The Ides of March brought a nuclear disaster!
by James Buchanan
The 9.0 earthquake off Japan and the devastating tsunami that has killed thousands has spawned a nuclear emergency, which appears to be getting worse by the hour. Emergency workers have fled a nuclear reactor at Fukushima after radiation levels soared. The top story at Yahoo News reports “Japan ordered emergency workers to withdraw from its stricken nuclear power complex Wednesday amid a surge in radiation, temporarily suspending efforts to cool overheating reactors. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the workers, who were dousing the reactors with seawater in a frantic effort to stabilize their temperatures, had no choice except to withdraw. ‘The workers cannot carry out even minimal work at the plant now,’ Edano said. ‘Because of the radiation risk we are on standby.’ …Radiation levels had gone down by later Wednesday, but it was not immediately clear if the workers had been allowed back in, or how far away they had withdrawn.”
It’s fairly certain that a containment structure has failed, which caused the surge in radiation. These workers were spraying saltwater on the reactor to try to keep its reactor temperature down so that its containment structure would not overheat and fail. The withdrawal of the emergency workers is a terrible sign that literally left CNN’s Anderson Cooper and a nuclear expert from MIT stunned on live TV.
A report on CNN noted that the company that runs the nuclear facilities at Fukushima has a history of deception and lying about safety issues. It’s safe to assume that all the early reports were severely understating the danger and problems at Fukushima.
The disaster started with the earthquake and tsunami that hit northern Japan. The tsunami apparently knocked out all the diesel generators at one of the nuclear reactors. Batteries kept the cooling pumps running for several hours. Unfortunately, no one was able to bring in a new diesel generator before the batteries died. Admittedly there was a huge amount of confusion and chaos after the tsunami, but the condition of nuclear reactors in the area should have been a top priority for both the government and the company running the power plant.
Steam and hydrogen built up at the reactor with the failed cooling system and an explosion occurred, which blew out the walls and collapsed the ceiling of the building surrounding the containment structure. This explosion also apparently destroyed the diesel generators at the neighboring reactor.
An attempt was then made to spray saltwater on the containment structure inside the destroyed building to keep the reactor containment structure from melting down.
Meanwhile, fires erupted at other buildings in the vicinity, and an explosion destroyed another building housing a reactor. Spent fuel rods are being stored at the nuclear facility that are not in a containment structure and the building that they are in is on fire.
An article about the GE nuclear reactors used at Fukushima notes that “The warnings were stark and issued repeatedly as far back as 1972: If the cooling systems ever failed at a ‘Mark 1′ nuclear reactor, the primary containment vessel surrounding the reactor would probably burst as the fuel rods inside overheated. Dangerous radiation would spew into the environment. Now, with one Mark 1 containment vessel damaged at the embattled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and other vessels there under severe strain, the weaknesses of the design — developed in the 1960s by General Electric — could be contributing to the unfolding catastrophe. When the ability to cool a reactor is compromised, the containment vessel is the last line of defense. Typically made of steel and concrete, it is designed to prevent — for a time — melting fuel rods from spewing radiation into the environment if cooling efforts completely fail. In some reactors, known as pressurized water reactors, the system is sealed inside a thick steel-and-cement tomb. Most nuclear reactors around the world are of this type. But the type of containment vessel and pressure suppression system used in the failing reactors at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant is physically less robust, and it has long been thought to be more susceptible to failure in an emergency than competing designs.”
The dangerously high radiation level that drove off the emergency workers suggests that a containment structure has already ruptured and it’s only a matter of time until the other reactors at Fukushima also rupture.
This appears to be developing into a world-class disaster. At this stage it would not be surprising if workers made a suicidal effort to brave high radiation levels to try to get the situation under control much like workers and soldiers did at Chernobyl.
The Mercury News reports “As public concern grows about radiation from Japan possibly drifting to the West Coast of the United States, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday announced that it will deploy more electronic monitors that measure radiation levels in the air.”