Guest Post: Update on the Japanese Nuclear Crisis … Not a Pretty Picture

Washington’s Blog


Experts have long said that Tepco’s projections for containing the nuclear crisis this year were unrealistic. Now, even Tepco is admitting that things won’t be stabilized this year. As Kyodo News reports:

Stabilizing the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant by the end of the year may be impossible, senior officials at Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Sunday, throwing a monkey wrench into plans to let evacuees return to their homes near the plant.

***

On May 12, it was confirmed that a meltdown had occurred at the No. 1 reactor, forcing the utility to abandon the water entombment idea and try to install a new cooling system that decontaminates and recycles the radioactive water flooding the reactor’s turbine building instead.

Given that the contaminated water has leaked from the No. 1 reactor’s containment vessel, a Tepco official said, “We must first determine where it is leaking and seal it.”

The official added, “Unless we understand the extent of the damage, we don’t even know how long that work alone would take,” noting the need for one or two months more than previously thought to establish an entirely new cooling system.

In other words, Tepco has no idea how long it will take to contain the leaking reactors.

As has been obvious from the start, Tepco has also covered up vital information. Now, even the Japanese government is lambasting Tepco for its secrecy. As Kyodo News notes:

Tokyo Electric Power Co. did not fully disclose radiation monitoring data after its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant was crippled by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, the government revealed Friday. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, after being informed by Goshi Hosono, a special adviser to Prime Minister Naoto Kan, told reporters that he instructed Tepco to sort out the data, make it public and make doubly sure no more information-withholding occurs.

Coming a day after he blasted Tepco’s flip-flop over the injection of seawater into the plant’s reactor 1, Edano said the government “cannot respond to this matter on the premise” that no more undisclosed information will emerge.

“There is a distinct possibility that there is still more,” he said, urging Tepco to accurately and swiftly report the truth to the government.

Hosono also noted Tepco’s delay in revealing this fact, 2? months after the nuclear crisis started.

The government will look into how this happened, the two officials said.

You’ve already heard that 3 of the Fukushima reactors melted down within hours of the earthquake.

Yomiuri Daily reports today that not only the pressure vessels (the innermost barrier) but also the containment vessels (the outer barrier) of reactors 1 and 3 were also damaged within hours of the quake:

Not only the pressure vessels, but the containment vessels of the Nos. 1 to 3 reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant were probably damaged within 24 hours of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, according to Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s analysis of the nuclear crisis.

As I previously noted, the IAEA knew within weeks that there had been meltdowns at Fukushima. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission knew as well. As Kyodo News reports (scroll down to second story):

A senior nuclear regulatory official in the United States said Thursday he believed there was a “strong likelihood” of serious core damage and core melt at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant in the days immediately after the crisis began.

“There were numerous indications of high radiation levels that can only come from damaged fuel at those kinds of levels,” said Bill Borchardt, executive director for operations at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “So we felt pretty confident that there was significant fuel damage at the site a few days into the event.”

The NRC also had “suspicions” about the conditions of the spent fuel pools, Borchardt said after a speech at the Japan Society in New York.

Based on that assumption, he said, the NRC recommended that U.S. residents in Japan stay 80 km away from the crippled power plant, which was far beyond the Japanese government’s recommendation for residents within a 20-km radius to evacuate.

While most of the problems have been at reactors 1, 2 and 3 (which were all operating when the earthquake hit) and reactor 4 (where spent fuel rods have been leaking), there have also been problems at reactor number 5 as well. Specifically, as NHK writes:

The operator of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant says temperatures in the Number 5 reactor and its spent fuel storage pool have risen due to pump failure. The reactor has been in a state of cold shutdown.

Tokyo Electric Power Company says it found at 9 PM on Saturday that a pump bringing seawater to cooling equipment for the reactor and pool had stopped working.

TEPCO says temperatures have been rising since then.

To make matters worse, Typhoon Songda has brought heavy rains to Fukushima. As Al Jazeera notes:

The typhoon has already brought heavy rain to the Fukushima region and there is still more to come. This has prompted worries that runoff water may wash away radioactive materials from the land into the Pacific Ocean.

The plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has been pouring synthetic resins over the complex in an attempt to stabilise the plant. More work needs to be done, not just now but also to ensure that future typhoons would not spread radioactive materials into the environment.

As Raw Story reported:

Officials from the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) are apologizing in advance for the fact that the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant is not ready for the high winds and heavy rain of Typhoon Songda, a massive storm that could make landfall in Japan as early as Monday.

The BBC quotes a TEPCO official as saying, “We have made utmost efforts, but we have not completed covering the damaged reactor buildings. We apologize for the lack of significant measures against wind and rain.”

Buildings housing the plant’s nuclear reactors are still standing open in the wake of crippling hydrogen explosions that followed Japan’s March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The approaching storm could scatter highly radioactive materials into the air and sea. Plant operators are currently spreading “anti-scattering agents” around the buildings housing reactors one and four.

As I’ve predicted for a long time, the Fukushima disaster could end up being much worse than Chernobyl. See this, this, this and this.

Mainichi (and Japan Times) report:

Radiation released by the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has caused soil contamination matching the levels seen in the Chernobyl disaster in some areas, a researcher told the government’s nuclear policy-setting body Tuesday.

***

The size of the contaminated areas in the Fukushima crisis is one-tenth to one-fifth of those polluted in the Chernobyl disaster, Kawata said.

It’s not just the soil, it’s also the seafloor. NHK notes that radiation has been found in the entire 300 kilometer (186 mile) region of the coast tested near Fukushima.

And Harvey Wasserman notes that there may have been 10 times more radiation released into the ocean than by Chernobyl:

New readings show levels of radioisotopes found up to 30 kilometers offshore from the on-going crisis at Fukushima are ten times higher than those measured in the Baltic and Black Seas during Chernobyl.

“When it comes to the oceans, says Ken Buesseler, a chemical oceonographer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, “the impact of Fukushima exceeds Chernobyl.”

***

For all the focus on land-based contamination, the continuing flood of radioactive materials into the ocean at Fukushima could have the most problematic long-term impacts. Long-term studies of radiological impacts on the seas are few and far between. Though some heavy isotopes may drop to the sea bottom, others could travel long distances through their lengthy half-lives. Some also worry that those contaminants that do fall to the bottom could be washed back on land by future tsunamis.

***

“After Chernobyl, fallout was measured,” says Buesseler, “from as far afield as the north Pacific Ocean.”

A quarter-century later the international community is still trying to install a massive, hugely expensive containment structure to suppress further radiation releases in the wake of Chernobyl’s explosion.

Such a containment would be extremely difficult to sustain at seaside Fukushima, which is still vulnerable to earthquakes and tsunamis. To be of any real use, all six reactors and all seven spent fuel pools would have to be covered.

But avenues to the sea would also have to be contained. Fukushima is much closer to the ocean than Chernobyl, so more intense contamination might be expected. But the high radiation levels being measured indicate Fukushima’s most important impacts may be on marine life.

The US has ceased measuring contamination in Pacific seafood. But for centuries to come, at least some radioactive materials dumped into the sea at Fukushima will find their way into the creatures of the sea and the humans that depend on them.

To add insult to injury, Zero Hedge notes that oil is also spilling into the ocean near Fukushima:

Just because mega-radioactive water leakage was not enough. From Xinhua: “Operator of the troubled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant found that oil has been leaking into the sea close to the facility, the Kyodo News reported Tuesday. The operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) said the oil leaks were possibly from nearby oil tanks that may have been damaged in the March earthquake and tsunami, and it would set up oil fences to prevent the liquid from pouring into the Pacific Ocean.” Oh, but they only discovered this now? Odd how it took nearly 3 months for those oil tanks to rupture and start spilling into the water.

Update: While an explosion occurred near reactor 4 today, that appears to be the least of the problems at the Fukushima nuclear complex.

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About George Washington

George Washington is the head writer at Washington’s Blog. A busy professional and former adjunct professor, George’s insatiable curiousity causes him to write on a wide variety of topics, including economics, finance, the environment and politics. For further details, ask Keith Alexander… http://www.washingtonsblog.com

32 comments

  1. guidothekp

    After all these lies and cover ups, I am beginning to wonder if there is a nuclear plant anymore at Fukushima. This suspense is killing me. Is it there or is it now a figment of our imagination?

    1. ambrit

      Isn’t there a ‘sister’ atomic power plant just up the coast from Daichi, called Daimi? How’s that doing in all this? As to radioactive isotopes washing out to sea, do the local ocean currents go anywhere near “Monster Island?” I hope not.

    2. kievite

      After all these lies and cover ups, I am beginning to wonder if there is a nuclear plant anymore at Fukushima. This suspense is killing me. Is it there or is it now a figment of our imagination?

      It is now a large, highly contaminated disaster zone, that needs to be cleaned and melted and dispersed radioactive materials isolated or safely buried. Huge, expensive task. Hopefully robots now can replace “jumpers.” and save costs and lives. Here is a relevant recollection of the Chernobyl “Liquidators” about that needs to be done:

      Singapore — Sergei Belyakov, a scientist who helped clean up debris after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, is worried about Japanese workers now risking their lives to contain the aftermath of core meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

      “I really feel sorry for the situation in Fukushima, honestly,” the 55-year-old “jumper” in Chernobyl said.

      Jumpers were the workers who risked their lives by “jumping” into highly contaminated zones at the damaged nuclear station in Chernobyl, rarely spending more than seconds in the danger zone before jumping back out to safety.

      Now a U.S. citizen and scientist working for Albany Molecular Research Inc. in Singapore, Belyakov recalled his 40 days in Chernobyl in 1986.

      “The reason why I am so affected (by the Fukushima disaster) is that I feel for these guys who work at the station as jumpers because every day goes by they will have much more effort to clean it up and more health and lives will be lost.”

      Belyakov has been monitoring the developments at Fukushima every day since the plant was struck by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

      He added that he believes the Japanese government should have immediately sought assistance and advice from those who had direct experience in dealing with the Chernobyl catastrophe.
      “To me it is quite unexplainable that Tokyo Electric Power Co. and, obviously, the Japanese government do not tap into the pool of knowledge of people who went through Chernobyl and can lend them a hand with a lot of help,” he said.

      In July 1986, Belyakov, then a 30-year-old chemistry professor at a university in Ukraine who was married and had a 6-year-old child, went to Chernobyl as a volunteer to help clear debris at the plant.

      With his qualifications as a professor, he was discouraged from deploying to the plant, but as a military reservist in the chemical defense brigade, he volunteered, even though the decision upset his family.

      He stayed in Chernobyl more than a month.

      “I was there (at the facility) 23 times . . . on the roof, the longest for two minutes and the shortest for 36 seconds,” he said, referring to the rooftop of a reactor adjacent to reactor No. 4, which had exploded.

      The adjacent reactor, about 20 meters from No. 4, was not destroyed, but it was heavily contaminated with radioactive debris.

      “You enter the door, you jump, you toss a couple of pieces down, and you already have to come back” (out to apparent safety), he said.

      “The level (of radiation) on the roof was every time, every day different. Because the reactor was breathing, it was puffing. Sometimes the radioactive level at the roof was so high, you couldn’t even go out of the door,” he said.
      The jumpers relied on a rough map drawn on a wall provided by a civilian who had worked at Chernobyl before the disaster to get around the nuclear plant.

      At any one time, up to 900 people would be waiting in line for their turn to jump, which could take hours.

      “So it was a never-ending line of people, going up, up to the very top level, inside, and then going down, and it was just a regular stairway . . . what I called a stairway to hell in my (forthcoming) book (‘The Liquidator’).”

      “Everybody freaked out . . . in a war, you see bombs, you see planes, you hear explosions, know where to go and what to be afraid of. There, people seemed to get scared for nothing,” he said.

      “My way to deal with (the fear) was to break the task into smaller pieces, my whole idea was to run to that level a couple of times, just to make sure that I get to that point.
      “I told myself I got to go five steps in that direction, make a couple of steps left or right because it is an area that is indicated by flags, that it is highly radioactive stuff. Once you do that, you take one step at a time.

      “What’s wrong with stepping two steps to the ladder and then while you are there nothing happens, what’s wrong now with climbing up, and you go round the corner, you see that reactor open, nothing, you are still alive, that’s physically how you do it,” he explained.

      “I am not a brave guy, honestly. It just happens I have been perhaps in the right place with the right set of emotions and the right set of my own personal beliefs. And then, at the time, we believe we are saving the country,” Belyakov added.

      “Because of the intensity, it was very hard to work because of adrenaline, because of the action of radiation, it drains your power, you get wasted completely and much, much faster than you do in normal circumstances.”
      They ended up, with the lack of sleep and food, more like “bio-robots,” he said. “Once we came back to civilian life, that pressure, that stress you had for days, all of a sudden it starts killing you because you don’t feel anything in your real life now is worthy.

      “I had a hard time to walk, my breathing was very short, I wasn’t able to walk for maybe 100 to 200 meters without sitting down because I was always blacking out.

      “Obviously, I was really, really sick, as most of us were — exhaustion, exposure to radiation, malnourishment because obviously we didn’t eat well,” he said.

      Doctors, Belyakov added, predicted those jumpers who were exposed to the radiation on the rooftop would probably not survive more than 20 years after Chernobyl.

      “I am in my 25th year now. I am five years in heaven. I am not joking, every day I wake up and feel blessed,” he said.

  2. aet

    Seawater radiation monitoring at the plant is showing the LOWEST level of radioactivity since the accident inMarch:

    http://www3.nhk.or.jp/daily/english/01_03.html

    Global warming is not going away, despite the decrees of the US Congress:

    http://www.dotspress.com/co2-emissions-have-reached-the-highest-level-ever-recorded/772585/

    There is no alternative to nuclear power.

    1. George Washington

      False …

      It’s Not Just Alternative Energy Versus Fossil Fuels or Nuclear – Energy Has to Become DECENTRALIZED: http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2011/04/us-wastes-more-energy-than-it-uses.html

      Japan’s Nuclear Meltdown, the Economic Meltdown, and the Gulf Oil Meltdown All Happened for the SAME REASON:
      http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2011/04/japans-nuclear-melt-down-economic.html

    2. Up the Ante

      “Seawater radiation monitoring at the plant is showing the LOWEST level of radioactivity since the accident in March:

      http://www3.nhk.or.jp/daily/english/01_03.html ”

      Really.

      And how does aet explain its correlation to this,

      Radioactivity in No. 1 Reactor Basement Water 10,000 Times Normal

      Fukushima, May 30 (Jiji Press)–Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Monday that the amounts of radioactive materials in water at a reactor building of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant were about 10,000 times the normal levels for water inside a nuclear reactor.

      The water, recently found in the basement of the No. 1 reactor building of the nuclear power plant, contained 30,000 becquerels of iodine-131 per cubic centimeter, 2.5 million becquerels of cesium-134 and 2.9 million becquerels of cesium-137.

      On May 13, Tokyo Electric Power employees entered the No. 1 reactor building and found water 4.2 meters deep in the basement.

      Water levels had risen to 4.6 meters high by 5 p.m. Monday (8 a.m. GMT) due to rain and water injections to cool the damaged nuclear fuel. The amount is estimated at 2,700 tons.

      The water is believed to have leaked into the basement from the reactor pressure vessel and the container that houses the vessel.

      (2011/05/30)

      http://jen.jiji.com/jc/eng?g=eco&k=2011053000813

    3. Bruce Hayden

      If global warming is a fact then how come the coldest winters in 500-1000 years in many places? Hasn’t the average temperature of the planet actually dropped in the last decade ??

      As for your nuclear power statement I think you and your inhuman ilk should all be certified insane and locked up. You are a direct menace to all life on earth!

  3. aet

    Gawk at the horror on TEPCO’s live Fukushima video !

    http://www.tepco.co.jp/nu/f1-np/camera/

    1. George Washington Post author

      What’s so horrible? I don’t see anything currently blowing up …

  4. Paul Tioxon

    TEPCO is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.

  5. Susan Truxes

    Here’s my long suffering take: The Japanese are remarkable people. And they are also very proud. When the disaster struck they panicked. In spite of their remarkable technological abilities to conquer everything, they didn’t know what to do. But they also weren’t willing to take advice. And that stubornness was compounded by their motto: Never Give Up. Pride overruled panic and they just faked it. Now we have had almost two months of the worst conceivable global poisoning. This might be the only place I would be willing to consider a global authority. A Global Nuclear Regulatory Authority. With the authority to bring in the military and cover the meltdown with sufficient cement. And filter the water going into the ocean. Anybody see the joke on Max Keiser with a giant Godzilla Fire Hydrant spewing water on Fukushima? I Think it is possible that the Japanese might need psychotherapy.

    1. F. Beard

      Anybody see the joke on Max Keiser with a giant Godzilla Fire Hydrant spewing water on Fukushima? Susan

      Godzilla has a nuclear flame thrower, the last movie I saw. It really removes tough, baked-on grime!

    2. paper mac

      The problem with the disaster response to Fukushima was The Japanese People, who are Proud, Stubborn, and Unable To Take Sound Western Advice, you say? And here I was thinking that they have got almost exactly the same kinds of problems with corporate cooption of regulatory agencies that we Occidentals have! Astounding!

    3. BILL

      Not therapy , but a HUGE DOSE OF HONESTY . Whom , may I ask, do you trust . Anywhere on this earth ! Whom do you trust ?
      pin drops .

    4. Kakko

      Speaking 1st hand, many Japanese get their new regarding TEPCO from non-Japanese sources.

      It’s not a matter of pride so much as government-corporate corroboration to cover up information combined with political posturing by each politician aimed at making others look bad.

      Many Japanese have a “nuclear fever” where we are paranoid of nuclear energy and frustrated with constant government coverups. This is the same but on a much larger scale as the Kashiwazaki nuclear power plant 4 years ago.

  6. Foster Boondoggle

    Jeez! Keep a sense of perspective!

    Airborne and surface radioactive contamination is HUGELY more hazardous than comparable amounts in the ocean, where the dilution factors are enormous. Chernobyl has had a huge health impact because of the uptake of radioactivity by plants and animals from the (2-d) surface deposit of particulate radioactive matter. The same amount of fission by-products dissolved in the (3-d) ocean has a much tinier impact on the biosphere.

    And if you really want to worry about radioactivity in the ocean, you could get excited about all the waste dumped there by the Soviet Union over the years, including whole submarine reactors decommissioned by dropping them into the deep.

    Fukushima is a disaster, but there’s no need to hyperventilate about it.

    1. stockdude

      The “dilution factor” means nothing, absolutely nothing.

      Yeah sure, in 30 years, half of it will be reacted away.

      Except for the small rate of reduction in the radioactive materials, it will pretty much all get into the animals of the planet (and plants too). This is 2.5 million pounds of uranium and plutonium that is out of control. An average atomic bomb uses about 8 pounds. Got it?

      1. agent 8 6


        2.5 million pounds of uranium and plutonium that is out of control. An average atomic bomb uses about 8 pounds.

        ~~stockdude~

        I told you not to tell me that
        !

    2. mogel

      Dilution doesn’t work the way you think it does. It’s not like the mixing of an ideal gas at standard temperature and pressure. There will be more and less polluted parts of the ocean, and some will be very polluted. The East Asians who rely on the fisheries in the area are right to be worried.

  7. rps

    Fukushima exposes the human disconnect of irrational compartmentalization of a multi-ecosystem catastrophe as a “Japanese Nuclear Crisis”. As if the Earth acknowledges nation air/water/land boundaries. Nature won’t need to eradicate our pesky species, we’ll do it ourselves.

    “We have met the enemy and they are us” Pogo

    1. psychohistorian

      Absolutely!

      Here we have a radioactive Roman Candle spewing contamination near and far with a potential payload 10 times that of Chernobyl. When will the Roman Candle be capped? Can this one be capped?

      Just another nail in the coffin of an imprudent species that thought playing with deadly things with half lives of hundreds of thousands of years is ok. We have recorded history maybe back a couple thousand years and yet we think it is prudent to saddle thousands of generations to our short sightedness.

      It is way past time to take economic and social policy control out of the hands of the inherited rich. Or maybe lets extend and pretend that these folks haven’t brought our world to the edge of ruin.

  8. brian

    2 new nuclear plants will be built in texas on the gulf coast
    congress has even passed a $4B loan guarantee
    tepco along with other partners have been hired to build it

    1. Mark Train Thatcher


      $4B loan guarantee
      tepco

      ~~brian~

      No American will be safe until Congress runs out of other-people’s money
      !

  9. Alex Smith

    Listen to David Lochbaum, nuclear engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists, explain his testimony to Congress in May. Lochbaum says Fukushima-like accidents, with the same reactor tech, can happen at many plants in America.

    Except the U.S. has many times the spent fuel at each reactor. And, at many reactors, half the battery back-up time Fukushima 1 had.

    24 minute update, including the latest data released by Tepco of the first hour after the quake, from Radio Ecoshock.

    http://www.ecoshock.org/downloads/nuclear/ES_Lochbaum_LoFi.mp3

    1. Vote For David

      “many places” in the USA can suffer 9.0 earthquakes followed by tsunami? Wow.

      The USA has a boneheaded no-recycling policy that could be changed tomorrow, and then there is next to no waste sitting there to worry about.

      1. mogel

        Whereever the waste happens to be, it’s a problem. The UK spends ungodly sums on safeguarding the waste. When that money is taken into account, it becomes far more costly than solar, wind or any other alternatives.

  10. Jumpy

    Ok I have to say according to this, either the entire time they were lowing to us and there really wasn’t a nuclear accident or something is really fucked up here…….
    http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/betu11_e/images/110531e6

  11. Sungam

    Plenty of good criticism in there but drawing a direct comparison between contamination levels 30 kilometers from Fukushima Daichi to reading taken from bodies of waters several hundreds of kilometers away from Chernobyl is just plain daft.

    I’d have been happier with some solid commentary about the different impact the different dispersal vectors for these disasters have. In Chernobyl you had a massive airborne release of radioactive isotopes due to the graphite moderator burning whilst with Fukushima the major dispersal concern is from reactor coolant leaking tinto the sea or groundwater.

  12. Sauron

    In the here and now, nuclear power is, arguably, a good idea–at least compared to fossil fuels (choose your poison) but the lifespans of civilizations and humans are short. Imagine if the Roman Empire had nuclear power–Europe would be uninhabitable after the barbarians came.

  13. Mr. Steel

    we tasted and smelled metallic and electrical fire odors .Dog got sick vomited in may here in las vegas nevada. hard to beath. tired always . dizzy

  14. Chris Phoenix

    Mr. Steel: If several people in one building are getting sick, check your air conditioner or swamp cooler(!) for mold buildup.

    It wasn’t Fukushima. In Las Vegas, I bet you’re getting more radiation from old US atomic tests than you are from across the ocean!

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