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When news like Fukushima hits, people start thinking of nuclear radiation leaks. Then, mistakenly, they imagine that risk from radiation is a very rare thing. While accidents on such a scale are rare, radiation leaks in themselves are not. For one, every running nuclear plant is already venting "acceptable amounts" of radiation into the environment on a daily basis.

Now, there are doctors who swear that there is no way to determine an amount which has no health risks. However, this post is about actual leaks, not releases. News from the last one year from my bookmarks and a few simple searches. Some of the news may be developments on long term contamination on radiation leaks, others may be new radiation leaks.

No particular reason for this beyond some reactions to the leak at RAPS a few days ago, that seemed to see this as a rare and acceptable thing.

  1. Fukushima, of course continues to leak radiation into the environment. The description of this is beyond an entry in a list.
  2. Chernobyl too continues to leak radiation through its crumbling sarcophagus, though on a lesser scale than Fukushima.
  3. Kansas State University - 29th June 2011: Radiation leaked at 149 times the Derived Air Concentration (DAC) limit for Iodine during a trial run of its reactor. Though four different systems caught the excessive radiation levels, operators reported their belief that this was due to the proximity of a radioactive sample near the monitors.  They did not disclose what kind of sample nor why it was near four different monitors, if that’s even possible. Plus, the sample they discuss showed Cesium, not Iodine.
  4. North Carolina State University - 7th July 2011: Officials said Thursday that there is a low-level water leak in the liner that surrounds the campus nuclear reactor, but that it poses no danger to the public.
  5. Submarine, off northeast China - 29th July 2011:  A rumor began spreading on the Chinese Internet sites that there was a radiation leak on a submarine stationed near Dalian in northeast China. As the story went, the accident occurred while technicians were installing new electronic gear on a Type 94 SSBN ( nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine). Not verified, but detailed. China denies, but no one believes denial.
  6. Kakrapar Atomic Power Station, Gujarat - 1st August 2011:  An incident from 30th May 2011 came to light where four temporary workers were exposed to 90mSv from spent fuel due to operator error. Health concerns were dismissed citing absence of immediate symptoms of radiation poisoning (usually with fatal doses). As per AERB, the dose limit for workers at a nuclear plant is 20mSv, which was deliberately ignored by station director P K Dutta when he made the following quote "A radiation of 90 mSv does not cause any harm. If we get our whole body CT scanned, we would be exposed to a nuclear radiation of 60 mSv,'' who also mentioned contract workers demanding regularization because of this incident as "taking advantage of it". Temporary workers being exposed to radiation and abandoned without adequate health support or information is an ongoing problem with nuclear plants.
  7. Dounreay Nuclear Plant, Scotland21st September 2011, Guardian: Scottish nuclear fuel leak 'will never be completely cleaned up' - Tens of thousands of radioactive fuel fragments escaped from the Dounreay plant between 1963 and 1984, polluting local beaches, the coastline and the seabed. Fishing has been banned within a two-kilometre radius of the plant since 1997. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has decided to give up on its aim of returning the seabed near the plant to a "pristine condition". Staff from here has been consulting at Fukushima to share experience.
  8. San Onofre Nuclear plant, California had trouble with premature wear in the cooling tubes leading to leaks of water and gas last summer. First one, then both reactors were shut down for investigation earlier, but this seems to now be a permanent shutdown currently. The exact amount of leakage is unknown, but officials say that it shouldn't be harmful. Only harmful enough to shut down a nuclear plant, I suppose, not health.
  9. Dounreay Nuclear Plant, Scotland - 8th October 2011: Radioactive liquid effluent is understood to have leaked inside a treatment facility. It did not exit the building. Dounreay was constructed in the 1950s as an experimental nuclear power complex, but has not generated electricity since 1994 and is currently being decommissioned by Dounreay Site Restoration Limited (DSRL) who got a top safety award for their work in May 2011.
  10. Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP), Pakistan - 30th October 2011: heavy water leaked from a feeder pipe to the reactor leading to a seven hour emergency till it was contained. The plant was already shut down for maintenance.
  11. Point Lepreau, Canada - second half of November 2011: 23 barrels of water laced with the toxic chemical hydrazine was released into the Bay of Fundy.
  12. Point Lepreau, Canada - December 13th 2011: Almost 6 litres of heavy water splashed to the floor, requiring an immediate evacuation of the building. Point Lepreau had been shutdown for refurbishment since 2008, and the leaks happened during the preparations to restart it. Currently, it is stopped till further investigation.
  13. Orchid Island, Taiwan - 30th December 2011: Tao Aborigines from Orchid Island protested on Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office in Taipei, saying radioactive material was leaking from a nuclear waste dump on the island. They demanded that the storage facility be removed. Although residents of Orchid Island have long suspected that a radioactive leak has occurred, it was first officially confirmed when Academia Sinica research fellow Huh Chih-an detected radioactivity on the island after being commissioned by Taipower in November.
  14. Prarie Island Nuclear Power Plant - 5th January 2012: Leak found. Alert declared.
  15. Exelon Byron Nuclear Generating Station, Ogle County, about 100 miles west of Chicago, near Rockford - 30th January 2012: The supply of power from off-site (needed to maintain backup for safety systems) went down, forcing Exelon to take Unit No. 2 offline. Steam containing tritium had to be vented from the reactor triggering panic.
  16. North Anna, Virginia, US - 17th February 2012: water taken from an on-site groundwater sampling point contained an unusually high level of tritium — more than twice the EPA's standard for drinking water.
  17. Bruce power, Lake Huron, 240km northwest of Toronto, Canada - 17th March 2012: Leaks were discovered as the reactors were being powered up after an earlier shutdown.
  18. EDF Nuclear Power Plant at Penly, Normandy, France - 5th April 2012:  A faulty joint on a pump leaked lubricant from the pump used to cool the reactor, which caused two small fires and a low level leak inside the reactor building.
  19. Point Lepreau, Canada - 21st May 2012: A third leak. 300 litres of tritiated heavy water spilled on May 21 when a valve opened too soon during pressure testing at the plant. Poor training has been cited as one of the causes for the accident.
  20. Rawatbhata Atomic Power Plant (RAPP), Rajasthan, India - some time near 25th May 2012 - 38 workers working on heavy water and tritium supply channels were exposed to tritium leaks (unspecified quantity), 3 of them in doses exceeding allowed dose.
  21. Davis-Besse nuclear station in Ohio - 6th June 2012: Small amount of radioactive water sprayed through a minor leak and no radiation escaped the plant.
  22. Dounreay, Scotland - 7th June2012: A steady decline in urine levels for uranium and plutonium has been reported for workers here.
  23. Prarie Islands Spent Nuclear Fuel pools - 8th June 2012: A U.S. Appeals Court ruled that the NRC violated a federal act by neglecting to run in-depth studies on how storing radioactive waste at nuclear power plants impacts health and the environment. Read document. 1,500 tons of high-level irradiated waste is stored in heavy steel and concrete casks on a tarmac a few hundred feet from the Hudson River. The Westchester-based plant produces about 30 tons of radioactive waste every 18 months, which is then crammed into two overcrowded, 40-foot deep spent fuel pools. Each pool holds about 1,000 tons of radioactive waste and has been leaking into the ground and river for years.
  24. Pallisades Nuclear Plant, Michigan, US  - 12th June 2012: The plant was shut down and a Nuclear Regulatory Commission investigation has been started over a year long leak of approximately 31.8 gallons of borated water per day (not heavily radioactive - used to stop fission) from a cooling tank into the reactor's control room. The operator believes there may be several leaks involved, but the leaks have not been found yet, so repairs are pending. Pallisades had five unplanned shutdowns in 2011. NRC has downgraded the safety rating for the plant.
  25. Susquehanna Nuclear Plant - 20th june 2012: PPL Corp. shut down the Unit 1 reactor at its Susquehanna nuclear power plant near Berwick on Tuesday to investigate what it called a minor water leak inside the container structure surrounding the reactor. Unit 1 had been online only 11 days since a 69-day shutdown starting March 31, during which the company repaired cracks in Unit 1 turbine blades.

And there are more. I have gone through about half the tabs I opened. Bored now. This list is nowhere near comprehensive. An astonishing 75% of all US nuclear reactors were found to be leaking tritium last year.

The simple point I am trying to make is that claims of safety by the pro-nuclear lobby are highly exaggerated.

6

Recently, FirstPost, which is a kind of news media thing published an article titled "Why the Kudankulam protesters have it all wrong" which ought to have been an informative thing triggering thought on happenings in the country, etc EXCEPT that it wasn't what it seemed.

The only real point it seemed to make is that Tamil Nadu needs electricity. The rest was emotionalism around it, painting the nuclear plant as the savior that would end all problems, mud slinging the activists, and flat out LIES on the harm from nuclear accidents - including claiming numbers that contradict every known credible source on the subject.

The article should not be read for information, as all the information in it is suspect and rather than verifying every detail and reading fifty times the material to know if something said is true or false, it would be easier to discard the article. Here are some examples of unethical journalism from FirstPost from this article. It begins:

Ever since a guy named Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi walked on Indian soil, protesting has been the way of life here. While Gandhi protested against the British, we protest against everything.

So right at the beginning, we have this idea that people's right to protest is something absurd. Nothing illogical, but it is the setting of the stage for mud slinging a certain protest in the article. Well, sucks for FirstPost, but it is a fundamental right and democracies have such things.

Frankly, a newspaper that can't digest people's right to protest unconditionally is by in my view not a pro-rights paper. Call me stupid, but I am more along the lines of Voltaire's "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Because I believe that the concerns of everyone are important.

I don’t think there can be a more ridiculous protest than that. Or at least I thought, till the Kudankulam protest came along.

This means absolutely nothing. Freedom of citizens to protest doesn't require this person's ability to appreciate human freedoms.

Why protest against a Power Plant, when Tamil Nadu is a woefully power deficient state?

Thanking for the courtesy of understanding that the protest is against a power plant and not getting electricity to the state, I would like to offer here, that people have their own evaluations of what is appropriate. I have been broke for ages, but I do think it is inappropriate to do fraud, prostitution or theft, for example. This logic that if there is a need, then there should be no resistance to the available means of fulfilling it is the product of a mind that doesn't think the application of ethics as an important evaluation of the means.

This may be the authors choice, but this is not a desirable state for society or government. This is followed by how there is a lack of power in Tamil Nadu. He describes the situation of Tamil Nadu as already power deficit, which was followed by "big ticket industrialization" for which there was no power.

Now, these new TN industries were not your small cute cottage ones, which had miniscule power requirements. They were your big bad-ass ones, like automobiles, electronics, textiles etc– the Hummers of the power consumption world. The ones that consumed 100’s of MWs, just to remain idle.

So let me get this right, there already was no power for the industrialization that happened. It was unplanned for the resources available. And now the people of Koodankulam should make it all right. Demanding more realistic development that is suitable for the region's capacity to sustain would be illogical, I assume.

And of course, if the protesters are worried that the important assessments to ensure safety are not fulfilled, then they are spoilsports. They shouldn't block. They have it all wrong. There is a shortage of 3000MW in Tamil Nadu, there is a nuclear plant waiting to go into action. Resistance is stupid. Tamil Nadu has shortage, and superhero Kudankulam will fix it. Bas. Enough said.

And then the bizarre data:

If you did not know, Kudankulam was built with Russian help. And, Russia isn’t exactly known for its subtlety. So, in true, Russian style, they helped us build a reactor complex, which has four reactors. And when commissioned will generate a total of 10,000 MegaWatts of Power. And of the four, two are ready.

I have no clue on Russia's ability to be subtle, but I do know that these statistics fit no known source of information for me. The impression I get is that each of the power plants will generate 2,500MW and two being ready means people can expect 5,000MW of electricity. This is not explicitly stated, but it seems to be implied from this information, since there is no detail provided.

Actually, they have so far built two reactors and have FOUR MORE planned, not a total of four. A total of six. NONE of the reactors has a capacity of over 1200MW, so I fail to see how even all six being operational will generate 10,000MW as the author claims. The two ready now are VVER-1000s with a capacity of 1000MW each. The remaining four will be 1170MW each. Which brings us to a total production of 6680MW.

These two reactors, if started, will instantaneously transform Tamil Nadu, from a beggar to a millionaire as far as power is concerned. For the common man, this will mean no more load shedding, no more missing afternoon TV.

It will enable students to rediscover the lost tradition of the afternoon nap. The industry will begin to function at peak capacity finally, resulting in the progress and prosperity of Tamil Nadu.

And of course, it will once and for all solve the power crisis in Tamil Nadu.

So, now let us look at the reality. We have two reactors of 1000MW each ready to go into operation. This is not the electricity production of the reactor, but the capability of the reactor. The actual production is lesser because of the reactor not operating at full capacity or outages, etc. It is calculated as something called a capacity factor. India has never gone beyond 80% production in all its nuclear history.

The max so far is 79% - which is better than other kinds of energy, but it means that even assuming that these reactors perform to this standard straight off the bat, they will together produce 1580MW of electricity. Nowhere near this ridiculous claim. AND, on top of that, India's transmission and distribution losses currently stand at an astounding 34%, which means that out of this 1580MW, about 1000MW or so will actually be "satisfying Tamil Nadu forever after" or some such fuzzy pink bull shit.

On the other hand, instead of these two reactors, if the transmission and distribution losses can be reduced, 34% of 9000MW is more than 3000MW if they can even be cut to half - it will be equal to these two reactors. That is the kind of wastage happening. Then there is more supercilious bull shit:

Just to give you an idea on how long it has been; the initial survey for the Kudankulam plant was not done by Russia but by the Soviet Union, whose Premier was Mikhael Gorbachev. When the site was finally decided, Rajiv Gandhi was still alive. And, Sachin Tendulkar was a talented 17-year-old who was just pitchforked into the Indian team, before he had played a Ranji Trophy match. My question to the protesters is, what were you doing all this while? Waiting for Sachin to score 100 hundreds? Sure, some people will point out that there were protests against the plant, since 1987. But those were your little protests, protests that happen in India everyday. If you happened to read that link, the biggest protest against the plant, had a grand total of 150 people. More people participated, back in my college, in a protest against the mess food.

This is obviously either utter ignorance at work, or deliberate disinformation, because fishermen organized a 10,000 strong protest in May 1989 and got shot at by cops too. To date, cops are avoiding antagonizing the fishermen, and the brave Jayalalitha pretended to support the protest till the elections were over. This doesn't happen with tiny little people protesting in some corner.

If there hadn't been strong opposition all through, why were the reactors delayed post 1998, once the new deal with Russia was done? Or did we start needing electricity just now? The history of Kudankulam protests is public. You don't have to believe me.

Today, after 24 years of continuous construction....

If we need 24 years to *construct* a reactor, how the heck are we going to use them to address needs anyway? This is bull shit. Local protests have repeatedly stalled work here. Which also means, the protesters were not born today.

There is no scientific justification for this protest

This should only be understood to mean that the extremely scientific questions raised went above this person's head. And then his conditions for who should protest:

The Guy who is leading the protest should be qualified.

With this logic, anti-corruption protests should only be made by economists, investigators or politicians. What do qualifications matter if the points raised are valid?

The arguments that he, which by extension covers the whole protest, is putting forth should be scientifically credible.

Again, same thing.

There are very specific concerns raised about the volcanic activity, nature of ground, underwater topography, etc and clear explanations of how they violate standards or necessitate further investigation. These concerns couldn't be more detailed or specific or scientific without doing the research themselves. These concerns have been repeatedly raised at various platforms, with various people, in various publications.

The government's version of science is Kalam declaring it "100% safe". 100% safe is not a scientific answer. This is what is offered to citizens to keep them happy. But some would like information instead of "main bolta hun na, kuch nahi hoga" If you choose to call everything you don't understand or don't want to give importance to as unscientific, then this isn't something that should be a concern of others.

How can a political scientist present credible theories about the plant to villagers?

In a much better way Jayalalitha and Manmohan Singh gave the green signal to the plant without answering any real concerns, I suppose. He certainly has studied the subject more than both of them put together. And if he is talking about the scientists advising them, there is more evidence based information available on the perils of India's nuclear programmes than their benefits. By scientists, researchers, doctors and more. Including a DEA study that shows larger likelihood of cancers around nuclear plants, an article based on research in the National Geographic linking the birth of fewer girls with the effects of radiation, problems with our nuclear programme itself, and more. A simple glance by any educated person tells us that nuclear energy, at least in India is more trouble than it is worth. So where are the scientific papers reassuring us of safety?

I tried hard to find one that resembled what I mentioned above. After arduous Googling, this is what I found, a post written by Dr Udayakumar himself, on the perils of Kudankulam. This was, by far, the worst document I have seen in my life, and this includes my own writing. And, that is saying something.

I think by now I can safely say this writer's estimation of both what constitutes good writing or scientific is fairly unreliable. The article is there - whoever wants can read and decide for themselves.

Then we get into kid horror films.

Point no 1: Even when the KKNPP projects function normally without any incidents and accidents, they would be emitting Iodine 131, 132, 133, Cesium 134, 136, 137 isotopes, strontium, tritium, tellurium and other such radioactive particles into our air, land, crops, cattle, sea, seafood and ground water. Already the southern coastal belt is sinking with very high incidence of cancer, mental retardation, Down syndrome, defective births due to private and government sea-sand mining for rare minerals including thorium. The KKNPP will add many more woes to our already suffering people.

If you didn’t bother to read it, here is the gist. He writes, because of the radioactive materials leaving the plant and mixing with the water and food, something like this is going to happen in Kudankulam, really really soon.

Mr. Know-it-all is skeptical that radioactive contamination is possible. However documented evidence is that there is health damage to populations near Nuclear plants already. And this isn't activist propaganda, but a study commissioned (and not released) by the DEA - Department of Atomic Energy. It doesn't get more official than this when it comes to nuclear in India.

Though by far and large, our strategy to prevent radioactive contamination is to not check if there is any.

In the city of Mumbai, there is a nuclear reactor, right in the middle of the city. A city of 30 million people. Last known, they have not transformed into some version of The Incredible Hulk meets the Godzilla. It means that the people of Kudankulam and the nearby villages are safe from the ‘monster’ that is the Kudankulam power plant.

I hate to bring a serious subject in the face of such frivolous thinking, but a terminal cancer patient still doesn't look like either Incredible Hulk or Godzilla or any variation thereof. People who dropped dead of radiation on the spot didn't look like that either. This is nothing more than an exhibition of extreme childishness in the face of a serious subject. I suppose since he can't see air, or see people growing visibly, humans neither breathe nor grow?

Also, it needs to be understood here that there is no research on health impact on citizens of Mumbai from the reactors. An absence of data must not be confused with a lack of risk.

The very serious fact on this is that a nuclear accident involving Mumbai will be a nightmare of proportions beyond imagination. Think Japan having to evacuate Tokyo. It is the subject of models and even a book by scientists, and none of them are funny. At all.

This actually coincides with the great American research "Thinking the Unthinkable" - a USGOV study that evaluates the impact of a nuclear attack on Washington and concludes that it wouldn't be all that bad.

Thinking about the unthinkable, a U.S. government study analyzed the likely effects from terrorists setting off a 10-kiloton nuclear device a few blocks north of the White House. It predicted terrible devastation for roughly one-half mile in every direction, with buildings reduced to rubble the way that World War II bombing raids destroyed parts of Berlin.

Just like a videogame. Buildings for a half mile radius reduced to RUBBLE. No mention of people... (Notice how there is no mention of Hiroshima or Nagasaki either... )

But outside that blast zone, the study concluded, even such a nuclear explosion would be pretty survivable.

Let me get this right, the only damage would be buildings in a half mile radius and... nothing... or at least pretty survivable? Why is US not dealing with Pakistan more firmly, then? Wouldn't such pretty survivable damage be worth tackling a festering problem thoroughly? Let's face it. How many cities does Pakistan have within range that are populated equal or more than Washington? So why the fear mongering when it comes to practice? Is it possible that the study is a tad bit unrealistic in terms of the human impact?

But I digress. Coming back to this article making the same point...

If you think in case of a disaster, the whole area will be wiped out and thousands will die, then well you are wrong.

How many people have to die to qualify as a disaster? Does it justify taking risks when alternatives are avaialble?

The total number of fatalities, directly or indirectly, due to a Nuclear power plant meltdown, from 1960-2011, across the globe, is 47.

Yes 47 in all. This includes Chernobyl and Fukushima.

This is bull shit. Even the ultimate pimp of nuclear power - the IAEA puts the DIRECT losses from Chernobyl alone to be 56 and an estimated 4000 "will die eventually". On the other hand, other, non nuclear sources are far less kind. to quote from an excellent article about this in the Guardian:

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, another UN agency, predicts 16,000 deaths from Chernobyl; an assessment by the Russian academy of sciences says there have been 60,000 deaths so far in Russia and an estimated 140,000 in Ukraine and Belarus.

Meanwhile, the Belarus national academy of sciences estimates 93,000 deaths so far and 270,000 cancers, and the Ukrainian national commission for radiation protection calculates 500,000 deaths so far.

And these are no insignificant organizations giving out these numbers. To claim direct and indirect deaths not being more than 47 is like saying only the people who died on that fateful night in Bhopal are the victims of the Bhopal tragedy. Not the ones who died later, not the ones maimed, deformed, disabled, etc. And then reporting that number to be a hundred as well.

And this crapshoot goes on and on in its juvenile rampage. At some point you have:

The Chinese have been building a power plant with Russian help, equipped with the same VVER-1000 Nuclear reactor.

A short while ago, this very reactor was declared as the safest nuclear reactor in the world. That too not by some literary artists like Dr Udayakumar, but by the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA).

China has never been a big one for giving a damn about its people, and IAEA EXISTS to PROMOTE nuclear power. The IAEA has also "welcomed" the news of the "cold shutdown" at Fukushima, when a year after the disaster no one has still found the approximate location of any of the fuel. I would like better reassurances of safety. A good pointer on the "safety" of VVER-1000 is the promotion for VVER-1200 - which addresses "critical deficiencies in design" like a core catcher among other things - which would be nice, no in case of a meltdown? Therefore to kindly shut up.

Before somebody says, let me admit that I am not a nuclear physicist or a scientist.

Not everyone can be a nuclear physicist or scientist, but when pretending to have an even half way informed opinion, research can be done by any person. There is absolutely no excuse not to and then pretend to know what you are talking about.

There is this comprehensive government report which counters every argument of this man.

This mysterious report needs to see light of day no? Why not provide a link? Better still, ask the government to publish it widely, so that those questions are answered, and the protest stops?

Overall assessment of this article: Juvenile

Author: Malicious and juvenile.

Editor: Incompetent

FirstPost: Pro-nuclear disinformation source

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.

14

Twitter is ablaze with news of nuclear meltdown being imminent in Japan and some tweets are along the lines of "OMG! the reactors are going to explode! God save the world". This sounds a little extreme, and I thought I'd share what I found out in extremely non-tech terms for anyone to get an overall "panic-rating" kind of grip on the subject.

The Japanese reactors are light water reactors. Without getting into the scientifics of it, in the words of an expert, Naoto Sekimura, a professor at the University of Tokyo, a major radioactive disaster is unlikely.

"No Chernobyl is possible at a light water reactor. Loss of coolant means a temperature rise, but it also will stop the
reaction," he said.

"Even in the worst-case scenario, that would mean some radioactive leakage and equipment damage, but not an explosion. If venting is done carefully, there will be little leakage. Certainly not beyond the 3 km radius."

IAEA seems to agree on the whole, though they are concerned and actively monitoring.

Nuclear reactors use radioactive fuel to generate electricity. In the process, the fuel gets hot, and much like say, the engine of your car, it needs to be kept cool. This is a big deal, because unlike your car, if this stuff explodes, we can forget using that area of the earth for a long, long time because its radioactive contents will get scattered in the blast. Thus, the fuel is kept at desired temperatures and prevented from overheating. There is massive planning and enginnering around this, with several methods used simultaneously, each capable of cooling the core independently. In addition to that, each method has back ups and fail safes till a mind numbing redundancy is achieved. This is in order to set things up so that once the reactor is in operation, there is absolutely no possibility that there is a failure in cooling it down. The fuel needs to be cooled for a day or two after shutting a nuclear reactor down.

Another factor is the pressure. Evaporating coolant can create high pressures that can threaten the integrity of the containment dome. This can be released by venting, which is a management mechanism and not procedure, since it means that some quanitites of radiation can get released along with the steam. This isn't radioactive materials, but the water itself absorbing neutrons from the cooling process, which are shed off quickly. This radioactivity isn't supposed to last long because the water used is specially demineralized for the purpose, thus making it extremely resistant to this kind of radioactivity. Not that the core cares what cools it, but the water not being radioactive makes it easier for managing the plant.

Sometimes, this system can fail, like it is failing in Japan, right now. When the earthquake happened, the reactors were shut down. This was pretty much instantly. Well before the tsunami. It means the control rods came and fitted in between the fuel rods, so that the ricocheting neutrons had less space to move and less power and less targets, till it would finally wind down and stop in a day or two. This is normal. Nuclear reactions are like that.

And the backup generators took over the cooling since the reactor was no longer producing electricity (and there were back up generators for the ones in operation too). This worked well for about an hour till the tsunami hit and took out all the generators. This was unfortunate, because the cooling system needs constant power. However, the third line of back up kicked in and the generator switched to battery power, which would last for 8 hours or so. Post this point, things seemed to go into chaos. For some reason, they were not able to use the time provided by the battery to rig up yet another power source, and when the battery was exhausted, the reactor started heating up. Without a circulation mechanism for the coolant, the whole thing is overheating and pressure is increasing from the evaporating water.

There are plans to let off steam. US has flown in coolant. Japan has been extremely transparent and proactive in dealing with the exposure to people. The area was evacuated well before any radiation could be found.

My suggestion would be to not panic. Yes, it can blow up, like the US Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island Meltdown. Mushroom cloud and all. Nothing is impossible. The venting could run into problems (though I don't see how). Everything to prevent a disaster could fail. But more likely it won't.

The domes that are so characteristic of nuclear reactors are basically built to contain any meltdowns. You can read about the architecture/engineering of a nuclear reactor facility, but I have, and without boring you with the details, there are vastly reassuring quantities of steel and very, very thick leak proof concrete structure. Its purpose is to contain any explosion/radiation that may occur. And there is no evidence that this integrity is breached.

Japan is a country with a reputation for engineering and efficiency. It has survived the only two atom bombs explosions in the world. I think its fair to say that they aren't going to give this up without a good fight. And, their expertise, ready aid from the world and the inherent safeguards built into every aspect of a reactor are on their side.

So, like the Hitchhiker's guide says, "Don't panic".... if the worst happens, I promise you you will have plenty of time.

Update: there has been an explosion OUTSIDE Japan's nuclear power plant at Fukushima 1. Doesn't seem to be a nuclear explosion, but building is damaged. 2killed, 4 workers injured. Uh... don't freak out just yet. Unlikely that a nuclear blast will result in 4 injuries at ground zero. More likely to do with the pressure building up or steam from some drastic cooling measure or hydrogen exploding from the venting. Let's wait for news. The only thing I am worried about is the radioactive stuff outside the containment - like spent fuel. Building gone means that is exposed, right? Or worse - exploded? But nothing in the news, so obviously I don't know as much as I imagine.

Update 2: Yep, like I said - steam. People within 20km asked to evacuate. Radiation leaking from damaged building. Residents advised to remain indoors, not drink tap water, and to cover their faces with wet towels (? for how long with covered face - but I guess for as long as it takes to get a green signal ?)

Update 3: Early, unconfirmed tweets on mushroom explosion spotted over reactor, but from an Australian, from the look of it. Could be a reaction to earlier blast, or something new? Scientists didn't seem to have invested much belief in the explosion idea for a light water reactor (like these are). Wait n watch  - you'll get to panic or breathe a sigh of relief soon.

Update 4: Stray initial tweets about pressure having been successfully released from the reactors, but paranoid Tweeters on and on about "Japanese reactor just exploded, OMG!!!" The links provided are all to the video footage of the earlier explosion OUTSIDE the reactor that damaged the building and *possibly* raised leakage. Nothing remotely like a nuclear explosion has happened yet, nor is it scheduled.

More quotes:

Robin Grimes, Professor of material physics at Imperial College, London

Despite the damage to the outer structure, as long as that steel inner vessel remains intact, then the vast majority of the radiation will be contained.

Professor Paddy Regan, Nuclear Physicist from Britain's Surrey University

"If the pressure vessel, which is the thing that actually holds all the nuclear fuel ... if that was to explode -- that's basically what happened at Chernobyl -- you get an enormous release of radioactive material.

"It doesn't look from the television pictures ... as though it's the vessel itself.

Update 5: For those who absolutely must follow microdetails (like me), a better source is http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/index-e.html you will get all the techy things like timings for different things done, status of reactors, worker accident status, etc.

Update 6: News of problems at reactor 3 at Daichi.