Japan - Is there worse to come?

Discussion in 'Wall St. News' started by benwm, Mar 29, 2011.

  1. benwm


    Finding plutonium in soil brings Japan closer to a full scale meltdown. Plutonium has a half life of 24000 years and a boiling point of around 3,232 C. This could mean that the condition at the power plant has become even more serious because a mixture of damaged nuclear fuel and water might have found its way outside.


    Japan finds plutonium in soil at stricken nuclear plant

    Plutonium found in soil at the Fukushima nuclear complex heightened alarm on Tuesday over Japan's battle to contain the world's worst atomic crisis in 25 years, as pressure mounted on the prime minister to widen an evacuation zone around the plant.

    Some opposition lawmakers blasted Naoto Kan in parliament for his handling of the disaster and for not widening the exclusion zone. Kan said he was seeking advice on such a step, which would force 130,000 people to move in addition to 70,000 already displaced.

    Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co said plutonium was found at low-risk levels in five places at the facility, which was crippled by a massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11.

    A by-product of atomic reactions and also used in nuclear bombs, plutonium is highly carcinogenic and one of the most dangerous substances on the planet, experts say.

    They believe some of the plutonium may have come from spent fuel rods at Fukushima or damage to reactor No. 3, the only one to use plutonium in its fuel mix.

    Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said while the plutonium levels were not harmful to human health, the discovery could mean the reactor's containment mechanism had been breached.

    "Plutonium is a substance that's emitted when the temperature is high, and it's also heavy and so does not leak out easily," agency deputy director Hidehiko Nishiyama told a news conference.

    "So if plutonium has emerged from the reactor, that tells us something about the damage to the fuel. And if it has breached the original containment system, it underlines the gravity and seriousness of this accident."

    Sakae Muto, a Tokyo Electric vice-president, said the traces of plutonium-238, 239 and 240 were in keeping with levels found in Japan in the past due to particles in the atmosphere from nuclear testing abroad.

    "I apologize for making people worried," Muto said.


    Workers at Fukushima may have to struggle for weeks or months under extremely dangerous conditions to re-start cooling systems vital to control the reactors and avert total meltdown.

    On Monday, highly contaminated water was found in concrete tunnels extending beyond one reactor, while at the weekend radiation hit 100,000 times over normal in water inside another.

    That poses a major dilemma for Tokyo Electric, which wants to douse the reactors to cool them, but not worsen the radiation spread, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said on Tuesday.

    "On the issue of pumping in water, we must avoid a situation in which the temperature (of the fuel rods) rises and the water boils off. So this cooling is a priority. On the other hand, on the standing water, under the circumstances work must proceed to remove it as quickly as possible," he said.

    Japan says a partial meltdown of fuel rods inside reactor No. 2 has contributed to the radiation levels.

    The crisis, the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986, has contaminated vegetables and milk from the area, as well as the surrounding sea. U.S. experts said groundwater, reservoirs and the sea all faced "significant contamination".

    Facing a long and uncertain operation, Tokyo Electric has sought help from firms including Electricite de France SA and Areva SA, the French government said.

    Japan is also consulting Washington. The head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Gregory Jaczko, met Japanese officials in Tokyo on Monday.

    "The unprecedented challenge before us remains serious and our best experts remain fully engaged to help Japan address the situation," Jaczko said in a statement.

    Experts have said the lack of information and some inconsistent data makes it hard to understand what is happening at Fukushima, which appears to have moved from a core-meltdown phase to one in which management of released radioactivity is paramount.

    "There's a lot of radioactivity outside the containment barriers that poses a threat to workers and the public that needs to be addressed," said David Lochbaum, director of the nuclear safety project at the U.S.-based Union of Concerned Scientists, a long-time nuclear watchdog group.

    "That's the top priority."


    Another pressing concern as been the well-being of people living near the plant.

    More than 70,000 people have been evacuated from within 20 km (12 miles) of the facility.

    But opposition MP Yosuke Isozaki blasted Kan for not ordering people living between 20 km and 30 km (12-19 miles) from the plant to also leave, asking "is there anything as irresponsible as this?".

    The 130,000 people inside that zone have been encouraged -- but not ordered -- to leave.

    Environmental group Greenpeace has urged an extension of the 20-km evacuation zone while the United States has recommended its citizens who live within 80 km (50 miles) of the plant to leave or shelter indoors.

    Kan, leading Japan during its worst crisis since World War Two, was already deeply unpopular and under pressure to resign before the events of March 11.

    He repeatedly defended his decision for flying over the stricken nuclear site a day after the quake, saying it had been important to see the situation with his own eyes. His top spokesman on Monday denied the visit had delayed operations to cool the reactors, as some media reports had said.

    The crisis has also put enormous pressure on Tokyo Electric, criticized for safety lapses and a slow disaster response. Its boss, Masataka Shimizu, has barely been seen.

    The government might discuss nationalizing Tokyo Electric to deal with the crisis, National Strategy Minister Koichiro Gemba said. Its shares have tumbled 70 percent since the quake.

    Even though Japan's culture stresses group efficiency over individual charisma, many are unhappy and a weekend poll showed a majority feel Kan has not shown good leadership.

    "The characters involved are too weak to take decisive actions," said Jesper Koll, analyst at JP Morgan Securities.

    Beyond the evacuation zone, traces of radiation have been found in tap water in Tokyo and as far away as Iceland.

    Japanese officials and international experts have generally said the levels away from the plant were not dangerous for human beings, who in any case face higher radiation doses on a daily basis from natural sources, X-rays or flying.

    The drama at the six-reactor facility has compounded Japan's agony after the double disaster left more than 28,000 people dead or missing in the devastated northeast.

    With towns on the northeast coast reduced to apocalyptic landscapes of mud and debris, more than a quarter of a million people are homeless. The event may be the world's costliest natural disaster, with estimates of damage topping $300 billion.
  2. Eeeks...just when we think things might be getting better...
  3. Visaria


  4. I don't get why the world is allowing Japan to hide info.......they should disclose everything they know.........they owe it to the world
  5. Why doesn't the US just force everyone from Libya to move to Japan? It would be well aligned with their sense of getting even.
  6. What food products from Japan would you feed your child?
    Would you travel to Tokyo for business?
    What assurance do you have that any products made in Japan are not contaminated?

    Numerous countries are barring Japanese imports for the time being until risk can be determined.

    How long can an export driven economy sustain itself when no one will trade?
  7. benwm


    Here is what an expert says about the discovery of plutonium:-

    <iframe src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/21630171" width="400" height="226" frameborder="0"></iframe><p><a href="http://vimeo.com/21630171">Update on Fukushima: Discovery of Plutonium Leakage and Highly Radioactive Water</a> from <a href="http://vimeo.com/user6415562">Fairewinds Associates</a> on <a href="http://vimeo.com">Vimeo</a>.</p>


    Hi, I’m Arnie Gundersen from Fairewinds Associates. It’s Tuesday, March 29th, 2011. Several things in the news have come up in the last several days that I wanted to share my impressions [about] with you. They are: the fact that plutonium has been discovered on the Fukushima site; the second, that large quantities of very radioactive water have also been discovered on site; and the last is [that] I wanted to give you my assessment of the condition of the nuclear cores in units one, two and three. First, the plutonium. Plutonium has been found on five different locations on site. If you remember an earlier video I put together, plutonium is a difficult isotope to detect because it doesn’t give off a gamma ray, it gives off an alpha particle, and that’s not picked up by the traditional Geiger counters. That, plus the high background on the site, makes it very difficult so this had to be from soil samples. Five soil samples have turned up plutonium. If there’s five, there’s more, and that’s a great concern for me. Plutonium got its name from Pluto, the god of hell, and it’s one of the more nasty isotopes that mankind has ever created. This is a gram. The dollar bill is roughly a gram. Well, if you cut that into a million pieces, you have a microgram, smaller than George Washington’s eye. One microgram can cause a lethal cancer from plutonium. Now, I believe the plutonium is coming from the fuel cooling unit in unit four, although you can’t rule out the other three reactors. Plutonium is evident in all the nuclear reactors; unit three had some plutonium fuel, but all the reactors will have plutonium because the uranium 238, [when it] absorbs a neutron, becomes plutonium anyway. So, it’s in all four locations. The reason I think it’s in the pool, though, is that it’s scattered on the land on the site, and the most likely way to volatilize the plutonium would have been in a fire or a violent zirc[onium]-water reaction in the unit four fuel pool. There’s still a lot more data that needs to be developed, but again, if you found five samples it’s likely there will be more onsite. A bigger concern to me is that if it’s already in five locations onsite, I think they’ll find more offsite, and its health consequences should not be downplayed by Tokyo Electric. The second thing is the fact that the enormous quantities of highly radioactive water have been found in trenches. These trenches are outside the nuclear containment. That means the containment isn’t containing! I posted a link that is on our site as well [http://www.fairewinds.org] that talks about how radioactive material can get out of the nuclear reactor, and get through the containment, and out into these trenches without a breach of the containment and without a breach of the nuclear reactor. It involves leakage of a seal at the bottom of these nuclear reactors, and is quite plausible. I urge you to take a look at it in detail. What does this mean? The amount of water in those trenches is enormous. It’s very difficult to get demineralizers to remove that radioactivity in such high quantities. Basically, if the demineralizer absorbed that radioactivity, it would become so radioactively hot that personnel couldn’t go near it. I’ve also had people say, “Why don’t you take that water and pump it back into the nuclear reactor?” Well, the radioactivity in that water is over 100 rem per hour, and basically that means that anybody who stands near it for three or four hours receives a lethal dose of radiation. So, if you were to pump it back into the reactor, the pumps would become so radioactive that personnel couldn’t operate the pumps. There’s not much tankage space available on the site. They’re trying to pump the water into the unit condensers. The condensers are not seismic, and may not have withstood the earthquake and tsunami. So, I think that water is leaking into the ocean. The quantity of radioactivity that’s been detected in the ocean is an indication of an enormously large source of water, of radioactive water, hitting the ocean. I don’t think it came from air releases. I think somewhere there is a leak into the ocean from this material. It’s a troubling, really troubling scenario, because the containment isn’t containing. The last thing I wanted to talk to you about is the fact that the core damage appears to be minimalized by Tokyo Electric. I had staff working for me when I was the Vice President on Three Mile Island during the recovery, and I got to view the videos of the core damage at Three Mile Island. Now, we’re putting one slide up here, it’s very poor grain, but this is 1980’s technology through a mini-submarine. You can see those thimbles are the nuclear fuel rods that have been totally destroyed. At Three Mile Island, the reactor only was without water for about ten hours, maybe twelve, so for half a day it didn’t have water cooling it. Also, it only ran for three months before the accident which means there’s very little decay heat. At Fukushima, on the other hand, that reactor ran for four years so the fuel had an enormous amount of decay heat in it. The other piece is that it was uncooled for many days. More decay heat plus very little cooling tells me that the damage inside that core is enormous. TMI [Three Mile Island] lost one third of its core; it wouldn’t surprise me if there’s seventy or eighty percent of the [Fukushima] core that’s been damaged. What that means is it falls to the bottom of the reactor as slag, radioactive slag, molten slag at the bottom of the reactor. At very least it’s damaging those seals that I talked about; at worst, it’s gradually eating its way through the nuclear reactor, and a meltdown is possible. Combine this with the saltwater they’ve been adding, you have hot water, [an] incredible source of heat and salt; corrosion of the vessel is likely. The net effect here is that I believe that the quantities of radiation that are going to continue to leak from that reactor into the containment, and now apparently out of the containment, are large. And, frankly, I don’t see how they’re going to be stopped in the short term. I’m sorry it’s kind of a gloomy picture today. I will get back to you when I have more to tell you. Thank you. Fairewinds Energy Associates Inc. http://www.fairewinds.com
  8. benwm


    I'm now wondering if when this thing is over it will be seen as far, far worse than Chernobyl. We'll probably know the answer in two or three months time I guess.

    Let's hope the nuclear experts were good for their word when they assured us from the very beginning that this event would show us how safe nuclear energy really is.
  9. Has anybody been been killed? Is anybody hospitalized due to radiation exposure? (The three workers taken to hospital after the water incident have been released without apparent problems).

    Is there any evidence or report of any member of the public receiving a 100 mSv or greater radiation dose? As I recall a 100 mSv dose is believed to increase the lifetime likelihood of developing cancer by 0.5%. So if your chance is about 40% to start with, a 100 mSv dose would increase it to 40.2%. Testing of Japanese children have found none with an uptake of I-131 in the thyroid that is likely to cause any problem.

    The Fukushima incident is very serious, very expensive and not over yet, but in terms of loss of life or adverse health effects so far, the effect is minimal in comparison with many other industrial accidents.

    And the flip side of nuclear safety:

    "ONAGAWA, Japan — As a massive tsunami ravaged this Japanese fishing town, hundreds of residents fled for the safest place they knew: the local nuclear power plant.

    More than two weeks later, 240 remain, watching TV or playing ball games with their children next to three atomic reactors. It's a startling contrast to the damaged nuclear plant 75 miles (120 kilometres) southeast, where radiation leaks have forced an evacuation of area residents and terrified the nation."

  10. benwm


    This is the thought process that investment banks presumably went through when they packaged up mortgage debt for wafer thin margins prior to the bursting of the housing bubble...

    From 2004-2007, did they ask, "How much money has the taxpayer forked out to bail us out?", and conclude that their mortgage backed business was safe because the answer was "zero"?
    When you see a twenty metre tsunami approaching the shoreline do you count the number of dead when you make your risk assessment?

    The effects of radioactivity will be long term, if this thing escalates...
    1 microgram of plutonium is enough to kill, and it seems plutonium is outside the containment chamber.
    #10     Mar 30, 2011