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Japan Power News

Safety Measures Fail To Stop Fukushima Plant Leaks 157

Posted by Soulskill
from the ways-in-which-broken-nuclear-plants-are-like-U.S.-spy-agencies dept.
AmiMoJo writes "The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi plant has been developing countermeasures to deal with repeated leaks from tanks of contaminated water. But despite the measures, 100 tons of radioactive water leaked on Wednesday and Thursday. 'The leaked water was among the most severely contaminated that Tepco has reported in the aftermath of the March 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, when damage caused by an earthquake and a tsunami led to meltdowns in three of the plant’s reactors. Each liter of the water contained, on average, 230 million becquerels of particles giving off beta radiation, the company said. About half of the particles were likely to be strontium 90, which is readily taken up by the human body in the same way that calcium is, and can cause bone cancer and leukemia.' The estimated volume of the leaked radioactive materials caused Japan's nuclear regulator to rank the leak a level-3 serious accident. The international scale of nuclear and radiological events ranges from zero to 7."
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Safety Measures Fail To Stop Fukushima Plant Leaks

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    just in time for the new godzilla movie

  • Just curious,

    Instead of pumping in (then polluting) seawater, why not just let the thing meltdown? It would essentially bury the fuel. After it drops down a 1000' or so, fill the hole in with cement. I wouldn't be too worried about volcanic eruptions, radiation is what keeps the earth core nice and soft.

    • by MightyYar (622222) on Friday February 21, 2014 @03:08PM (#46305343)

      I'm no nuclear engineer, but it seems to me that IF (big if) It were as simple as letting the fuel melt through the floor like a big ol' glowin' gopher [thecomicstrips.com], you'd have a hell of a time containing the vapor emitted.

      • by JudgeFurious (455868) on Friday February 21, 2014 @03:57PM (#46305685)
        Love that comic. Bloom County was amazing and I miss it daily. Seen that particular one many times and had no interest in copying it from that website (I already own at least one book that includes it) until I tried to run my cursor over it. I just wanted to read it and kind of use my mouse cursor sometimes like a person would their fingertip to follow the text. The moment I did that the big red COPYNO.com image replaced what I was trying to read and it became my mission in life to copy the damned picture. Out comes my screenshot utility and moments later I'm sending that out to several people just because I can.
    • Barring a meltdown so clean that it probably happened in physics experiment land, I suspect that that is a very good way to send all the stuff with low vapor pressure merrily on a world atmospheric tour, along with anything that burns, forms finely divided oxide dusts, or is otherwise ill-mannered.

      If they, say, had it under some sort of control, and could just let it melt under a shield gas atmosphere of their choice, they could probably call the process 'in-situ vitrification' and declare victory; but t
    • by Ellis D. Tripp (755736) on Friday February 21, 2014 @03:10PM (#46305361) Homepage

      Once the melted core hit the water table (considerably shallower than 1000' down considering the proximity to the ocean), you would get a huge radioactive steam geyser throwing the fission products into the atmosphere.

      • by jafac (1449)

        This depends on how much mass there is, whether it's concentrated in a small lump, or flows through the paths of least resistance, and separates, and spreads out, (like chernobyl did). If it spreads out, the reaction slows, and then, it's largely decay-heat that's left over (which is pretty significant, but still, not 3000 degrees C significant).

        Youtube is full of videos of steam-clouds that have been around the plant since roughly June 2012. This *seems* to indicate that there's something hot contacting

      • by dfenstrate (202098) <dfenstrate@gQUOTEmail.com minus punct> on Friday February 21, 2014 @06:18PM (#46306901)
        There's no reason to think the melted core will get that far down, or even burn through the concrete floor, or even leave the reactor vessel in any sort of coherent form. Chernobyl's overheated core just spread through the lower parts of the structure (look for the 'elephant's foot' picture), Three Mile island's core was scraped off the inside of the reactor vessel, having only blued the metal.

        'Corium' is basically molten ceramic (The fuel is a uranium-oxide matrix.) It has such poor heat conducting properties that during normal operations, it could be 3000F in the center of a pellet, and 650F on the surface of the cladding- 3/16" away from the center.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      That isn't how reactors work, once the material has melted through the rod containment, the critical shape for fission is ruined. The only heat left is from beta decay, which is not sufficient to do anything like you are thinking.

    • by chmod a+x mojo (965286) on Friday February 21, 2014 @03:34PM (#46305517)

      Ummm, Physics would happen? Unless you had a convenient hole to pool the melt in it will just spread out and solidify ( that what the "core catcher" dishes under the reactors are designed to do ) and stop "reacting" so you would not get the melt actually burning a hole in the ground, you just have a spread out highly radioactive glassy metallic mess sitting at hot temps because of the residual decay heat.

      That and ground water, if the melt would burn down it's going to heat up water in the ground, resulting in radio-steam blasting from the hole, probable widening of the fractures the water is flowing through leading to ground instabilities, and irradiating of your groundwater supply.

      As others have stated as well, anything the hot melt would burn would also be irradiated and sent to the atmosphere, as well as radio-decay gasses.

      In other words, it would be a much more horrible headache than trying to control the decay heat until the fuel can be decanted and put into a longer term storage.

    • by gweihir (88907)

      The would give you a nice fire that would carry a significant fraction of the nuclear material in fine-dust form quite far. As in making Japan inhabitable with wind in the wrong direction. This type of fire was what spread the Cernobyl nuclear material all over Europe. Of course that was a bit less than what they try to contain at Fuckupshima.

    • why not just let the thing meltdown? It would essentially bury the fuel. After it drops down a 1000' or so, fill the hole in with cement. I wouldn't be too worried about volcanic eruptions, radiation is what keeps the earth core nice and soft.

      The most important reason is that 'corium' isn't actually hot enough to burn through the earth like that, nor does it conduct heat all that well, even if any part of it became hot enough.

      The integrity of the fuel rods is challenged at 2200F (zircaloy-water reaction, which released the hydrogen that caused the reactor building roofs to blow off on three of the Daichi units.)

      Steel melts at about 2600F. Concrete breaks down at about 1800F.

      In addition, the fuel is a uranium-oxide mix, a sort of ceramic. T

    • by fluffy99 (870997)

      Because a full meltdown would resemble Chernobyl?

    • by MrKaos (858439)

      Just curious,

      Instead of pumping in (then polluting) seawater, why not just let the thing meltdown? It would essentially bury the fuel. After it drops down a 1000' or so, fill the hole in with cement. I wouldn't be too worried about volcanic eruptions, radiation is what keeps the earth core nice and soft.

      Well first of all you would have a plutonium fire which would more than likely render the entire northern hemisphere un-inhabitable as it melted into the earth at, IIRC, 1500-3000C. Once it hit the water table it would produce a mighty explosion which would draw in the other 6000 fuel rods stored on the site. If you a)had enough concrete and b) could get lose enough to dump the concrete the melting core would turn the concrete into powder.

      So it's probably not a worthwhile option ;)

  • I wasn't disappointed! On a serious note, I thought they were building the godzilla of ice walls to fix this?
    • From the article:

      the leak, discovered on Wednesday and stopped on Thursday, happened far enough from the plant’s waterfront that none of the radioactive water was likely to reach the Pacific Ocean, as has happened during some previous spills.

      So presumably this leak was in a different part than any ice walls.

      • by Immerman (2627577)

        Good to know the contaminated water will magically disappear rather than reaching the ocean.

        More likely they simply mean the radioactive substances will be mostly filtered out by the intervening rock where it will hopefully decay faster than it migrates into the ocean and/or water table. Either that or they're just selling a bill of goods to keep public fear and outrage from surging. [Looks at their record so far] ...nah...they'd *never* do that...

  • Color me Shocked! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by clonehappy (655530) on Friday February 21, 2014 @03:06PM (#46305325)

    It's not like everyone hasn't been saying this for 3 years now. If you'd been paying attention, you would already know this was the case. But I remember when people were saying this in 2011, 2012, even into 2013, they were nay-sayed and called coal shills and alarmists. Now what?

    • by gnick (1211984)

      The problem isn't that the technology isn't ready or developed enough to radically decrease energy costs. The problem is that the question is never, "How much are we saving monetarily and environmentally over coal plants?" or even, "How can we do this as safely as practical?" Either of those would motivate cheap, clean energy. The question is always, "How much more cheaply can we do this?" Which, inevitably, results in catastrophe.

      Do steel-toed-boot makers say, "How much can we save by using aluminum i

    • Ah yes, I remember well being called a Luddite for pointing out to the Pollyannas what a mess this was going to be. 'You'd get more radiation from flying coast to coast / a few xrays at the Dr / your granddad's old radium painted watch you keep in a box than this will ever create' they said. Where is a plate of (radioactive) crow when you need one?
  • It should obviously be reported as 90,000,000,000 milligrams of water with an average activity of greater than 6 billion picocuries. That'd be more frightening, I think.
    • by Megane (129182)

      It should obviously be reported as 90,000,000,000 milligrams of dihydrogen monoxide with an average activity of greater than 6 billion picocuries. That'd be more frightening, I think.

      FTFY

  • How nice it would be to have some one-on-one time with the engineering team that covered up the flaws in the containment vessel during initial construction.

  • by digitrev (989335) <digitrev@hotmail.com> on Friday February 21, 2014 @03:29PM (#46305487) Homepage
    Becquerels of particles? Really? That's like saying (obligatory car analogy incoming) joules of cars. A becquerel is a measure of activity - each litre gives off 2.3e8 electrons per second. While this is a problem, this is a nonsensical way to talk about it. What's that law again? The one that says that "every news article in your field of expertise is utter garbage". I'm pretty sure it holds here.
    • Had me scratching my head.
      Maybe that is why the new york times changed their motto to "Accuracy? We've heard of it."

  • by Spamhead (462189)

    Homer J. Simpson really needs to get his act together over there.

  • But workers first determined that the alarm and information from the gauges were malfunctions, as they found no abnormalities around the tank, at least when the alarm went off.

    Seriously, this isn't stuff that you shrug your shoulders on and ignore. Fire them, and possibly charge them (employees and employer) with whatever Japan's equivalent to "criminal negligence" is

    • by gweihir (88907)

      They cannot. They are having serious trouble finding people to work there as it is. Don't forget that these workers risk infertility, malformed offspring and worse.

    • by amorsen (7485)

      You are unaware of what they are dealing with there. It is a testament to the dedication of the workers that these leaks do not happen more often. This is not a normal nicely-planned storage facility, it is a bunch of tanks put in way too quickly for proper planning. This cannot just be fixed, because building it properly is difficult when workers are limited by their maximum allowable radiation dose.

  • As I understand Indecent levels, level 3 tops out just before the actual release of radioactive materials outside the plant. Once you have materials leaving the plant in an uncontrolled manner, we are at Level 4.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I... [wikipedia.org]

  • by Ckwop (707653) <Simon.Johnson@gmail.com> on Friday February 21, 2014 @04:43PM (#46306065) Homepage

    Fukushima is a serious nuclear disaster. It's a very situation that we should all be concerned about. But this should not lead to any pause in our appetite for nuclear energy.

    What people often fail to appreciate is that even coal fired powerstations release quite large amounts of radioactive material in to atmosphere. Coal fired powerstations burn about a million times as much material as a nuclear powerstation per joule of energy produced. Some of that material is radioactive. That stuff isn't been sealed in a container in burrried in a mountain, it's being blown up chimney stacks along with the rest of the rather unpleasant stuff.

    Don't believe me? Reflect on this passage taken from this (PDF) document [ohio-state.edu]:

    The EPA found slightly higher average coal concentrations than used by McBride et al. of 1.3 ppm and 3.2 ppm, respectively. Gabbard (A. Gabbard, “Coal combustion: nuclear resource or danger?,” ORNL Review 26, http://www.ornl.gov/ORNLReview... [ornl.gov] 34/text/colmain.html.) finds that American releases from each typical 1 GWe coal plant in 1982 were 4.7 tonnes of uranium and 11.6 tonnes of thorium, for a total national release of 727 tonnes of uranium and 1788 tonnes of thorium. The total release of radioactivity from coal-fired fossil fuel was 97.3 TBq (9.73 x 1013 Bq) that year. This compares to the total release of 0.63 TBq (6.3 x 1011 Bq) from the notorious TMI accident, 155 times smaller.

    So far, there has not been a single confirmed death due to Fukushima accident. In comparison, there were 20 deaths in the US just mining for coal in 2013. This is not to mention all the deaths being caused by cancers and other health problems being caused by breathing polluted air.

    If we're ever going to get on top of this climate change challenge, nuclear must be leading the charge. Nuclear is a safe, non-polluting technology. Modern designs are fail-safe in every sense of the word. The newer designs can even cope with a loss of external power (like Fukushima experienced) yet still stay safe.

    This is the 21st century. The technology is mature, sensible and safe. Really, we should be looking to retire every coal fired plant as a matter of urgency, if only to reduce the amount of radioactive contamination of the atmosphere!!

    • I don't dispute your claim that coal puts a lot of radioactive material into the air, and I'm not anti-nuclear. However, with a coal power plant, it is a gradual and controlled release of radiation and if the coal-fired plant malfunctions or gets damaged, the release of that radioactivity stops. Contrast this with nuclear power, where a failure releases huge amounts of radioactivity at one time, in a concentrated area and continues to release radiation as additional systems fail (e.g. hydrogen explosions due to lack of cooling). The problem becomes compounded when you can't fix it, because the site is too radioactive to sustain human life.

      • The Gen 4 reactor designs address this problem like the OP said. The state of the art for reactor design is always improving.
        • by MrKaos (858439)

          The Gen 4 reactor designs address this problem like the OP said. The state of the art for reactor design is always improving.

          That doesn't solve FUkushima - even if it was true, which it isn't.

    • False dichotomy, coal is not the only other option. You are also selecting one statistic (deaths) that favours nuclear, ignoring the many others that suggest we should be reducing our reliance on it (cost, affect on people's lives, loss of land, contamination of the environment, waste).

      Your assertion that modern designs are fail-safe in "every sense of the word" doesn't even make sense, but I assume you mean that there is absolutely no way they could fail and release radioactive material. I'm afraid that simply isn't true. They are better, but not infallible. For example many rely on gravity to work, meaning that they can cope with external power loss. However, that does nothing to prevent the mechanism jamming when the plant is hit by an extremely large earthquake. Just like the last generation the current designers have tried to account for everything they think is a likely failure mode, but apparently didn't think Tohoku size earthquakes were very probable.

    • by MrKaos (858439)
      I see that the Nuclear fanbois have been moderating this discussion very effectively - as I browse at -1.

      Fukushima is a serious nuclear disaster. It's a very situation that we should all be concerned about. But this should not lead to any pause in our appetite for nuclear energy.

      What Fukushima proves are the issues with Nuclear power exist at a human level. These failure are what have led to Chernobyl and Fukushima. They also prove that the Nuclear industry is unable or unwilling to learn from their past

  • by Animats (122034) on Friday February 21, 2014 @04:58PM (#46306185) Homepage

    TEPCO still doesn't have adequate water-processing capacity [the-japan-news.com] Fukushima. They installed three units of the "advanced liquid processing system" (which is basically a big ion-exchange resin water purifier) in 2012, and they are still not working reliably. [asahi.com] Failures are occuring for dumb reasons: "TEPCO officials believe the cause of that problem was due to a failure to remove a rubber pad from the tank, leading to a blockage in the system." On another occasion, they had to shut down because a crane failed.

    Toshiba has overall charge of the project. Why a major Japanese company is having so much trouble with routine industrial tasks is not clear. As a result of all these processing problems, Fukushima has far too much contaminated water in temporary storage.

    The process won't remove tritium, but that, at least, has a decay life of only 12 years, and it's not concentrated by biological processes like strontium and cesium, so dumping tritum-contaminated water isn't too bad.)

    • by Megane (129182)

      Toshiba has overall charge of the project. Why a major Japanese company is having so much trouble with routine industrial tasks is not clear.

      This Toshiba? http://hardware.slashdot.org/s... [slashdot.org]

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      Why a major Japanese company is having so much trouble with routine industrial tasks is not clear.

      Because parts of the site are heavily contaminated and workers don't want to hang around there for very long. Constantly having one eye on your dosimeter tends to be distracting.

      Nuclear is kind of like snooker. In theory it's all just physics, easy to predict and control, and if you play perfectly easy to win. Reality is somewhat different.

  • by symbolset (646467) * on Friday February 21, 2014 @05:06PM (#46306281) Journal
    It does not improve my comfort with nuclear power that these people are still in charge of this plant.
  • Is the water in these storage tanks still being used for cooling? If not, just add a whole bunch of gelatin. That'd at least make it much more manageable. You can thank me later, environment.
    • by neo-mkrey (948389)
      So you are advocating the creation of a radioactive gelatinous blob?

      I think I saw that movie already.
  • by trims (10010) on Friday February 21, 2014 @05:44PM (#46306619) Homepage

    100 tons of water is 24,000 gallons, or about 3600 cubic feet of water.

    That's roughly about the same amount as two (2) of the large tanker trucks that fill up a gas station.

    Or, in Olympic Pool metrics, about 1/24th of a Pool.

    In radiation terms, 230m Bq per liter (for 24,000 Gal = 91,000 L) or 21 Trillion Bq.

    A single (average) coal plant puts out about 4 Quadrillion Bq via emissions pollution. So this spill is roughly 0.5% of the yearly output of a coal plant (or, 46 hours of operation of one).

    In terms Banana Equivalent Dosage, you're talking about 1.4 Trillion bananas per hour to start with, halving every hour.

    And Now You Know.

    -Erik

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      A single (average) coal plant puts out about 4 Quadrillion Bq via emissions pollution. So this spill is roughly 0.5% of the yearly output of a coal plant (or, 46 hours of operation of one).

      In terms Banana Equivalent Dosage, you're talking about 1.4 Trillion bananas per hour to start with, halving every hour.

      You are not comparing like with like. The potassium in a banana is mostly passed through the body harmlessly, as only enough to maintain the normal level is absorbed. The strontium in this water is absorbed by the body like calcium, accumulating in the bones where it will sit for years or decades slowly irradiating you, which is why is causes cancer and leukaemia.

      Similarly the output from coal plants is not nearly as dangerous as the content of this water.

      I'm disappointed. I expect more than this level of s

      • by Guppy (12314) on Saturday February 22, 2014 @10:41AM (#46310757)

        You are not comparing like with like. The potassium in a banana is mostly passed through the body harmlessly, as only enough to maintain the normal level is absorbed.

        Mostly correct. Instead of only absorbing "only enough to maintain the normal level", what you will actually get is absorption of a bit more than enough to maintain the normal level, coupled with increased elimination (mostly via urine) to maintain that normal level. Either way there is no difference -- there is no long-term storage of Potassium in the body, it is all present as the soluble, highly-mobile aqueous ion. So any increased level of from a radioactive source will relatively rapidly come back down to equilibrium levels of radioactivity, once you return to your intake from your regular Potassium sources.

        Anyway, the ratio of radioactive Potassium (to non-radioactive Potassium) in your body will be equal to the average level of radioactive Potassium in Bananas (and other dietary sources, mostly plant-derived materials); the Potassium-40 isotope to non-radioactive isotopes is mostly at equilibrium concentration in the environment. For a 70kg human this means approximately 160g of total Potassium in the body, with 0.0187 grams of 40K, producing 4,900 disintegrations per second (becquerels) [wikipedia.org].

        The strontium in this water is absorbed by the body like calcium, accumulating in the bones where it will sit for years or decades slowly irradiating you, which is why is causes cancer and leukaemia.

        Partially correct. Like Potassium, Calcium is regulated at a "normal" level, and the body will reduce absorption (from the gut), and increase elimination (mostly through urine) to eliminate excess. Accumulation happens if there is a deficit, or with active deposition of osseous material. However, due to constant turn-over of bone Calcium, at any given time a small amount of material is simultaneously being both absorbed and released from long-term storage. So this means a small amount of the ingested material will go into long-term storage, even when your body is not actively increasing Calcium stores.

        However, note that while Potassium-40 and non-radioactive Potassium are chemically identical (well, almost identical -- some tiny kinetic effects may be present, negligible), Calcium and Strontium are not. They are grossly handled the same by the body, but there may be some differences in absorption / retention / excretion rates between the two substances -- so the radioactive Strontium will not be a straightforward constant fraction of the Calcium pool as it moves around in the body.

        I'm disappointed. I expect more than this level of scientific illiteracy from +4 Slashdot comments.

        I'm not disappointed; I never had any expectations to begin with :)

  • I'm surprised the free-marketeers haven't trolled this article yet, so I guess I'll do it for them. Here goes...

    SEE?? This just proves that government bureaucrats can't do anything!!!1 If they'd just gotten those stupid regulators to get their boots of the throats of the job-creators, the guiding hand of free-market capitalism would have fixed this by now! This is why we need to cut capital-gains taxes and destroy the EPA!!!1

    THANKS OBAMA WHERZ TEH BIRF CERTIFICATE BENGHRZGGG etc
  • Why is this still news?

    Assume we actually cared about the minuscule amount of radioactives coming from this site...

    The U.S. Navy offered to bury the material under millions of tons of cement only days after the incident was first observed by equipment on a U.S. Navy carrier off the coast of Japan. Just bury the crap in cement, as was already suggested, and let it half-life it's way down to edible levels in the next 90-180 years. Problem solved.

    Why is new water being pumped into a holding tank containing t

  • They could probably solve this by giving people free pizza
    http://rt.com/usa/chevron-frac... [rt.com]

    (On a serious note, why does it take a PR scandal to make a fatal explosion at an gas well newsworthy?)

    • by tlambert (566799)

      They could probably solve this by giving people free pizza
      http://rt.com/usa/chevron-frac... [rt.com]

      (On a serious note, why does it take a PR scandal to make a fatal explosion at an gas well newsworthy?)

      On a serious note, why does a fatal natural gas wellhead explosion have anything to do with where the natural gas reservoir originated?

      It's a well safety issue; it doesn't matter if the reservoir was naturally occurring, came from fracking, was put there by aliens, or was put there by a God with a sense of humor, trying to convince us that the Earth was more than 6,000 years old: unsafely operated natural gas wells can explode.

      • by ssam (2723487)

        I consider fracking to be just as bad as all other fossil fuel extraction, which is pretty bad.

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