Sunday, March 13, 2011

Japan: Another Explosion In A Different Reactor

A second explosion has taken place at the Fukushima nuclear plant, this one in reactor #3. Both reactors have been deliberately flooded with seawater in an attempt to bring the reactions under control. Neither of these explosions was nuclear; this one was apparently caused by a hydrogen buildup, and like the other explosion in reactor #1, left the reactor core intact. But there are observations of airborne radiation, presumably due to intentional release of steam from the units in attempts to cool the reactors. These releases could continue intermittently for months, as long as it takes to prevent total meltdowns:


But Pentagon officials reported Sunday that helicopters flying 60 miles from the plant picked up small amounts of radioactive particulates — still being analyzed, but presumed to include cesium-137 and iodine-121 — suggesting widening environmental contamination.


Japanese reactor operators now have little choice but to periodically release radioactive steam as part of an emergency cooling process for the fuel of the stricken reactors that may continue for a year or more even after fission has stopped. The plant’s operator must constantly try to flood the reactors with seawater, then release the resulting radioactive steam into the atmosphere, several experts familiar with the design of the Daiichi facility said.

This is yet more bad news. We can only hope and pray for better, but there are not really grounds to expect better.

AFTERTHOUGHT:  A reminder: these reactors, designed by GE, are 40 years old. Some of the backup pump power systems seem to have been designed with the thought that the seawall would protect them from floodwater, notwithstanding their low-lying locations. One's first instinct is to exclaim "what hubris," but I am inclined to believe that it is less a matter of hubris and more a matter of that same phrase used by Bush administration officials regarding events in the War on Terra: "No one could ever have predicted..." Well, maybe not; I don't know. But surely it passed through at least one engineer's mind, and out his or her mouth, at least once; that engineer was probably told in no uncertain terms to STFU.

The BBC article linked above points to the first of doubtless many monetary costs of not being able to predict: "The government announced it was pumping 15 trillion yen ($182bn; £113bn) into the economy to prop up the markets - which slumped on opening." At last... a crisis that is even bad for rich people!

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