Nuclear Safety at Fukushima

Update 17th March 07:41 Tokyo
So we have potentially damaged containment vessels and significant fuel melt that will lead to radiological discharges are likely.
In Tokyo, the risk from radiation remains low. Beyond Japan, it remains unbelievably low!
If you are not near the plant, you are still OK.

Update 15th March 18:14 Tokyo

All the info below remains correct according to the available data. The lack of hard data is what is now making even me a little nervous: My current feelings on the situation.

The best info summary currently available is here on AltJapan and I agree with every word.


Older Updates

The situation is changing and many more sources with reasoned information have become available. I have added these at appropriate places or linked to them in the updates section at the bottom of the post. If you have not alreadf read Dr Josef Oehmen’s Why I am not worried about Japan’s nuclear reactors, please do.

I have also posted a separate note about Radiation Doses you may find interesting.

The new situation at Unit 2 merits its own separate wee update which is immediately below… separate wee post.


Original Post

Every foreign media outlet, and at least one in Japan that should know better, are engaging in rumour mongering and mis-information. This is making me angry because, while there is certainly cause to be concerned with the Fukushima plant, there is no need for the level of alarm and fear being created.

I therefore highly recommend that you change your sources of information to the following…

World Nuclear News’s “Battle to stabilise earthquake reactors” story is regularly updated and contains only facts. This is the single most comprehensive thing you can read.

The commentary and the Q&As from Twitter user @arclight are extremely illuminating, this post owes him a huge hat tip.

Update (5) Just found another excellent step-by-step of what actually happened (including diagrams and explanation of how the plant operates): Fukushima Nuclear Accident – a simple and accurate explanation. Highly recommended.

This Reddit comment attached to a Reuters story gives a short and concise overview of why we are almost certainly not going to see any containment failure is excellent.

Here are some comments from various nuclear scientists posted by Reuters around the particulars of the explosion. At the time of that posting, the source of the explosion was not known for certain – you will note that the speculate (and clearly note that it is speculation) that steam or hydrogen/oxygen burn were likely causes. While an explosion at a nuclear plant is never good, today’s headlines seem skewed to give the impression that a nuclear explosion occurred, such an impression could not be more wrong.

If those are all TL;DR for you, here are the key facts:

  • This is not Chernobyl and this reactor is a different design. The same accident has not happened and can not happen here. Any pundit you hear saying otherwise is a moron you should ignore.
  • The accident that this is most like, for comparison, is Three Mile Island in that the main problem has been keeping the core cool. TMI caused no measurable long term health effects in America . TMI was not as serious as your perception of it. Any pundit saying that TMI was a horrendous disaster and millions of people got cancer is a moron you should ignore.
  • Update (7): Excellent piece on What the Media Doesn’t Get About Meltdowns
  • A melt down is not a nuclear explosion.
  • A melt down is not a nuclear bomb.
  • A melt down means that the fuel in the core has become too hot and has melted.
  • The current situation here is that some fuel (not all) may have melted.
  • Any further melt down is what we are currently succeeding in preventing and latest reports are that the cores are now cool enough that no more will occur.
  • Even if a melt down has occurred that does not mean that the world will end.
  • Any pundit shouting MELT DOWN in the same way as they would shout NUCLEAR WAR ARMAGEDDON is a moron you should ignore.
  • Any news channel broadcasting “MELTDOWN MAY HAVE ALREADY OCCURRED” along their scrolly text are morons you should stop watching and tell all your friends to ignore. They have willfully mis-interpretted “some fuel may have melted” as “O YE GODS! EVERYONE WILL IMMEDIATELY DIE!”. This is not true.
  • Any news channel saying that other plants or any of the other four units at Fukushima also have problems that could lead to a melt down are liars as well as morons. You were probably already ignoring these channels, but if you weren’t please waste no time and start ignoring them now.
    • Update: This may have been over-hyped reporting of this item: World Nuclear News: Venting at Fukushima Daiichi 3
    • Update: As was expected, another hydrogen explosion appears to have occurred. Again only the outer wall is down and the containment vessel is not damaged and water injection is continuing. (WNN Update).
    • The basic problem here is same – damaged diesel generators cant drive the pumps to keep it cool – but this one has been being water cooled for two days since the shutdown, potential for melting down: zero.
  • A melt down (or partial melt down) is a serious situation. But imagining a glowing radiactive slag heap where Japan used to be is not what a melt down looks like. Melted fuel is contained
  • Containment is the key in a melt down. The containment vessel ( and ultimately the core catcher) are there to keep the radioactive stuff safely wrapped up and away from the public. If the fuel melts, or partially melts, it ends up in the containment vessel.
  • The earlier explosion did not damage the containment vessel.
  • There are elevated radiation levels at and around the plant. If you are more than 3km away you are not at risk from this.
  • For YOU to be at risk the following would ALL have to happen. None of them have. A partial melt might have occurred only, you are still not at risk – containment is good.
    1. Melt down.
    2. Containment failure.
    3. Strong wind between here and you.
  • Reports of elevated levels of radiation in Tokyo are nonsense.
    1. Tokyo live meter. Around 12 is normal. Currently: Normal
    2. Hino City Geiger results: Normal
    3. Yokohama: Normal

I am unashamedly pro-nuclear power, I believe we should be using it extensively and in conjunction with renewables and research into other power sources so we can reduce carbon emission from power generation.

It is my opinion that this accident, caused by one of the largest earthquakes the world has ever seen, is a testament to the safety of nuclear power. There are 52 plants in Japan, one of them has problems. The problems are under control.

Nuclear power plants are built with deepening lines of defence, all of which are designed to keep radioactive material away from the public. The suggestion that their very existance is reckless endangerment is slander against the professionalism of nuclear engineers: the very guys who are right now genuinely in some danger from elevated radiation exposure (1204μSv/h while venting the Fukushima reactor according to NHK – compare flight attendant ~6000μSv/y) and whose families are in the (admittedly overly keen) exclusion zone.

This is a serious situation, but there is no need for the level of alarm nor half baked speculation and fear mongering that is going on.

The final reason why the reporting of the situation in Fukushima is making me angry is that there is a genuine disaster going on further north which is in second place at best on the news agenda.


Update 1
Just found Noriyuki Shikata-san (Deputy Cabinet Secretary for Public Relations, Director of Global Communications at Prime Minister’s Office of Japan) is tweeting updates in English: @norishikata
Update 2
Unit 3 now also has a cooling problem, again being managed by pumping seawater into it. World Nuclear News: Venting at Fukushima Daiichi 3
Update 3
Boing Boing have just posted an excellent explanation of the power plant and what’s going on: Nuclear energy 101: Inside the “black box” of power plants. Very good stuff.
Update 4
Dr Josef Oehmen, a research scientist at MIT, tells us Why I am not worried about Japan’s nuclear reactors.
Update 5
Just found another excellent step-by-step of what actually happened (including diagrams and explanation of how the plant operates): Fukushima Nuclear Accident – a simple and accurate explanation. Opens with “there is an incredible amount of misinformation and hyperbole flying around the internet and media right now about the Fukushima nuclear reactor situation” excellent summary.
Update 6
Added the Tokyo live count stream. Updated info on Unit 3: Again this is a hydrogen explosion damaging the outer wall only and containment is intact. The situation, as ever, remains serious but not worthy of panic or sensationalism. WNN Update
Update 7
Added link to What the Media Doesn’t Get About Meltdowns in the meltdown facts. Required reading for anyone using the term “meltdown”.
Update 8
Added separate top section on Unit 2.

8 Comments to Nuclear Safety at Fukushima

  1. Claire Porter says:

    We done and well said Jamie!

  2. CoCreatr says:

    Update: According to NHK mobile site (in English) and TEPCO press release, Fukushima reactor No. 3 has cooling issues similar to No.1.
    http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/11031307-e.html

    To go sustainable, Negawatts, geothermal and tidal power can be scaled up to the gigawatts needed more easily than wind and solar. Overall cost and risk more reasonable than nuclear.

  3. Jamie Thom says:

    @CoCreatr
    I have updated to reflect that, I think you were reading / posting at the same time I was updating!

    I agree that geo and tidal are great developing options but in the medium term nuclear power is a necessity. I do not believe the risk from nuclear is anywhere near as high as the perception of the risk.

  4. Loco says:

    Wow, this kinda info was just what the psychiatrist ordered cuz i was really on the brink of living to my alias. thank you so much for posting this! I was just having a convo with my J-friend, and he was telling me how the J-media had been not telling the whole story he felt to avoid a panic. And I was telling him that the US media tended to sensationalize stories and feed it in a 24 hour loop with infrequent updates and lots of incorrect information spewed just to keep the viewers glued. I told him that the truth is probably somewhere between what the J-media is serving up and what the West is dishing out.

    However, I have a question about that Nuclear website. they aren’t lobbyist for the industry are they? I mean if they;re sponsored by the nuclear industry then wouldn’t that have an impact on the reliability of the news they release?

    the name and sponsors just struck me as suspicious…

    other resources are great!

    Loco

  5. Jamie Thom says:

    @Loco – Thanks for posting. Excellent points:

    All true nuclear experts are part of the industry, no getting away from that! WNN claims it is editorially independent both from it’s advertisers and the WNA which is indeed an industry body. That said, I detect no sign of spin in their reports and have not found any factual inaccuracies compared to the Tokyo Power Company or Japan regulator releases and stuff. By all means take a pinch of salt with what they say, but it still tastes closer to the truth than the BS being served elsewhere to me!

    You are correct to note that there is also under-reporting in Japan, which probably helps fuel the media frenzy abroad, we could really use some details like these being released by the NSC (http://www.nsc.go.jp/) or someone rather than one line updates about what meetings they attended.

    In some ways I’m not surprised at the under reporting; “Root Cause Reports” are the holy grail of business and bureaucracy here, the engineers at the plant are too busy doing important stuff (like fixing the thing) to write one and no one will give out an update without one.

  6. Martin Thorpe says:

    Hi Jamie

    When I saw the devastation on the news I thought I’d check by and see how you were doing!

    Regarding the above info, good post! the “bravenewclimate” link I read earlier today – much better angle on the nuclear issue than what the media is throwing us!

    Glad you are ok mate, others of course not so lucky.

    How are the aftershocks? some of them seem to be pretty big looking at USGS!

    I know not the greatest source of factual information, but I caught this on youtube earlier today and wow!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ZeQLO5zCSs

    Stay safe fella

  7. Jamie Thom says:

    Thanks Martin, we are safe and well, concerned but not panicked. Our hearts are aching for those further north.

  8. Martin Thorpe says:

    Glad to hear it Jamie and agreed, I cannot believe the pictures.

    How’s everyday life, are you still able to work ok?

    Its not even like you are getting a break from the aftershocks, are they still pretty strong where you are?

    I know I’m over here, but if you guys need anything that I can help with, just shout.