Nuclear experts are increasingly nervous about the escalating crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, particularly its No. 3 reactor that uses mixed uranium-plutonium fuel and another reactor where, according to several reports, operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. acknowledged a nuclear reaction has begun in a spent fuel rod pond where water was boiling.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials are painting a much bleaker picture of what is happening at the six-reactor complex in northern Japan near the epicenter of the 9.0 earth quake and a 30-foot-high tsunami that struck on March 11, effectively knocking out cooling systems at the complex. Energy Secretary Steven Chu told Congress on Wednesday (March 16) that “we think there is a partial meltdown” at Fukushima.
Also on Wednesday, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission recommended that U.S. residents in Japan within 50 miles of the Fukushima reactors should evacuate. Japan is recommending a 12.4-mile evacuation zone.
“None of this has happened before," said Damon Moglen, director of the climate and energy project at Friends of the Earth. "The stricken reactor No. 3 has experienced at least a partial fuel meltdown, and it contains nearly a quarter of a metric ton of plutonium. They are venting that reactor into the air, to reduce the pressure inside, but that allows particulate matter from the melting rods--including plutonium--to be released into the environment as radioactive gas."
For now, the biggest concern at the No. 3 reactor is the uranium-plutonium fuel, called MOX (for mixed oxides of uranium and plutonium), that was loaded into the reactor last year, Moglen said. Hence, it is likely that spent fuel rods stored outside the reactor’s containment vessel are uranium-only.
"So far, the world has had no major accidents involving release of the plutonium fuel called MOX," said Ira Helfand, a member of the board of Physicians for Social Responsibility. "However, with plutonium inside reactor No. 3, if it melts down or explodes, then even microscopic quantities of particulate will cause lung cancer in anyone who inhales it. The whole area will have to be cordoned off."
Helfand noted that plutonium has a half-life of 24,000 years, warning that if it burns through a containment vessel, it could release vast amounts of radioactive steam wherever the molten material encounters ground water.
"The use of plutonium in MOX fuel generated a lot of Japanese resistance, especially locally, including the mayor, who expressed worry about safety at the reactor. But it was loaded into reactor No. 3 last year anyway," Moglen said. "Now, what the Japanese authorities need to report on [are] the constituents of the radioactive materials being released."
Plutonium is weak emitter that registers low on radiation detectors, but it is an intensely radio-toxic material. If inhaled by humans even in microscopic quantities, it would likely cause fatal lung cancer within 18 to 20 years, Moglen estimated. Authorities have confirmed that radioactive iodine, which causes thyroid cancer, and cesium, which causes leukemia, have been detected in the air around Tokyo, according to Moglen. However, if the No. 3 reactor's core melts down, plutonium will likely be one of the constituents discharged directly into the air.
Oh if the tragedy extends to nuclear reactors, it would be beyond controllable. Why all this happened in Japan? I really feel sad for people of Japan. hope the world bank and united nations are supporting with open arms.
The U.S. media has recently discovered and reported that we have over 65,000 tons of spent fuel rods here in the U.S., and the vast majority of it is stored in on-site pools -- exactly as in Fukushima.
Even if the Yucca Mountain Nevada storage facility idea had not been abandoned, we already have more nuclear waste than that facility was intended to store, and we generate another 2,200 tons every year.
Unlike some countries, we don't reprocess our spent fuel, which could dramatically reduce the quantity -- from what I have read, by as much as 75%.
So why don't we reprocess it? Because reprocessing costs money, electricity rates are regulated, and electric utilities aren't in business to lose money.
It was my understanding (read about - not seen with my own eyes) that the generators were in the basement and got overwhelmed by the Tsunami. I also read that there were many (read here years worth) of spent fuel rods stored "on-site". I can appreciate the issues of disposal, transportation, and costs associated with spent rods as very significant, clearly we should develop safe and effective methods of recycling, disposing of the spent rods in order to avoid further safety/radiation issues in future events.
I am not sure what to say about the emotions displayed in this thread. I understand that the inciddent is such that it incites emotions but at the same time we should all look at the facts and facts provoking questions. What caused the Diesels to not operate when they were suppose to? Were the DC batteries sized adequately to cope with such events? What lessons can be taken from these events to prevent such a catastrophe from happenning again? Nonetheless the above questions do not undermine the events that have ensued. In no way in my opinion should the release of any radioactive particles/gases should be taken lightly. The appropriate actions shall be taken to ensure the safety of the people in the vicinity of th reactors and elsewhere. Unfortunately now a days journalists have become Nuclear experts, which is a dangerous prospect. Journalists are reacting to this incident as they were when the health care bill was being drafted. A highly reliable source for up to date facts/information on the Japan's incident, please visit http://www.nei.org/.
Just adding to your last point about coal fired power plants:
A recent study estimated that "...fine particle pollution from existing coal plants is expected to cause nearly 13,200 deaths [in the U.S. alone] in 2010. Additional impacts include an estimated 9,700 hospitalizations and more than 20,000 heart attacks per year."
We must put into perspective the most likely facts surrounding this nuclear power incident:
1. The plant was probably built and maintained to the highest possible and REASONABLE standards. (I don't have to mention on an engineering forum the concepts of trade-offs even when one parameter is cost.)
2. Without continuing to introduce vast amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere (and its attendant problems, whatever you perceive them to be) the ONLY timely and cost efficient source of the quantities of electricity needed in the world is nuclear energy.
3. Accidents (many fatal) are associated with any human activity in which uncontrollable variables are involved. EVERY year in the US some 20 to 60 coal miners die and in China that number rises to over 2k. Yet, we have no outrage over coal fired power plants as we might nuclear even if one soul perished. We must begin building nuclear plants as safely as possible, inland (with unsightly cooling towers) if necessary, in order to avoid a serious economic crisis.
Thanks for the info. As you may have gathered, some of the comments were directed at a poster UBM-something, whose religious comments (mostly quoting a few verses of Revelation) seem to have been removed...
As I write Japan seems finally to be bringing the reactors under control, so lets hope futher disaster has been averted.
If reactor design and safety procedures improve as a result of this, some good will have come out of it.
Why are you all wasting your time with theoretical religion? Isn't physics hard enough?
" a nuclear reaction has begun in a spent fuel rod pond"
This is clearly not true. The nuclear reactions that have been decaying all along are not being cooled sufficiently now.
And no - radioactive iodine is not the nastiest substance known. Used in liew of surgery for removal of a hyperactive thyroid.
Plutonium, the longest lived of these, is an alpha emitter. Very very short range. Just don't inhale the dust.
Radioactive cesium, soluble in water as I recall. Rain? Also a short half life, couple months isn't it?
Sr 90. Very nasty. Also not likely to go far from the site unless the smoke plume gets really high. Worry about what is, not what can be wildly imagined.
The comment above was correct:
"It's not possible to have a rational argument with an irrational person"
Until you can answer the questions I posed above, I will take it that you cannot do so. Calling my questions stupid does not help. The only stupid question is one that is not asked, and clearly you are not interested in enlightening an ingnoramus like myself.
I do believe in a higher being, and will entertain the possibility that said higher being has some responsibility for the natural disasters recently, so I had some sympathy for your points at first. But your refusal to have a rational discussion does your position no good at all.