Nuclear Emergency at Fukushima Daichi: Japan Earthquake Tsunami

Japan’s earthquake and tsunami have wreaked devastation across the country, with horrifying images of disaster coming in. The nuclear plants at Fukushima were designed to shut down automatically in the event of an earthquake (a fairly predictable phenomenon in Japan). However, after they were shut down and stopped producing electricity, critical back up generators failed after the tsunami washed over the site.

This led to a nuclear emergency being declared as the cooling process which needs to continue for a day or two post shut down ran into problems as without access to electricity once the 8 hour battery back up was exhausted, the pumps crucial to pumping coolant to bring temperatures down could not function.

Yesterday, we followed news in concern as reactor 1 at Fukushima Daichi ran into problems including an explosion from radioactive steam, but disaster was averted  and the situation was brought into control through the pumping of sea water as a last ditch measure. Sea water is corrosive and does damage to the metal used in the reactor, and this reactor cannot be used again. However, the fact that it can be used so easily is yet another line in the extensive planning for cooling emergencies at a reactor. However, the crisis is averted with relatively minor damage including two deaths, a few injuries and radiation exposure for one employee beyond the safe limits and minor exposure for some evacuees.

As the country breathed a sigh of relief at a third disaster averted (remember they are reeling from aftereffects of an earthquake that got upgraded from 8.9 to 9.0 and the mother of all tsunamis that indiscriminately swept up everything on its way for kilometers inland), news is coming up that Reactor 3 is running into problems. Unconfirmed tweets are saying that all cooling systems are failed and pressure is building. Pretty similar to what had happened earlier with reactor 1.

I am noting developments and trying to weed out hysteria that seems to plague this subject. Follow this post (refresh occasionally) for “OMG!!!” free information. Reactor 6 also seems to have some trouble with cooling functions.

About 140 people seem to have been exposed to radiation. This seems to have happened as people waited to evacuate the 10km radius recommended yesterday. However radiation levels have dropped significantly since the explosion.

Work is in progress getting the reactors cooled down, though only reactor 1 seems to be critical enough that they injected sea water to prevent heating – a rather desperate measure. The seawater wrecks the reactor, but will get temps down. Another theory about the explosion at reactor 1 goes that the explosion was hydrogen formed because of the superheating coolant reacting with zirconium to oxidize it and release hydrogen (in the air).

In all there seem to be six reactors malfunctioning at Fukushima and the problem seems to be the same everywhere – cooling systems! How can that be? But it is. Once the emergency is over, we are going to hear a lot about design flaws of these older types of nuclear reactors and there is going to be serious noise about nuclear power as a whole and at the very least, modifications in cooling systems.

State of emergency declared at Onagawa as well. Radiation 700 times that of normal – unclear source. Tokai Daini is also experiencing failure since Friday, which seems to have gone unreported.

IAEA is wary, attentive, but doesn’t seem to be in end of the world mode. The US is a different matter. This is trouble they can’t bomb away.

Not doing any more updates, since the news seems to be following every unnecessary micro detail. Just listing out the very reassuring list of safeguards between us and a nuclear disaster, so that you can rest easy and follow the more critical news of the tsunami victims instead.

  1. Structure is built so that there is a six inch thick steel containment designed to contain any meltdown accident that could happen.
  2. Automated systems are in place that shut down the reactor at the first sign of trouble – ALL the reactors are shut down. That happened instantly with the earthquake. The problems are with their cooling post shut down. If the reactors were working, there sure wouldn’t have been problems with getting electricity 😀
  3. On the switching off of the reactor, the power supply is provided by generators. These generators have multiple redundancy. These were damaged by the extraordinary tsunami that followed the extraordinary quake.
  4. With all the generators knocked off, the cooling was taken up by an emergency battery backup. This lasted for 8 hours.
  5. With the battery exhausted, the cooling started using the steam from the cooling reactor itself. This got knocked off when the hydrogen from the venting exploded (and started a flood of “OMG nuclear blast” Tweets)
  6. With all this collapsed, the last ditch resort was flooding the reactor with the cold seawater laced with boric acid. This is also readily facilitated by the design of the reactor – like I said earlier redundancy, for redundancy, for redundancy to avoid a disaster. This destroys the reactor, but pretty much brings everything to a grinding halt. As long as they keep the place nice and flooded, everything should cool completely in a couple of days.

There is one freaky, scary question I am waiting to ask, but I figure we will find out one way or the other – when the reactor building exploded at Reactor 1 at Fukushima Daichi and took with it the cooling system and all that stuff, what happened to the spent fuel pools and all that kind of radioactive shit that is supposed to be there at a reactor facility? Don’t tell me all THAT is floating in the air and being found on people’s clothes, because that is going to be really Chernobyl kind of news.

Worse, don’t tell me that the expected blast at Reactor 3 is going to spray paint the area similarly, because that reactor uses Plutonium AND Uranium. If someone knows what happened of those radioactive pools and other assorted radioactive shit, please tell me and put me out of my misery.

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About the Author

Vidyut is a blogger on issues of National interest. Staunch advocate of rights, learning and freedoms. @Vidyut

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