Monday, March 14, 2011

disaster in Japan...


“The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants.”

- Omar Bradley

(children in a village hospital not far Chernobyl, four years after that nuclear power disaster, image © AP/Wide World Photos)

Nuclear power in Japan is a major reality. The island nation is reliant on their nuclear plants for supplying about 30% of their energy needs.

Reports have been stating that at minimum, a partial meltdown in some reactors has occurred. The debate currently is whether we have an accident of 3 Mile Island severity, or a Chernobyl scale disaster.

There is a scale for nuclear power accidents that goes from 1 - 7, with 7 the worst (the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale). The 3 Mile Island event was a 5. The Chernobyl disaster was a 7 (really? like the perpetual optimists energy promoters are, I just have to believe there is an 8, and we don't want to see that). Currently Japanese officials are calling the Fukushima facility's problems a 4. Ok...

If anybody was paying attention when the Deepwater Horizon oil spill occurred in the Gulf of Mexico, government officials here in the US were saying there were only 1,000 - 5,000 barrels of oil and gas leaking. But even I, a blue-collar guy scratching by in rural Oregon found after a day's reading that the far-smarter-than-I folks were estimating up to 100,000 barrels a day were flowing into the Gulf from the broken Deepwater Horizon Rig. (an excellent summation of the Deepwater Horizon disaster)

I just can't help but be pessimistic that Japan is suffering from a similar case of understatement.

And I won't bog you down here, there is plenty of reporting going on, but will pass this last little bit along (from the Christian Science Monitor):

Another little-reported concern is a small but potentially dangerous amount of plutonium-based "MOX" – mixed-oxide fuel – inside the No. 3 reactor, says Dr. Lyman, who notes that plutonium particles are more dangerous to the human body than other particles that might be emitted.

Tokyo Electric said some three yards of a MOX fuel rod was above the water line, suggesting that plutonium and other elements could be in the gases vented to the atmosphere, reported the Kyodo News Agency.

"If the core of that No. 3 reactor melts and venting occurs, some of that plutonium and other nasty elements present in that fuel could end up on the winds," Lyman says.

We really aren't all that, even tho' some of us sure think we are... when our technology has surpassed our ability to clean up the mess that same technology makes... I dunno folks, I think we've got ourselves in a bind. I mean this is double deep sheep dip we're in...

updated news (9pm PDT):

3rd blast shakes Fukushima reactors; fuel rods exposed

The reactor at the plant, about 150 miles north of Tokyo, "is not necessarily in a stable condition," Japan's chief Cabinet secretary, Yukio Edano, said at a news conference Tuesday. Prime Minister Naoto Kan called the situation "worrisome."

What was I saying about understating? Anyway, back to the story:

Another serious risk involves the more than 200 tons of spent nuclear fuel that is stored in pools adjacent to the reactors, Alvarez said. Those cooling pools depend on continually circulating water to keep the fuel rods from catching on fire. Without power to circulate the water, it heats up and potentially boils away, leaving the fuel rods exposed to air.

An aerial image of the Fukushima No. 1 plant shows the loss of high-capacity cranes needed to move equipment to service the reactor. The photo also appears to show that the spent fuel pool is steaming hot, that may indicate the water is boiling off, Alvarez said.

U.S. nuclear experts said they were particularly concerned about Unit 3 reactor because it is fueled in part with plutonium, an element used in hydrogen bombs that can be more difficult to control than the enriched uranium normally used in nuclear power plants.

In an earlier story an official stating the amount of spent fuel in the storage pools was not (to quote Prime Minister Naoto Kan) "worrisome."


“The man who is a pessimist before forty-eight knows too much; if he is an optimist after it he knows too little”

- Mark Twain

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