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Nuclear Emergency Declared At 2 Plants In Japan 752

Posted by timothy
from the good-place-to-avoid-the-china-syndrome dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "CBC reports that Japan has declared a state of emergency and called for mass evacuations near two nuclear power plants following cooling systems failures that led to radiation escaping from a reactor at one location. The emergency declarations, which include five reactors at the two plants, followed Friday's 8.9-magnitude earthquake off the country's northeast coast. In a troubling announcement, Japan Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency official Ryohei Shiomi said a monitoring device outside the plant detected radiation that is eight times higher than normal and an evacuation zone has been expanded from three kilometres around the plant to 10 kilometres."
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Nuclear Emergency Declared At 2 Plants In Japan

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  • by InsertWittyNameHere (1438813) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @02:12AM (#35461662)
    We need to bulldoze the plant before it blows and build a new one!! Is fusion available yet?
    • by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @02:41AM (#35461808) Homepage Journal
      Disaster! We won't get those until 2050! And microwave power plants aren't available until 2020, either!
      On the plus side, the forest arcology unlocked eleven years ago.
      • We won't get those until 2050! .

        Its 2061 now. Fusion is always 50 years away.

    • by Paul Fernhout (109597) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @11:13AM (#35464238) Homepage
  • NHK (Score:5, Informative)

    by drolli (522659) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @02:27AM (#35461754) Journal

    Since most foreign media just use NHK news, here is the link to their english website:

    http://www3.nhk.or.jp/daily/english/index.html [nhk.or.jp]

    I am in japan and following this very closely

  • discrepancy (Score:5, Informative)

    by Netdoctor (95217) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @02:40AM (#35461802)

    There's a lot of misinformation flying around.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-12721498 [bbc.co.uk] [bbc.co.uk] (watch the movie)

    Steam was released on purpose.

    Based on just this discrepancy between the BBC and the CBC articles, /. might be a bit careful on it's reporting right now...

    Everyone's getting excited over the nuclear plants, and ignoring the thousands that are still are dying due to just water. Why is radiation so much scarier? Water kills faster. /rant.

  • Explosion (Score:3, Informative)

    by borrrden (2014802) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @03:12AM (#35461966)
    According to this Japanese article, TEPCO (the power company that runs the reactor) reports that at about 3:30 pm local time (1 hour 40 minutes ago) an explosion was heard and white smoke could be seen coming from the number 1 reactor. A few workers have been reported to be injured. :( http://www3.nhk.or.jp/news/html/20110312/t10014627881000.html [nhk.or.jp]
  • by neiras (723124) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @03:46AM (#35462084)

    The outer walls of the Reactor 1 building have partially blown off, leaving only what looks like a steel frame. NHK is saying that a sensor within 5km of the plant is detecting radiation levels approaching 1015 microsieverts - that is apparently a year's worth of radiation exposure each hour.

    People in the danger zones are being told to cover faces with wet towels, avoid eating vegetables and other fresh foods, and refrain from drinking tap water. Things seem to be happening quickly.

    • by xded (1046894) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @06:17AM (#35462684)

      1015 microsieverts - that is apparently a year's worth of radiation exposure each hour

      Or 30 bananas [wikipedia.org]...

      • by jamesh (87723)

        1015 microsieverts - that is apparently a year's worth of radiation exposure each hour

        Or 30 bananas [wikipedia.org]...

        30 bananas every hour is 1 banana every 2 minutes. That's a lot of banana's. While the accumulated radiation from those bananas would probably be pretty benign, I think you'd still be dead pretty quickly :)

        • by data2 (1382587)

          Sorry, but it's a 30 bananas per day, for a whole year. :) But thanks, didn't know about BED before, and although personally I am somewhat opposed to nuclear energy, I always end up arguing with nutjobs about this and this will certainly help me with this.

      • by Fnkmaster (89084)

        That Wikipedia page is terribly confusing. It first says a banana equivalent dose is the dose of radiation from eating a single banana. Then it says a banana equivalent dose is the radiation exposure from eating a banana every day for a year. Vastly different things.

        So when you say 30 bananas, you mean the equivalent dose of eating 30 bananas every day for a year, right? 30 bananas != 30 banana equivalent doses.

        Since the average American eats 75 bananas a year, I don't think we have much concept of what

  • Explosion (Score:4, Informative)

    by radl (1266970) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @04:07AM (#35462168)
    See here the hull exploding: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pg4uogOEUrU#t=43s [youtube.com]
    • by MrKaos (858439)

      Please MOD PARENT UP.

      This looks like quite serious explosion, especially occurring on a nuclear power plant. It would be difficult to imagine that any sort of functioning cooling is operating on that reactor anymore.

      Let's just hope that it was an ancillary building, structure or unit that suffered the explosion and not an actual core explosion. This is really the type of things that nightmares are made of, especially for the Japanese people. If this is an actual core breach then I'd be checking the prevai

    • by cbhacking (979169)

      Notably, that's not earthquake damage. I don't doubt that the chain of events leading up to the explosion was caused by the earthquake, but it required the reactor to be of a type which is even capable of melting down in the first place. My first thought on seeing the article was a leak \due to actual structural damage from the earthquake, but this is something else - an inherently risky reactor design and a failsafe not operating. It looks like basically the same thing as what happened at Three Mile Island

  • There's video (Score:5, Informative)

    by Voline (207517) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @05:13AM (#35462400)
    Here's video of the reactor exploding [youtube.com].
  • by Boltronics (180064) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @05:35AM (#35462512) Homepage

    Just announced on the NHK channel.

    http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/ [nhk.or.jp]

  • Actual Information (Score:3, Informative)

    by DeathSquid (937219) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @05:52AM (#35462570)

    Tokyo Electric Power Company is providing regular updates with real information:
    http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/index-e.html [tepco.co.jp]

    It appears the news services are reporting from a parallel universe where things are completely different.

    • by Jawnn (445279) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @11:39AM (#35464442)
      Riiiiiight...
      If history has taught us anything about nuclear power plant catastrophes, it's that the people responsible for the mess can be counted upon to lie repeatedly and often about what's going on. In fact, that's exactly what has been going on in this case. First it's, "Everything is under control." Then, "OK. We're having some problems, but there is no danger to the public and no radiation leakage." Then, "OK, we leaked a small amount of radioactive steam, but the public is not in any danger. The closest of you may want to move away, though." etc....
      It's like they're reading from the same script the PR guys at TMI used.
      And the public should trust the pronouncements of the Nuclear Energy Industry, about the "safety" of nuclear energy, why, exactly?
  • Why it exploded (Score:5, Informative)

    by TopSpin (753) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @06:06AM (#35462638) Journal

    It will take the media and Japan a while to circle around to what caused the explosion, so I'll explain it now.

    1. 1. cooling circulation failed due to power loss.
    2. 2. reactor boiled off the coolant inventory and exposed the core
    3. 3. core overheated and damaged the fuel
    4. 4. the damaged fuel reacted with water vapor (zircaloy+H2O) and created a hydrogen bubble
    5. 5. the hydrogen burned (exploded, iow) and neatly removed the outer walls of the reactor building

    The explosion you see in the videos aligns perfectly with the Fukushima Daiichi No.1 reactor building seen here [wikimedia.org] (forth square building from the left.)

    The BBC has provided this incredible before/after photo [bbcimg.co.uk] where you can actually see the reactor building structure with the walls removed by the explosion: the metal framework is still intact.

    The exact same thing happened with TMI-2 in 1979. The hydrogen burn occurred inside the containment dome. The Fukushima reactor doesn't have such a dome, so the hydrogen accumulated in the reactor building.

    • What happens next (Score:5, Informative)

      by TopSpin (753) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @06:42AM (#35462790) Journal

      Hydrogen burn isn't a very energetic event, which is why the Reactor Building framework is still intact. This means the Reactor Vessel is still intact and bolted upright to the floor with the damaged core inside. The RV and the steel containment around it is a very robust container, much stronger than the framework of the building.

      All cooling apparatus is gone. If the detonation didn't disable it the fire will. So total core melt is almost certain.

      TMI-2 melted 50% of the core which pooled at the bottom of the RV. The RV did not rupture despite the intense heat. It is possible this RV may also not rupture, especially if any cooling can be applied to the outer surface. If so then widespread intense contamination may be avoided.

      If the RV does rupture then we'll have molten corium pooling on the concrete floor uncovered before God and everyone. All bets are off at that point.

      FYI the reactor is a GE Mark I BWR with steel containment. Details here [uiuc.edu](PDF). A very old, before-mandatory-concrete-containment-dome system.

      • Re:What happens next (Score:5, Interesting)

        by cbhacking (979169) <been_out_cruisin ... nOSPam.yahoo.com> on Saturday March 12, 2011 @08:42AM (#35463308) Homepage Journal

        Simply put, this reactor design (especially without the containment dome) is less safe than Three Mile Island. We (the world at large) really need to modernize our nuclear power plants. Unfortunately, that's going to require building new reactors - we can't practically afford the loss of generating capacity to take the existing ones off the grid that long - and there is, as always, a ridiculous amount of opposition, largely from luddites who wouldn't know a molten salt reactor from a bomb shelter.

      • Re:What happens next (Score:4, Informative)

        by dfenstrate (202098) <dfenstrate&gmail,com> on Saturday March 12, 2011 @09:13AM (#35463478)

        If the RV does rupture then we'll have molten corium pooling on the concrete floor uncovered before God and everyone. All bets are off at that point.

        I'm hopeful that won't happen. The uranium fuel inside the reactor is a ceramic- you know, the type of material with very poor heat conduction. The steel RV has much better heat conduction, and flooding the primary containment (another pressure vessel between the RV and the outside rectangular building) should be a successful strategy.

        Now, it may sound strange that the heat source in a massive heat engine has poor heat conduction, but it is the case. It takes a very specific geometry to both reach criticality (criticality = stable power generation in Nuke terms) and remove heat via the coolant.

        Obviously there's not much in the way of coolant left, and the geometry is (ahem) 'suspect' at this point. However, the decay heat will continue to decrease as days go by, and little nuclear heat should be generated in a disorganized pile of molten ceramic. The bottom of the RV should hold.

        (I am not a nuclear physicist, but I know a lot about making nuclear power)

  • by assertation (1255714) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @06:28AM (#35462730)

    One thing about wind power. In the event of an earthquake, a terrorist attack, a greedy company cutting corners like BP, incompetence or human error nobody needs to worry about the breeze getting out.

    • by IamTheRealMike (537420) <mike@plan99.net> on Saturday March 12, 2011 @07:33AM (#35462994) Homepage
      The danger with too much wind power isn't that you get some kind of sci-fi meltdown. It's that sudden changes in wind conditions cause huge fluctuations in grid voltage that occur faster than can be balanced using hydroelectric dams or gas generator plants. If that happen it's possible for the grid to experience a cascading failure that disables the entire countries electrical system, requiring a grid-wide black start [wikipedia.org]. Most countries have never performed a from-zero black start.
      • by Compaqt (1758360)

        Well, wind speed wouldn't increase in all areas of a grid (NA or Europe) at the same time, would it?

        Wouldn't windspeed increases in one area be balanced by decreases in another?

  • by assertation (1255714) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @06:34AM (#35462752)

    If people as disciplined and conscientious as the Japanese can't do nuclear power safely, what chance do we have. Would you want a company like BP running a nuclear power plant or building one?

    • The problem is the outdated reactor designs. This is essentially the exact same failure as at Three Mile Island, although the Japanese appear to have omitted the containment dome that made TMI such a tempest in a teacup (almost no radiation actually leaked at TMI, due to the dome, but it looks like the Japanese reactors are already leaking significant amounts of radiation). The TMI accident was 32 years ago. Its design was 10 years old even then.

      Ironically, the anti-nuclear proponents are their own worst enemies if they actually want to prevent things like this. The demand for power isn't going away, but installing newer plants, which would be of the modern and inherently safe designs, would allow the old ones to be decommissioned or at least overhauled. Instead, between a near-ban on new construction (in the US at least, I'm not sure about Japan) and an increasing energy demand that is already taxing our current grid at times (again, in the US, especially on the west coast), we simply can't afford to take the older plants offline.

      • by 517714 (762276)
        TMI is a PWR, Fukushima is a BWR. BWRs do not have containment domes. The failure modes of these reactor types are very different.
      • by hey! (33014) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @02:08PM (#35465408) Homepage Journal

        Ironically, the anti-nuclear proponents are their own worst enemies if they actually want to prevent things like this. The demand for power isn't going away...

        I don't think that's a reasonable characterization. What we have here is an unproductive stalemate, where the anti-nuclear movement has succeeded in making nuclear power generation politically unpopular, but their preferred solution (increased energy efficiency) is even more unpopular, and decades of cheap petroleum since the 1980s has made breaking the stalemate not worth anyone's while.

        What's going to happen is that oil prices will continue to rise, but in a chaotic fashion, and with practical plug-in hybrids coming on the market every time we have a spike they'll become more popular, even though the spike (as in the current one) is meaningless in the long term. The result is that a significant number new nuclear power plants are an inevitability starting some time in the next decade.

        That's just political realism.

        As I point out elsewhere, conflict can be a good thing for creativity. The interesting new reactor designs are a result of addressing the more reasonable concerns of anti-nuclear activists. That's a good thing, although it has led to some bad feelings. All the legitimate concerns of the anti-nuclear movement haven't been fully addressed, but I think enough progress has been made to start building new plants on these designs.

        I favor a measured approach in developing new nuclear technology. If we went on a crash problem to solve our energy problems (as some suggested in 2008), we'd be getting lots of new reactors with this same proven but obsolete design. In a couple decades we'd have a huge number of technological white elephants on our hands. What we should do is invest in building a small number of plants using two different approaches, so as to gain experience with them. That won't exacerbate the as yet unsolved problems of nuclear power unduly (e.g. waste disposal), and if one of the approaches is a bust it's not the end of the world. As we prepare to commit more to nuclear power, we can improve the grid, which will also incent an increase in sustainable sources such as wind and new technologies such as solar thermal.

        What I'd like to see is greater dependency on electricity and greater diversity in the electricity supply, spreading the environmental impact and economic risks over multiple energy sources, and fostering competition over greater geographical areas.

  • by turgid (580780) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @06:52AM (#35462826) Journal

    Why does the world still continue to operate (and even build) BWRs? They're a very poor, cheap design. I believe a new one is being built in the USA just now.

    There is no secondary cooling circuit, so active steam goes through the turbines. That means that the turbine halls are radioactive to begin with.

    The problem we are seeing here is failure of post-trip cooling. This implies a lot of things wrong with the design and possibly maintenance and operation, and I'm sure the full details of what went wrong will be made available to the public after the investigation.

    I feel very sorry for the Japanese and everyone else in Japan just now. The best we can hope now is that the lessons learned from this disaster will give the world better and safer nuclear power stations. We need them to survive and prosper as a species.

  • by DeathSquid (937219) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @06:58AM (#35462852)

    Just saw an official press conference on Japanese TV. The containment vessel is intact. The concrete shell was damaged by a hydrogen explosion. Boric acid is being used as a neutron poison. It's not pretty, but it looks still to be under control.

    You have to put this in perspective. We just survived one of the biggest earthquakes ever. Hundreds were killed by horrific tsunamis. tens of thousands are homeless in winter conditions. And yet the hysteria in the western media is over a power plant that is still contained. A bit of perspective please.

  • Damn it (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Charliemopps (1157495) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @09:22AM (#35463524)
    A 40 year old reactor that was poorly maintained/upgraded fails in mag 9.2 earthquake and has probably ended any possibility of new plants being built in the united states for at least 20 years. Not only could this kill or injure a large amount of people but it's a setback for the only realistic option we had to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and global CO2 reduction. Sadly this will be reported as a failure of the technology and not the people that maintain it.
  • by eepok (545733) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @12:20PM (#35464738) Homepage

    Just to put this all into perspective for those claiming doom and gloom regarding nuclear power --

    How many oil disasters have there been in the past decade? (Spills, refinery fires, etc.)
    How many people died?
    How many in Japan due to the quake?
    How old were the facilities?

    How many coal disasters have there been in the last decade?
    How many people died?
    How many in coal disasters in Japan due to the quake?
    How old were the facilities?

    How many nuclear disasters were there? How old were the facilities?

    Right... so when we look at nuclear power, it's still the safest. They're built with the most oversight, foresight, and regulation AND it took the largest earthquake in recorded Japanese history to damage the 40 year old reactor-- which still likely won't go into meltdown. And there's been plenty of time to evacuate everyone just in case it does.

    Do we get ANY of that luxury with oil or coal?

    (Note: I use oil, coal, and nuclear energy in this comparison because they are the energy sources that can be created just about anywhere. Geothermal, wind, water, and solar require very specific placements.)

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