo much safer. True Believers cannot be swayed by any actual evidence, and the nuke-heads I've met are as fervent as any evangelical Christian.

    One problem is that even if a plant built today would be safer, there is strong negative incentive to replace a working, aging, possibly dangerous plant because it costs so much. And all that radioactive waste has to go somewhere (West Texas is a popular destination). My best guess is that it won't happen: old plants will continue to be used until, one by one, they cause disasters like this one.



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