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Fukushima Actually "Much Worse" Than So Far Disclosed, Say Experts 274

Posted by timothy
from the don't-drink-the-water-and-don't-breathe-the-air dept.
PuceBaboon writes "The BBC is reporting that experts are casting doubt on the veracity of statements from both the Tokyo Electric Power Company and the Japanese government regarding the seriousness of the problems at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Not only are the constant leaks releasing radioactivity into the ocean (and thus into the food chain), but now there are also worries that the spent fuel rod storage pools may be even more unstable than first thought. An external consultant warns, 'The Japanese have a problem asking for help. It is a big mistake; they badly need it.'"
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Fukushima Actually "Much Worse" Than So Far Disclosed, Say Experts

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  • It's like this (Score:5, Informative)

    by djupedal (584558) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @12:30PM (#44644127)
    Anyone that has lived and worked in Japan with the local engineers and agencies knows it's not a good idea to take safety statements and claims at face value. Trusting the boys with nuclear reactors is asking for incidents like Fukushima to be downplayed.

    Example - the locals in our apartment building told us if there was a fire to order a pizza before calling the fire dept. and tell the fd to follow the pizza delivery guy - they now the neighborhoods much better than the authorities.

    Other example - our R & D center had a super-efficient furnace that was supposed to burn trash at 900. The furnace operators decided on their own to run at lower temps so the equipment would 'last longer'...that coked up the 2nd combustion chamber. One day someone tossed a 5 gal. container of cutting oil into the trash, and when they tried to burn it, the whole thing exploded, sending thousands of confidential documents out across the neighborhood. Everyone had to run out and pick them up. The community gave our company an award for being so good at the cleanup. No mention of the explosion.

    Yet another example - to be counted as a highway fatality in Japan, you have to die in the first 12 hours. This isn't how other countries tally such stats, leaving Japan to appear to be much safer.

    Final example - fire drills in the company were typically over-organized. We were instructed to gather at a pre-detemined location with our assigned fire monitor, and then leave the building in order. We told them that in our country, we simply get the hell out...
  • Fear Mongering (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 22, 2013 @12:33PM (#44644179)

    See the articles (latest link included) by El Reg's Lewis Page :

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/08/21/omg_new_crisis_disaster_at_fukushima_oh_wait_its_nothing_again/

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 22, 2013 @12:36PM (#44644221)

    It means at least one of the 'level 3' conditions has been met. [wikipedia.org]

    Most likely:

    Severe contamination in an area not expected by design, with a low probability of significant public exposure.

  • Wat (Score:4, Informative)

    by Antipater (2053064) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @12:43PM (#44644327)

    I'm not disputing that the situation is serious, given that even TEPCO agreed to up the incident level.

    But this entire article reads like a piece of tabloid trash:

    "It's really bad!" says a famous anti-nuclear activist (aka an "independent consultant").
    "It's even worse!" says the same activist/consultant.
    "It could be bad; we don't know. We should be prepared, though," says a former regulatory official.
    "Holy crap, if that first guy's assumptions are right, then we're in deep shit!" says an oceanographer.
    "I didn't even tell you the worst part!" continues the first guy. "This completely unrelated thing might possibly be happening and then we're dooooooomed!!"

  • by AmiMoJo (196126) * <.ten.3dlrow. .ta. .ojom.> on Thursday August 22, 2013 @12:45PM (#44644343) Homepage

    18 children already have thyroid cancer, 25 more waiting to be confirmed. [nhk.or.jp] For reference the usual incidence rate is one is a few hundred thousand, and these children are from a group of about 300,000 being monitored so the normal rate would be about 2-3 a year.

    It's pretty bad.

  • by SrLnclt (870345) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @12:50PM (#44644419)
  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @01:07PM (#44644649) Homepage

    It's been years since the event, and Fukushima still doesn't have a radioactive water processing plant. [wmsym.org] The US has dealt with this problem before, both at 3 Mile Island and some Superfund sites. Water itself doesn't become radioactive (except for tritium, which has a 12 year half life); as with fallout, the radioactives are mostly solids in the water, and can be removed and converted to smaller amounts of solid waste.

    With a processing plant, they could reuse the cooling water, instead of building more and more storage tanks.

  • by Dins (2538550) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @01:12PM (#44644711)
    Actually, the Fukushima disaster has already released over 168 times [telegraph.co.uk] the amount of radiation as the Hiroshima atomic bomb.
  • Re:too bad actually (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 22, 2013 @01:14PM (#44644741)

    Strontium-90 is also notorious for behaving a lot like calcium in the human body and other biological systems. While a useful industrial material, because it is bioaccumulative [wikipedia.org] it is also more dangerous than its status as a mere beta emitter implies.

  • Re:Rule of thumb (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 22, 2013 @01:27PM (#44644893)

    You say on paper... But on which paper is the solution to the problem of nuclear waste material? Or the problem of finite raw materials? On paper, Sir, it's renewable energies.

  • Re:Rule of thumb (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 22, 2013 @01:37PM (#44644991)

    Basically, "on paper" means nothing. Oh, nuclear energy is great, except when we actually do it, there are always problems - the lil'' externalities, like mechanical limits, human error, the "free market", human failings, etc. etc. etc. Other stuff that is great "on paper" - hyperloop, libertariansim, religion, one device for everything...

  • by AmiMoJo (196126) * <.ten.3dlrow. .ta. .ojom.> on Thursday August 22, 2013 @01:45PM (#44645081) Homepage

    You would know if you had thyroid cancer. The symptoms are not something you can ignore, and eventually you would die. I think it's safe to say there are not many unexplained deaths due to undiagnosed thyroid cancer.

  • by AmiMoJo (196126) * <.ten.3dlrow. .ta. .ojom.> on Thursday August 22, 2013 @01:46PM (#44645109) Homepage

    The same. Thyroid cancer has some hard to ignore symptoms and eventually spreads and kills you if untreated. I suppose if there were zero more detections for the next couple of decades we could write it off to early detection, but somehow I doubt that is very likely.

  • by h4rr4r (612664) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @02:45PM (#44645909)

    Early stages are very easy to miss.
    I know, I am basically waiting for it due to other thyroid problems.

  • Re:Fear Mongering (Score:5, Informative)

    by Maow (620678) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @05:05PM (#44647517) Journal

    See the articles (latest link included) by El Reg's Lewis Page :

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/08/21/omg_new_crisis_disaster_at_fukushima_oh_wait_its_nothing_again/

    Great - he's the same twunt that claimed that no radiation could possibly survive past the fence enclosing Fukushima - at about the same time the first explosion happened.

    His reaction was to say, "Oops, seems a bit worse than I thought", right? No, of course not. Even though there's corium blown a mile and a half from the reactors. Even though there were multiple melt-downs. Even though on-site experts with experience in nuke plants claim they don't know exactly what's going on (unlike omniscient Lewis fucking Page). Even though arguably the most dangerous steps still lie ahead - removal of spent fuel from its pool in the now-reinforced reactor 4 building.

    So no, he's a blight on El Reg and I, for one, shall not be reading what his bullshit apologist rantings have to say; I'll remain here in reality and hope for the best with the spent fuel and radioactive water storage.

    And let's not forget that reactor 4, where the spent fuel pool boiled / leaked dry, was not in operation at the time of the 'quake / tsunami.

    News from reality [reuters.com], instead of from Page's ridiculous pro-nuclear, nothing-can-possibly-go-wrong, ignore-those-explosions ranting:

    INADVERTENT CRITICALITY

    "There is a risk of an inadvertent criticality if the bundles are distorted and get too close to each other," Gundersen said.

    He was referring to an atomic chain reaction that left unchecked could result in a large release of radiation and heat that the fuel pool cooling system isn't designed to absorb.

    "The problem with a fuel pool criticality is that you can't stop it. There are no control rods to control it," Gundersen said. "The spent fuel pool cooling system is designed only to remove decay heat, not heat from an ongoing nuclear reaction."

    ...

    Removing the rods from the pool is a delicate task normally assisted by computers, according to Toshio Kimura, a former Tepco technician, who worked at Fukushima Daiichi for 11 years.

    "Previously it was a computer-controlled process that memorized the exact locations of the rods down to the millimeter and now they don't have that. It has to be done manually so there is a high risk that they will drop and break one of the fuel rods," Kimura said.

  • by lennier (44736) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @07:06PM (#44648987) Homepage

    Can someone give an estimate of how much more or less radiation is being introduced by the Fukushima plant than say... the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs?

    This is a very good question and as a nuclear layman, it's difficult for me to get a handle on an exact answer. IANA health physicist, just a guy with Wikipedia and Google. But given that, I'll try to give some baselines from what I can see on the net.

    First, in terms of "radiation", it seems like we're mostly talking about release of radioactive isotopes, rather than the initial prompt radiation of a nuclear explosion itself. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs ( as, eg, this blog describes [nuclearsecrecy.com]) were airbursts, so relatively radiologically "clean" - they did a lot of initial damage from blast, heat and gamma radiation, but didn't leave nearly as many "dirty" isotopes in the way of fallout. This is compared with, eg, a surface shot like Castle Bravo [nuclearsecrecy.com] which was a huge dirty contamination event.

    So when we're talking about "comparing" Fukushima with Hiroshima, we're talking purely about the isotopes, not the explosive power. Which is not really a straight comparison. But given that, Fukushima (or any other nuclear power station) is and/or has the potential to be much dirtier than a bomb (at least an airburst), because there's more nuclear material stored onsite. You'd want a nuclear engineer to give the precise bequerel ratings of all the isotope mixes in the fuel composition, but for a back-of-the-envelope estimate: Little Boy had 64kg of uranium fuel [wikipedia.org] - Fukushima had 1,760,000 kg of fuel [slashdot.org] on the entire site.

    So all else being equal, which of course it's not because we're not talking weapons-grade uranium and I'm sure power rods have lots of other alloys in them, Daichi has 27,500 times as much raw radioactive fuel as the Hiroshima bomb. Impressive, no?

    Now most of that fuel probably won't be released, as not all the reactors were damaged, and the health impact of the various isotopes varies wildly based on the half-life of the isotope, its heaviness (ability to be transported far from the site), whether it can be ingested in air or water, how long it stays in the body, what the affinity is for various body parts, and what kind of radiation it releases - alpha, beta or gamma. Alpha particles are the biggest, so do the most damage, but also the easiest to block - I believe outside the body they're fairly harmless, blocked by cloth or skin. But inside the body, they can do more harm. So you really do need a health physicist to work out all the equations here.

    However, the buzz on the net has always centered around three main radioactive isotope families: iodine-131, caesium-134 and -137, and strontium-90.

    Iodine has a half-life measured in days to weeks so it was always going to be the initial problem. Theoretically, if all the fission occurred at the first meltdown, there shouldn't be any left. In practice it seems like some short-halflife isotopes are still being detected, which suggests spontaneous fission may still be occurring in the melted cores. Iodine goes for the thyroid and its effect is thyroid cancers, particularly in children. This is starting to show up [rt.com] but there's arguments over what the baseline rate is and how much is due to testing rather than fallout.

    In terms of initial (not ongoing) iodine release, Fukushima was 2.5 times bigger than Hiroshima [asahi.com].

    Most of the Fukushima-Hiroshima comparisions focus around the caesium isotopes, as these are long-lived (several years) and the body trea

  • by lennier (44736) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @11:15PM (#44650813) Homepage

    dumb question..... but why aren't they removing the radioactive rods or whatever from that particular site and storing them else where? or is it a giant melted mess?

    Actually a very good question. And the answer is: yes, removing the fuel rods and making them safe in permanent storage is a very sensible thing to want, and TEPCO is planning to start doing this this November [reuters.com].

    The bad news, as I understand it, and the reason why they haven't done this obvious thing until now, is that moving fuel rods is very dangerous since you don't want to get two rods too close to each other otherwise you get a criticality event (a small fission reaction). While radioisotopes can give you cancer or make you very sick, a criticality could kill you in days. And while the rods in the fuel pools aren't melted like the cores are, they have been badly shaken by the earthquake, tsunami and explosions, and they've been drenched in corrosive seawater for two years. I'm guessing that could mean that they're likely to be jammed in their framework, maybe shaken loose, possibly with their cladding decayed, some of them in pool 4 may already have burned, and all this will make handling them a very difficult and dangerous manual process.

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