[FoRK] Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power

Damien Morton dmorton at bitfurnace.com
Fri Mar 25 09:31:31 PDT 2011


Japan Quietly Evacuating a Wider Radius From Reactors

TOKYO — Japanese officials began quietly encouraging people to evacuate a
larger swath of territory around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant on
Friday, a sign that they hold little hope that the crippled facility will
soon be brought under control.

The authorities said they would now assist people who want to leave the area
from 12 to 19 miles outside the crippled plant and said they were now
encouraging “voluntary evacuation” from the area. Those people had been
advised March 15 to remain indoors, while those within a 12-mile radius of
the plant had been ordered to evacuate.

The United States has recommended that its citizens stay at least 50 miles
away from the plant.

Speaking to a national audience at a news conference Friday night to mark
the two weeks since the magnitude 9.0 quake and the devastating tsunami that
followed it, Prime Minister Naoto Kan dodged a reporter’s question about
whether the government was ordering a full evacuation, saying officials were
simply following the recommendation of the Japan Nuclear Safety Commission.

In the latest setback to the effort to contain the nuclear crisis, evidence
emerged that the reactor vessel of the No. 3 unit may have been damaged, an
official said Friday. The development, described at a news conference by
Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy director-general of the Japan Nuclear and
Industrial Safety Agency, raises the possibility that radiation from the mox
fuel in the reactor — a combination of uranium and plutonium — could be

One sign that a breach may have occurred in the reactor vessel, Mr.
Nishiyama said, took place on Thursday when three workers who were trying to
connect an electrical cable to a pump in a turbine building next to the
reactor were injured when they stepped into water that was found to be
significantly more radioactive than normal in a reactor.

The No. 3 unit, the only one of the six reactors at the site that uses the
mox fuel, was damaged by a hydrogen explosion on March 14. Workers have been
seeking to keep it cool by spraying it with seawater along with a more
recent effort to restart the reactor’s cooling system. A broken vessel is
not the only possible explanation, he said. The water might have leaked from
another part of the facility.

The news Friday and the discovery this week of a radioactive isotope in the
water supplies of Tokyo and neighboring prefectures has punctured the mood
of optimism with which the week began, leaving a sense that the battle to
fix the damaged plant will be a long one.

“The situation still requires caution,” Mr. Kan, grave and tired-looking,
told the nation. “Our measures are aimed at preventing the circumstances
from getting worse.”

Mr. Kan also apologized to the businesses and farmers whose livelihoods have
been endangered by the plant. He acknowledged the assistance of the United
States and thanked the many people — utility workers, military personnel,
policemen and firefighters — who are risking their lives in an effort to
restore the cooling functions of the plant and stop the harmful release of

“Let us take courage, and walk together to rebuild,” he added. “The nation
united, as one, to overcome the crisis.”

No one is being ordered to evacuate the second zone around the troubled
plant, officials said, and people may choose to remain, but many have
already left of their own accord, tiring of the anxiety and tedium of
remaining cooped up as the nuclear crisis simmers just a few miles away.
Many are said to be virtual prisoners, with no access to shopping and
immobilized by a lack of gasoline.

“What we’ve been finding is that in that area life has become quite
difficult,” Noriyuki Shikata, deputy cabinet secretary for Prime
MinisterNaoto Kan, said in a telephone interview. “People don’t want to go
into the zone to make deliveries.”

Mr. Shikata said the question of where those who chose to leave would go was
still under consideration.

NHK, the Japanese public broadcaster, quoted a Land Self Defense Force
official as saying, “We’re trying to quickly locate everyone who remains, so
that we can rapidly help in case the nuclear plant situation worsens.”

Officials continue to be dogged by suspicions that they are not telling the
entire story about the radiation leaks. Shunichi Tanaka, former acting
chairman of the country’s Atomic Energy Commission, told The Japan Times in
an interview published Friday that the government was being irresponsible in
forcing people from their homes around the damaged plant without explaining
the risks they were facing.

“The government has not yet said in concrete terms why evacuation is
necessary to the people who have evacuated,” he said.

The National Police Agency said Friday that the official death toll from the
March 11 earthquake and tsunami had passed 10,000, with nearly 17,500 others
listed as missing.

There was some good news. Levels of the radioactive isotope found in Tokyo’s
water supply fell Friday for a second day, officials said, dropping to 51
becquerels per liter, well below the country’s stringent maximum for

On Wednesday, Tokyo area stores were cleaned out of bottled water after the
Tokyo authorities said the isotope, iodine 131, had been detected in the
city’s water supply and cautioned those in the affected areas not to give
infants tap water. On Thursday, cities in two of Tokyo’s neighboring
prefectures, Chiba and Saitama, also reported disturbing levels of radiation
in their water.

Nuclear workers will have to keep venting radioactive gases from the damaged
reactors, adding to the plume of emissions carried by winds and dispersed by
rain. The public has been warned not to consume food and milk from the area
near the plant.

Japanese officials said nine days ago that there were signs of damage to the
reactor vessel at reactor No. 3, particularly warning then that there might
have been damage to the suppression pool.

But Michael Friedlander, a former nuclear power plant operator for 13 years
in the United States, said that the presence of radioactive cobalt and
molybdenum in water samples taken from the basement of the turbine building
of reactor No. 3 raised the possibility of a very different leak.

Both materials typically occur not because of fission but because of routine
corrosion in a reactor and its associated piping over the course of many
years of use, he said.

These materials are continuously removed from the reactor’s water system as
it circulates through a piece of equipment called a condensate polisher,
which is located outside the reactor vessel. The discovery of both materials
in the basement suggests damage to that equipment or its associated piping,
as opposed to a breach of the reactor vessel itself, Mr. Friedlander said.

The condensate polisher is also located in the basement of the turbine
building, where the tainted water was found. By contrast, the reactor vessel
is actually located in a completely different, adjacent building, and would
be far less likely to leak into the basement of the turbine building.

The aggressive use of saltwater to cool the reactor and storage pool may
mean that more of these highly radioactive corrosion materials will be
dislodged and contaminate the area in the days to come, posing further
hazards to repair workers, Mr. Friedlander added.

Speaking at a Webcast press conference, Sakae Muto, a Tokyo Electric Power
vice president, said that the company did not know how badly the seawater
used to cool the reactors had contributed to corrosion. Seawater leaves
residue behind as it evaporates and corrosion damages critical pipes, valves
and metal assemblies.

He said the company had found the same problem with contaminated water in
the basements of the No.1 and No. 2 turbine buildings as that which caused
the men’s injuries in the No. 3 unit. Removing the radioactive water will
delay the work of restarting cooling systems.

On Friday, the company switched to pumping fresh water to cool the No. 1

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