Fukushima: It’s worse

Yoniuri Online diagram showing reduced water levels in Reactor 1 at Fukushima Daiichi plant.Several people picked up on the Fukushima updates recently. A hat-tip to  Krista Mahr of Time Online who in her article Fukushima: Er, Sorry…Worse Than We Thought repeats what I said yesterday about it being worse than we thought and pointed me to a Yomiuri Online report.

The Yomiuri Shimbun Online review of the situation has a very good image of the situation. Linked at right.

The commentary noted that TEPCO announced that the temperature apparently has stabilized, but that the water that has been pumped in has not covered the rods and now TEPCO believes that serious melting of the rods has occurred. [My emphasis]

TEPCO said the temperature in the pressure vessel is stabilized at 100 C to 120 C but that the water-entombment plan, in which water was expected to be filled to about 1 meter above the top of the fuel rods, needs to be reconsidered. The company is considering increasing the amount of water injected into the pressure vessel, which currently stands at about 8 tons per hour.

TEPCO learned about the water level of the pressure vessel after workers who entered the reactor building beginning Tuesday adjusted a water-level gauge. Previously, the reading of the water level had remained almost unchanged at about 1.6 meters below the top of fuel rods since immediately after the outbreak of the crisis at the plant following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

After adjusting the gauge, workers found the actual water level was more than 5 meters below the top of the fuel rods. As the fuel rods are about 4 meters long, they are considered to have been fully exposed above the cooling water, TEPCO said.

It said it believes the fuel rods mostly have fallen to the bottom of the pressure vessel after melting or collapsing.

I have no idea of what the adjustment of the gauge entailed, but that the readings were so far off must lead us to take with a large dose of skepticism the other status indicators released.

One thought leapt to my mind when reading the 8 tons per hour flow rate of the water coolant. “Where is all that water going?” and “How large is the Pressure Vessel anyway?” Well, later in the article I got my answer.

The company believes that most of the 190 tons of water injected every day is leaking from the pressure vessel, which is likely to be damaged more seriously than previously thought.More than 10,000 cubic meters of water had been injected into the reactor as of Thursday, exceeding the combined 360-cubic-meter capacity of the pressure vessel and the 7,800-cubic-meter capacity of the containment chamber.

It is highly likely that water is leaking from both the pressure vessel and containment chamber and flowing into underground parts of the reactor building and the adjacent turbine building,

There is nothing in the report to say where the water is finally ending up. The fuel rods are melted in the bottom of the pressure vessel, meaning that the plutonium and enriched uranium has escaped its zirconium cladding and is in contact directly with the cooling water. And that cooling water is leaking from the pressure vessel and the containment vessel. It will only be a matter of time before it is found in the environment around the plant: seawater, ground water, soil and air.

The only positive is that it appears, so far, that the reaction has stopped and that there is no hot meltdown of the core materials leading to a China Syndrome escape of nuclear material as happened with the infamous Elephant’s Foot of Chernobyl.

Krista Mahr point also to an article in the Japan Times by David McNeill that confirms that Iitate in Fukushima province has to be cleared:

By the end of the month, this mountainous farming village of 7,000 people in Fukushima Prefecture, recently voted one of Japan’s most beautiful places, will join the Ukrainian ghost town of Pripyat on the planet’s short list of nuclear casualties.

One of the most poignant tales is the callous prejudice and bullying that victims from Fukushima suffer at the hands of other Japanese:

Many have heard stories of children evacuated from the village, sometimes hundreds of kilometers away, being bullied, a painful echo of the decades-long discrimination that dogged survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“I’ve heard that other kids shout ‘baikin’ (vermin) at them,” said Shoji’s granddaughter, Hiroko, 22.

This will be a 21st century morality story for years to come.

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