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.
I'd tend to agree. I don't condone Darren's use of language in this forum, but I do understand the reasons for his emotions, and he has apologised. Darren, I too wish you and yours well.
UBM on the other hand has consistently refused to give logical answers to questions of his theories (I use the word loosely here). In spite of specific requests he has not stated why god has punished Japan for whaling but also apparently punished NZ for it's anti-whaling stance. If I've got you wrong, UBM, please explain further, but please for heaven's sake try to do so logically.
UBM, if your god is responsible for all these natural disasters, he must be a pretty twisted, vengeful, spiteful and indiscriminate god. I believe pretty loosely in a higher power, but I don't see him as being like that.
Thank you and I really appreciate it.
My mother contacted me this morning and informed me that she is no longer within the radiation zone. And there was very minimal trace of radiation on her. Unfortunately she did lose her house in Chiba to the tsunami. But buildings can be replaced, I am just glad that she's safe.
Thank you again.
ok so there where explosions (oxidation events) in at least 2 of the reactors. the compromised reactors are venting to the sky a mixture of what must be the top 10 nastiest elements ever known to man. there is no known way to stop the reaction as of 3/19/2011. and lastly its getting worse by the day. did i forget to mention the reactor core is lined with zirconium? some one please help me confirm this, i have only one source and am not a physicist. i read (not positive) that the zirconium lining is somewhere around 10-20 tons and will combust at 2000 degrees F. further, the fuel storage tanks are also lined with zirconium and are weighting in at 100+ tons and are also avalanching. i think only of cheap fake diamonds when i think of zircons, and the press is lies on top of stupidity so i dont know what to believe anymore.
So Chipchap,... what exactly constitutes a "disaster" in your mind?
What part of 10,000 year half life makes this a "testament to the engineers"?
I agree with paboyle and I am appalled to see EETimes apparently helping the scaremongering that the less rational media has been flinging around this week. It appears that there is no basis whatsoever to the idea that a criticality has occurred. But ask ordinary people a week from now whether there was a nuclear "disaster" and I would put money on them saying yes. In fact it's nothing of the kind and if this is the worst it gets, it's a testament to the engineers that designed and built the place, as well as those who have worked to contain the issue that nothing has really happened. The US government and others have not helped by suggesting people leave.
Personally I think this whole episode is a ringing endoresement of nuclear power rather than an indictment of it.
Moglen asserts there has been a criticality
even at reactor 4, citing the BBC article.
This is NOT what the BBC article says.
Friends of the Earth should not, go around making up plausible lies sensationalising these terrible events.
The BBC article says TEPCO raised the possibility of a recriticality event in the future. It does not state that the fire at reactor 4 had anything to do with the pool having already gone critical.
Looks like our emotions have taken us back some thousand years back and we seem to have forgotten our objective approach to look at the disaster and its consequences. As recently has been discovered this world is so huge ( the recent discovery tells us that there are stars in this universe which are some billion light years away from us). In such cosmic scale the Japanese earthquake is something so minuscule in proportion that the GOD almighty of whatever religion it may be , may not have even noticed that such a thing has happened. Mankind's progress has happened by learning from such accidents, such natural disasters. While we rue the losses and worry about the consequences of such disasters we also make corrections in our future designs to avoid recurrences of such events. Because we are there to survive! We humans are there to survive! We engineers are there to make new inventions and new discoveries. Like a spider we are going to rebuild our nets every time it gets destroyed. With each disaster we are going to be wiser and smarter.
I personally do not condone the Japanese whaling activities. However, in saying that, nor I do believe an earthquake is of direct consequence of such.
Here in New Zealand, we're on the forefront of anti-whaling activities. Then explain it to me scientifically:
Why an anti-whaling country such as New Zealand had a 7.4 magnitude earthquake last September in the Canterbury region shortly after a public clash with Japanese whalers and a 6.4 aftershock 3 weeks ago in which lives were claimed?
Join our online Radio Show on Friday 11th July starting at 2:00pm Eastern, when EETimes editor of all things fun and interesting, Max Maxfield, and embedded systems expert, Jack Ganssle, will debate as to just what is, and is not, and embedded system.