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Old 03-16-2011, 07:37 AM   #121
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Gumby, thanks so much for the explanations.

During the financial crisis, it was shocking to me how wrong the press almost always got it on things that were in my area of specialty. It made me realize that the press is worse than useless any time they are reporting on complex or technical topics of any kind.
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Old 03-16-2011, 08:14 AM   #122
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Here's another good source of technical information about the goings-on at the reactors.

MIT Nuclear Science-- Fukushima
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While the information flow from Japan isn't great, these guys appear to be trying to explain what is known and are updating fairly frequently.
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Old 03-16-2011, 08:39 AM   #123
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Thanks for the MIT link Samclem. It was good reading. Interesting to discover that:

"..Fukushima unit 1 has an electrical rating of 460 MWe and units 2 and 3 have an electrical rating of 784 MWe. However, due to various thermodynamic and practical constraints, the efficiency of the plants is only about 33%." per the article. This bit is further down from the graphs.

Useable power output roughly comparable to Internal Combustion Engines or Diesels.

Form the time I worked at a Nuke power plant in SoCal., I recall the plant requires a huge amount of power to run itself. This plant had three very large Diesel generators as backups to run everything for when the reactor shut down. It was eerie to get to w*rk and only hear the diesels and not the overwhelming hum of the main generator.

By the way I'm not Nuke trained, worked on electronics.
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Old 03-16-2011, 08:59 AM   #124
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Gumby, thanks for the explanations. We aren't getting much more information from the local media or govt here and if you watch some of the govt officials when they speak it is obvious from body language that they are either lying, they don't have a clue, or both. it really helps. Nerves are running hot here, as we haven't a clue who or what to believe.

Ob gyn - thx for the concern. We have been shaken so much and so often that we've been worked into a froth. Someone said to me today that when I move back to the states, I can go on he speaking circuit as "the man who lived thru a thousand earthquakes". By the end of this week, I'm certain they'll be right about the thousand quakes. I believe we've had something like 400-500 of them already...big one last night around 1030pm, and one around 1:10 this afternoon.

The uncertainty as well as the already broken logistics chain and fuel shortages has led to the supermarket shelves virtually empty, virtually all the time as people try to prepare for the uncertainty. We are regular visitors to Costco, so we are not worried about food. But it is a concern when there is little to nothing on the shelves for 3-4 days in a row. Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn't have hung up my spurs when DD graduated HS...I try not to dwell on that too long...

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Old 03-16-2011, 09:28 AM   #125
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Shaken, not stirred. Good to hear from you Rambler.
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Old 03-16-2011, 10:05 AM   #126
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Rambler,
Know that our thoughts and prayers are with you. You seem to be incredibly calm and centered.
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Old 03-16-2011, 11:30 AM   #127
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I am appalled at the news coverage of this disaster. I hope there is some kind of "call for accounting" from the public after this crisis is over.

I have several acquaintances in Japan including a BIL and so I have tried to stay abreast of what is happening. The information is all over the place. It goes from extreme to extreme and sometimes feels like we are being deliberately kept artificially alarmed.

One minute there is hope that the reactors are coming under control and the next there is an alarming new twist and impending doom fills the front pages. One minutes it's a partial melt down, the next it is breached containment vessel. Then that all goes away and it's zirconium reaction with the water. Then that gets swept aside.

If they do not have the facts they should simply report the events and leave the conjecture out of this.

I hope the people of Japan are getting better data because we are getting nothing but unsubstantiated, drama-filled, BS it appears.

Rant over.
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Old 03-16-2011, 11:39 AM   #128
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If they do not have the facts they should simply report the events and leave the conjecture out of this.

I hope the people of Japan are getting better data because we are getting nothing but unsubstantiated, drama-filled, BS it appears.
The total number of people reported as having been exposed to a harmful dose of radiation is still, as far as I can tell, zero. (I'm saying that with some confidence because, given the hype over Every. Little. Blip. of the radiation level, I assume the networks will run a 4-hour special when one such person actually turns up.)

Meanwhile, the deaths from the tsunami are officially over 10,000 and will go way higher.

Incidentally, WHO figures for Chernobyl put the immediate death toll at 56 (fifty-six people) and the 50-year likely total of deaths from cancer at 4,000 (that's 80 per year). To put that in perspective, 9,000 people died on the roads in Ukraine last year.

Bottom line: Nuclear accidents are news porn. "OMG, atomic reactor explodes" - complete with money shot. Millions are going to die, surely? Stay tuned. And watch these messages. One's from Toyota.
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Old 03-16-2011, 11:41 AM   #129
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CNN is making me nauseous, CBS, ABC, NBC about as bad. Rachel Maddow has had the most informative programs thus far; no hyperventilating, seemingly knowledgeable guests representing different points of view as analysts. I know that many feel she has a severe tip to the liberal but she does seem to stick to facts when dealing with this issue. http://maddowblog.msnbc.msn.com/_new...-fuel#comments

PBS had a segment about the results from a study of wildlife around Chernobyl, they seem to be doing fine. The study scientist commented that the Chernobyl disaster created a wonderful wildlife park. Because radiation primarily impacts the young in species with long lifespans the relatively low rate of cancer deaths is not surprising.
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Old 03-16-2011, 11:56 AM   #130
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Bottom line: Nuclear accidents are news porn.
Even nuclear non-accidents are news porn now. There has been a television news crew outside the nuke plant where DW works for the past few days. They will be ecstatic in a few weeks when a unit at her plant goes down - until they find out it's for scheduled maintenance
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Old 03-16-2011, 12:35 PM   #131
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The CNN nuclear expert seems quite concerned about this.

Can't they perform operations like pumping seawater, closing and open valves, monitoring radiation remotely. Do they need to be on site?
I doubt that they have any remote operational capability that is external from the site, I have never seen that here in the states. They may have a facility that is somewhat removed from the site that is capable of monitoring plant parameters but who knows what capability it has left at this time.

Given the amount of damage to the facility I would guess that most of the activities that they are doing involve a combination of intact plant systems where they exist and external equipment which is being brought in from outside and connected up manually.

The first hand accounts from those involved in this will be extremely interesting.
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Old 03-16-2011, 12:37 PM   #132
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WHO figures for Chernobyl put the immediate death toll at 56 (fifty-six people) and the 50-year likely total of deaths from cancer at 4,000 (that's 80 per year). To put that in perspective, 9,000 people died on the roads in Ukraine last year.
I don't know where the WHO got its numbers, but if it's from the Ukrainian government I wouldn't trust them too much.

We'll never know how many victims Chernobyl really caused. All Europe got showered with radioactive fallout. Here in Belgium the cloud passed on 3 May 1986 and our government knew but, to avoid any panic, didn't inform the population.



Do you think we're getting all the information this time? Tepco has had many scandals because they were hiding information in the past, and the Japanese government can't afford to cause a panic and is composed of politicans, a profession that has the reputation of being about as truthful as lawyers.
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Old 03-16-2011, 12:43 PM   #133
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Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn't have hung up my spurs when DD graduated HS...I try not to dwell on that too long...
Man, that one's eligible for the "Just One More Year Hall of Fame"...
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Old 03-16-2011, 06:09 PM   #134
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Additional stuff I have learned today:

TEPCO (the plant owner) announced that the two fires in the Unit 4 spent fuel pool area were actually caused by a lube oil leak from a pump. I am somewhat relieved to hear that it was an oil fire and not a fire in the spent fuel. On the other hand, the chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission told Congress this afternoon that there is no water in the Unit 4 fuel pool.* In addition to providing continued cooling for the spent fuel, the 30 feet of water above the rods provides radiation shielding so that people can work around and above the pool (as they must during refueling operations). If there is no water in the pool, you would be unable to safely approach the pool close enough to run a hose to it to fill it. That may be why we heard that they were going to try using a water cannon, or perhaps dropping water from a helicopter. Whatever the case, they need to get water back in the pool ASAP, before the fuel starts burning.

News accounts reported white "smoke" rising from Unit 3. It could be vapor from the water in the spent fuel pool steaming off (it is cold weather there right now), but the possibility of a leak from the containment cannot be entirely eliminated at this point. The NRC chairman also said they were having issues with the water in that pool, which could become a bigger problem.

TEPCO apparently also announced that 70% of the fuel in Unit 1 and 33% of the fuel in Unit 2 was damaged. They may mean just cladding damage or it may mean that some has melted. But recall that the fuel in Three Mile Island also partially melted, but remained within the reactor pressure vessel, and ultimately no one was harmed. Some people use the word meltdown and mean only that the fuel has melted. Others, "educated" by the China Syndrome movie, instantly assume that the core has melted through the RPV and is headed for the opposite side of the Earth. In this context, note that the design basis of the containment building assumes a meltdown (i.e. even if the core melts and breaches the RPV, the containment is designed to keep it away from the environment.

One ray of hope today is that it appears they have run a new power line to reconnect the AC power to the electric grid. Then they can use the normal plant pumps, cooling and makeup water systems to fill and cool both the reactors and the spent fuel pools (assuming the equipment was not disabled by the hydrogen explosions.) To this point, they have apparently been relying on a jerry-rigged system of portable generators and fire pumps drawing seawater.

Finally, in connection with yesterday's discussion of the potential release of radioactive materials, I thought I would give some numbers to provide some context. In the TMI accident, it is estimated that approximately 13-17 curies of Iodine-131 was released. In the Chernobyl accident, it was about 40 million curies of I-131.


* TEPCO denies this
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Old 03-16-2011, 06:12 PM   #135
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Gumby, just a quick word of thanks for your careful and informed comments. Such a contrast with some of the hysterical media coverage.

Peter
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Old 03-16-2011, 06:27 PM   #136
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Thanks Gumby, great post.
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Old 03-16-2011, 07:05 PM   #137
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Yes Gumby, I very much appreciate your knowledge on this matter. A frustrating thing about the information flow here is that so much is contradictory, even self contra-dictory. For example, a Reuters news report mentions that levels (microsieverts) outside the Fukushima Daiichi plant, taken at the gate, have fallen steadily. Then then go on to say that the baseline reading at 5:00pm Japan time of 732 microsieverts/hr was taken at the main gate, then for unexplained reasons they switched to monitoring at the west gate. The only other reading reported was 338 microsieverts/hr at the west gate at 5:00am Japan time.

The account that you referenced by Mr. Jaczko, USNRC asserted that spent fuel pool at #4 had boiled dry; an unamed TEPCO spokesman and a Japanese NRC spokesman denied this account, -"saying the situation at reactor No. 4 had not changed and that water remained in the spent fuel storage pool. But both officials said the situation was changing and that the reactor had not been inspected in recent hours." (NYT)

Some helpful statement! Well you used to be wrong, but who knows, you could be right now. Great!

Meanwhile the homeless people up there must really be suffering. Local Japanese Market Uwajimaya is doing a drive, and has offered to match contributions up to $5000. I am not sure if that means $5000 individual contributions, or if it means they will match whatever they take in, up to $5000.

Uwajimaya

Anyway, I will be down there with my small check and a few I have collected from friends to get the match. I hope relief workers are not afraid to go into the area of devastation. One thing really cought my eye- TEPCO said that they had to bulldoze a path to the plant, in order to get pumper trucks close enough to provide water (I assume for the pools, and perhaps for the pumps to use.)

Since there is no electric power yet, and apparenty no piped water, this shares some problems with the typical rural firefighting operation with no mains for continuous water supply.

Ha
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Old 03-16-2011, 07:40 PM   #138
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Gumby,
Thanks again. Observations:
- In the popular press and in public discussions on the issue (for decades) the talk always centered on the safety of the reactor, cooling system redundancy, integrity of the containment, etc. We heard very little discussion about the issue of the spent fuel in the ponds. They were characterized as a waste problem, or even a proliferation issue, but I don't recall any discussion about safety. I guess it seemed such a simple problem ("just keep 'em covered with water --no issues") that even the "no nukes" folks didn't bring it up much. But, keeping them covered with water is a non-trivial event in this circumstance.
- That "upper pool" of water above the RPV in the diagrams--I'll bet that causes stresses aplenty in the significant lateral shaking of an earthquake.

- Some ideas and unwarranted speculation that occur to a know-nothing engineer wannabe (all of which have certainly been incorporated or deemed impractical):
-- Nords pointed out the problems with getting reliable readings when the sensors start to go screwy. It would seem useful to have sets of sensors (temp, pressure, various radiation measures, H2 level meters, etc) sealed inside the RPV in their own independent protective vessels, safe from blast overpressure, irradiation, etc. When needed, blow the explosive bolts on the hatch and and expose a fresh set of sensors to the environment.
-- Hydrogen has proven to be a problem. It would seem preferable, in situations such as we have now, to vent RPV overpressures directly to the environment outside rather than keep them in the building. Yes, during normal operations it's good to keep the more highly radioactive (but short-lived) contaminants away from the public, but the cost/benefit calculation is different if a hydrogen explosion might cause enough damage to pumps/sensors/even the containment structures so as to make it difficult to control the fuel temperatures (in the reactor or the cooling ponds).
-- Dry standpipes and nozzles: It would be really nice right now to be able to hook a standard firehouse up to a fitting a few hundred meters from the site and pump water into the cooling ponds. No helicopters, no water cannon, etc. Doubly nice if a reliable gauge tells us when it is full. Something similar for the reactor? (note: More penetrations of the RPV = more potential weak spots. A tradeoff)
-- Salt water compatible pumps and gauges: The only convenient water available in this case was seawater, and I'd imagine the situation would be similar in many shoreline sites. Obviously, this is going to cause huge damage to the facility, but it beats the alternative. I wonder if it makes sense to make the recirculation pumps/jet pumps and sensors compatible with salt water in some select cases.
-- Catching molten fuel: Every diagram I've seen (and they are all simplified, non-engineering diagrams) show that molten fuel would be caught in a hemispherical "sump". It would seem better to spread it out, maybe over a boron or graphite "egg-crate," to allow more surface area per volume and to reduce the reaction rate of the fuel. Obviously, the pressure vessel itself needs to have hemispherical ends to best cope with the anticipated pressures.
-- Zirconium casing for fuel rods--is there a better material? Something that won't melt before the fuel does? Kryptonite? Unobtainium?

There. As you can tell, I know nothing about this, and we're looking at a once-in-a-lifetime event affecting 40 year-old reactors (newer designs are improved). I know a little about airplanes, so next I hope some nuclear-smart folks will spout off on ways to improve air safety.
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Old 03-16-2011, 08:06 PM   #139
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Gumby,

There. As you can tell, I know nothing about this, and we're looking at a once-in-a-lifetime event afflicting 40 year-old reactors. I know a little about airplanes, so next I hope some nuclear-smart folks will spout off on ways to improve air safety.

Lets put nuclear reactors in airplanes, arm them with nuclear warheads and have them fly holding patterns above the central US to avoid a surprise first strikes by the Russians. Nothing could go wrong with the plan.

I know little about either subject, but I sure can Google.
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Old 03-16-2011, 08:17 PM   #140
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Lets put nuclear reactors in airplanes, arm them with nuclear warheads and have them fly holding patterns above the central US to avoid a surprise first strikes by the Russians. Nothing could go wrong with the plan.

I know little about either subject, but I sure can Google.
Yep! And read the sub-entry about Project Pluto. It was to be a low-altitude nuclear-powered ramjet cruise missile. Air comes in the front past a shock-cone (compressor), through the very hot reactor core (taking the place of conventional fuel combustion) and out the back. The beasty would have been very fast and able to fly for months before unloading its (several) nuclear weapons. And, you don't even need the weapons, you can just fly racetracks over the enemy, irradiating his population centers with the effluent from the engine.
Accurate ICBMs were developed, which crushed the whole secret PLUTO program. The engine was briefly tested (the spot in the Nevada desert is still "hot"), but no missile was built.
We used to know how to dream up, design, and build some amazing machines--in a hurry. Fear is a powerful motivator.
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