Recently in fukushima Category

» Today marks the 1-year anniversary of the nuclear reactor meltdown(s) at Fukushima in Japan. By the way, Peter Kim sent me a link to the following 2-minute animated video he assembled, titled » Japan: One Year Later (.. looking for feedback). You might enjoy it. I was impressed. Surprisingly artistic.

Having spent much of my adult life working 'round REACTORS of one type or another [ .. both military & civilian reactors, both boiling-water reactors (yuk) & pressurized-water reactors (sweet) .. both Westinghouse & General Electric reactor plant designs ] ..

International Radiation Warning Sign.. at a handful of nuclear plants on both the East & West coasts ..

.. as a migrant nuclear worker of sorts (.. selling my body's federally allowed radiation exposure as a Rad-Whore for Rad dollars) ..

.. in positions both technical & supervisory .. both staff & line ..

.. I posted (you might recall) 4 entries, commenting on the disaster:

  1. Nuclear Reactor Meltdown at Fukushima in Japan (13.March.2011)
  2. Nuclear Spent Fuel Pools DRY at Fukushima (17.March.2011)
  3. Nuclear Grade Sushi from Fukushima (09.April.2011)
  4. Radiation Exposure & Biological Damage (10.April.2011)

.. where I tried to take you INSIDE a reactor plant (.. the way the Godfather takes you inside the Mafia).

These 4 entries are contained and grouped together in their own category, titled » Fukushima. I received lots of mail about those entries, so I know how much you guys enjoyed them.

I have been following developments since .. including results of recent reports published by various agencies .. and the thing I am most struck by ..

.. is how SCREWED UP everybody was. I mean, Japan is normally known for having its technical shit together. Meticulous attention to detail.

The word "chaos" was used to describe all involved parties. This includes not only plant operators at TEPCo (.. which we already knew about).

Nuclear reactor spent fuel cell being moved in a spent fuel pool (of water)But also Japan's nuclear regulatory agency. And even up to and including their Highest Levels of Government. All were freaked out of their minds.

In the 3rd entry that I posted, the one titled » Nuclear Grade Sushi from Fukushima, I made the following comment (.. yeah, a year ago, a month into the crisis):

"It says bad things about management at Tokyo Electric (TEPCo) and reveals a loss of control. I see confusion, disorientation. Bad decisions.

I was kinda kidding before when I said the nuclear motto was » "dilution is the solution to pollution." TEPCo apparently takes that seriously."

I remember writing that .. because is was so FOREIGN to my own nuclear experience. I remember feeling sad for them. For the whole nuclear industry, in general. Could see back then they were (obviously) making bad decisions .. I just didnt know WHY.

See .. my experience is .. the military trains you well .. so well (.. too well, one could argue) .. by running countless DRILLS on your ass .. night and day .. to the point that you eventually become like a MACHINE.

I'm talking about AFTER you finish all your OTHER training, both classroom & prototype, where they train you on a real live reactor plant, and AFTER you arrive at the Fleet .. reporting for duty aboard an actual nuclear-powered weapon of mass destruction.

Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant on the Hudson River in New York» Automatic Machine-like Response Mode

As a result, responses to emergencies take you (.. in a finger-snap) into a sort of AUTOMATIC response mode. Difficult to describe, but the feeling is deeply ingrained. (Still.)

If you've watched any of the Bourne series of movies (.. starring Matt Damon) .. Identity, Supremacy, Ultimatum .. you have an idea of how this works. In the movie, Bourne (Damon) is surprised himself .. at/by his own responses.

A guy touches him on the shoulder .. next thing you know, bodies are laying all over the ground around him .. moaning and writhing in pain. At the same time, he doesnt even know who he is .. doesnt even know his own name .. cant recall his past. So how is he able (he must be wondering) to kick so much ass?

The link/thread shared in common between Jason Bourne & your friendly neighborhood Nuclear Warrior » intense, focused long-term military training.

I am certainly no Kung-Fu master .. but that automatic-response conditioning .. is very familiar .. such that you DONT EVEN HAVE TO THINK. It's like you become "one with" the the reactor plant. (Zen-like.) You can "feel" it .. intuitively.

And let me tell you, while they are running all these freaking DRILLS on your ass .. you get so damn tired of them. They become so BORING. Drills .. day after day after day .. after day.

And you KNOW that these drills are not real emergencies. So you have to IMAGINE .. that the reactor is really melting down (.. or whatever happens to be blowing up today).

And this makes everything so .. fake. And all these "monitors" are standing around you (.. with their clipboards) .. and writing down every time you scratch your butt. They take everything so seriously .. as if the reactor really were melting.

Radiation Exposure & Biological Damage

» X-rays and gamma rays are nearly identical. Both consist of high-energy light "particles" (called photons) capable of damaging the cells of your body (.. by creating highly-reactive ions). But what differentiates them? What's the difference between an x-ray and a gamma ray?

Radioactive symbolMerely » the source. Point of origin. X-rays come from the electrons of an atom, while gammas come from the (radioactive decay of the) nucleus.

After they leave the source, you cant really tell whether it's a gamma or an x-ray. (Tho we will look at ways to make an educated guess.) Generally, gammas tend to be higher energy than x-rays.

More energy = more ionization = more ion pairs created = more free radicals = more biological damage .. to the cells of your body.

Think of someone punching you in the arm. X-rays punch like a girl, while gamma rays punch like a gorilla. Tho you can also have weak gammas and powerful x-rays. (Some girls punch hard.)

Nuclear Reactor Spent Fuel Cell Underwater at Spent Fuel PoolIonizing radiation produces free radicals, which are highly chemically-reactive. This means that (in the end) radiation damages the cells of your body by CHEMICAL means .. similar to how poison works.

Chemistry is very much about » electrons .. whereas 'nuclear' (e.g. fission & fusion) is all about » the nucleus.

I find the shift interesting (.. from nucleus to orbital electron). And there's a gap when the gamma is associated with neither .. after it leaves the nucleus, but before it interacts with the cells of your body.

Does not the higher energy of the photons being emitted from the nucleus suggest that the nucleus contains MORE ENERGY? (Cuz it does.)

This is part of a paradigm I developed to conceptualize radiation (.. which you cant see, tho it can kill) .. as it applies to biological damage.

X-rays and gamma rays simply have a higher frequency (shorter wave-length) in the electromagnetic spectrum .. of which visible light is a part.

In other words, if our eyes were capable .. of seeing MORE of the light-spectrum, we would be able to SEE x-rays and gamma rays .. just like we can see the colors of the rainbow. This is because x-rays, gamma rays and visible light are all part of the same thing. (Perhaps our species will evolve.)

When you see that gammas and x-rays are similar to visible light, you can see how covering a radioactive source with a lead blanket is like covering a light bulb with smoked glass. The effect is the same. The intensity is diminished.

Spent Fuel Pool on Refuel Floor Brown Ferry Nuclear PlantMost (but not all) of the radionuclides produced in your typical nuclear power plant decay by emitting gammas.

One exception, for example, is Cesium-137 (a fission fragment), which decays by emitting only a beta particle. (Beta = an electron-like particle ejected from the nucleus.)

Besides the fission process itself (.. which creates radioactive fission fragments), some elements become radioactive by becoming irradiated when they pass thru the reactor core, where they are carried (in-to and out-of) by the coolant (purified water).

There, within the reactor core, these impurities (corrosion & wear products from pumps, valves & other plant components) are subjected to an intense neutron field/flux. (Each fissioning uranium atom produces 2-to-3 neutrons. Neutrons go away when the reactor is shutdown.)

Radioactive nuclides (such as Cobalt-60) that DO emit gamma rays during radioactive decay, always emit gammas of the SAME ENERGY. This gives each gamma-emitting isotope a distinctive "fingerprint" that can be measured.

Nuclear Grade Sushi from Fukushima

» I cant believe the boys at Fukushima (TEPCo) pumped more than three million gallons of unprocessed highly radioactive water directly into the ocean. That blows my mind.

Fukushima Daichi TEPCoThat's like taking a gigantic krap in your front yard .. every day for a year.

And Japan is the country that loves sushi. Would you eat sushi from Japan? (.. without a geiger-counter?)

They should have called for a barge to be delivered and pumped all the radioactive water into there.

I'm surprised they dont have a small fleet of such barges anchored right offshore .. just in case.

In the Navy, it was not allowed to discharge radioactive liquid into the ocean within 12 miles of land.

Sometimes we would go out to sea, just beyond the 12-mile point, discharge the contents of our retention tanks, then turn around and head back to port.

Nuclear Grade Sushi from Fukushima, Compliments of TEPCoAnd we would ALWAYS run any radioactive coolant (water) thru the purification system (ion exchanger resin bed) before discharging it overboard.

Moreover, we would always SAMPLE the water being discharged, to determine its radioactive concentration (.. which was always LOW, after being processed thru the purification system).

Entries regarding the discharge of radioactive liquid were entered into a discharge log.

The discharge log was important enough that only officers were allowed to make entries (» time, date, number of gallons discharged, radioactive concentration, total number of curies discharged overboard).

After drawing the sample, we would always first evaporate-off the water before counting the sample's radioactivity (in a lead-lined "pig" .. to shield out background radiation) .. because water shields radiation, and prevents an accurate count.

New Radiation symbolWe did this (evaporation) using a heat-lamp .. not unlike the kind you see warming your burger & fries at McDonalds. It would take maybe 10 minutes to "boil off" a 2-milli-liter sample.

If the heat was too high, the water in the metal planchet would splatter onto the bulb. Splatter is bad.

The best source that I've seen for what's happening at Fukushima is » here (NY Times) and » here (NY Times) and » here (Stanford).

There's also an article that said » Inevitable Some May Die within Weeks (of radiation exposure).

That would be a huge failure. It says bad things about management at Tokyo Electric (TEPCo) and reveals a loss of control. I see confusion, disorientation. Bad decisions.

I was kinda kidding before when I said the nuclear motto was » "dilution is the solution to pollution." TEPCo apparently takes that seriously.

Nuclear Spent Fuel Pools DRY at Fukushima

Happy St. Patty's day. Erin go bragh. The Japanese are gonna need some of that luck-of-the-Irish .. seeing how Tokyo is the world's most populous city. Cuz now we hear reports that their spent fuel pools at Fukushima have gone DRY.

Cherenkov Radiation Spent Fuel PoolThat's what it sounded like all along, which is probably where they got all the hydrogen to blow the tops off those reactor buildings.

[ Uncovered fuel produces hydrogen when the cladding overheats and begins to oxidize, and there's much more fuel stored in the SFP's than there is sitting in the reactor core. ]

The 9.0 earthquake (which reportedly continued to rock-n-roll for some 5 minutes, and exceeded the plant's structural design criteria based on its flawed seismic risk assessment) probably cracked the foundations of the aging plants and now the spent fuel pools can no longer hold water.

If true, that would be very bad. Worse than I could've ever possibly imagined. Cuz there's no pressure vessel (6-inch thick steel) surrounding the SFP .. like there is for the reactor core.

Whatever they are paying those guys, it aint enough. We're talking potentially lethal doses dealing with that problem. (You cant just walk up to the pool and look in to check water level, or you're dead.)

Conflict Between U.S. & Japanese Sources

There exists a surprising disagreement between the US NRC and those in Japan. The U.S. is saying "we saw" (via aircraft) that the pool is dry .. whereas those in Japan say "we saw" .. it's got water.

Uh, somebody is lying. Here's what I say » "Show me these photos."

I would be freaking out if I were working at a plant where the SFP is dry .. even more so than at a plant where we had lost core integrity. (Sentiment echoed by the U.N.'s Nuke chief.)

Nuclear Reactor Fuel AssemblyThe core has a 6-inch thick metal pressure vessel around it .. which will not only provide shielding, but keep most of the nasties inside.

You do not have that luxury with a SFP. Plus the source is so much BIGGER. You can store much more fuel in a SFP than you can in the core of a reactor. 

Which means the exposure dose rates do not drop off as quickly with distance. There are different formulas for calculating dose-rates from a point-source, a line-source, and a plane-source.

[ Time, distance & shielding are the 3 ways we limit our exposure to radiation. ]

If you think about it logically, it makes sense. Think about how the nasty smell of garbage drops off with distance from different-sized sources. With an SFP, you are not merely standing next to a garbage can. Rather, you are AT the dump. =)

Nuclear Fallout from Fukushima reaches Wes Coast CaliforniaFirst, if the spent fuel pools are dry, you dont want helicopters buzzing overhead, blowing the radioactive contamination to the four corners of the earth. And God forbid if anything were to happen to the engine while hovering over the pool.

The #1 question TEPCO needs to answer when/if they restore cooling » Is the pool holding water? (That's easy to tell.)

And the pilots are gonna get cooked (.. super high radiation levels) unless they fly high above, which will make it difficult for them to hit their target.

That was a stupid idea. Water cannons (from below) would've been better.

If I were king, I'd throw a big fat hose up-n-over .. into the pool. Maybe shoot it up there with a catapult or lift it with a crane .. and fill that suker with nuclear-grade concrete (.. add a little boron for good measure).

Use a crane to position a high-resolution camera way up high, so you can see wtf you're doing.

Then build a wall around the entire site .. and come back in a thousand years to see what kind of radiation levels we got. (Thank God for radioactive decay.)

What else can they do? Nothing. They're screwed. If they keep adding water to a leaking SFP, where is that water going? Into ground water? Into the ocean? [ The nuclear motto » dilution is the solution to pollution. ]

Put up a big sign » "The Fukushima Radioactive Waste Disposal Facility - Keep Out 'til 3011". Bury the whole place in concrete (nuclear sarcophagus) and chalk it up to a learning experience. Or bad luck.

[ Note that concrete weighs about two and one-half times MORE THAN WATER per unit volume. That means they'll only be able to fill the SFPs roughly one-third full .. to achieve the same weight-loading .. to avoid overloading the plant's structural design capacity. Rad civil engineering. ]

These pools were never intended for long-term storage of spent fuel. This has been an issue for many years now. "What're we gonna do when the pool is full?"

Reactor Fuel CellDry Storage Casks

Good time to buy stock in whatever company makes dry-storage casks. Those things are safe, but you have to wait ~5 years .. until the cell is "cool" enough (.. enough decay heat has diminished) .. before you can pull it out of the water and not have it cook itself.

I have worked with those casks. Basically lower it into the pool. (Gigantic, super heavy.) Drop in 4 cells (.. which never break the surface of the water). Put the lid back on and pull the cask out of water. Drain water out. Hose it down.

Spend a few days decontaminating by hand. (Stainless steel.) I dont recall hydrolazing these things.

If you hose it down with clean water while it's going INTO the pool, it's easier to decontaminate coming out .. cuz the clean water fills up all the little pores in the stainless steel.

[ I thought it was a stupid idea at first, but it really works. =) ]

I mean, you could drop this thing out of a plane at 30,000 feet and I dont think it would break. Tho you *would* have a big hole somewhere. =) Plus, they knock down the dose-rate to a surprisingly low level.

Do you not find it somewhat curious .. with all this talk of meltdown in Japan .. that just last month I posted an article (about the use of Visual Metaphor in web design) .. which contained a photo of a fuel cell, pulled from a nuclear reactor (.. glowing beautifully with Cherenkov radiation)? Cuz I do.

Cherenkov Radiation from Nuclear Spent FuelUh, actually there were two pictures.

Moreover, you might recall, how (in that post) I included a story .. about a Japanese Nuclear engineer, who died due to radiation exposure ..

.. when he stuck a pipe in the water (.. while trying to spy the serial number on the ID tag attached to a spent fuel cell).

You must admit » it does seem a little trippy .. given the TIMING of that post. Cuz shortly thereafter we have reports of nuclear fuel cells melting down in Japan, and people dying there.

And consider how the story of the engineer was not at all germane to the topic of discussion that day (i.e. web design). It seemed to stick out. No?

Afterwards, I asked myself why I added it, since it had nothing to do with web design. I normally try to stay on-topic .. unless there's a compelling reason to digress. And that particular digression was a BIG one (consisting of several paragraphs).

In fact, you can still find those photos posted at the bottom of the home page (.. at least, until I transfer them to the February archive).

Indian Point Nuclear PlantFirst-hand Experience

Reactors are one of those things with which I have plenty of first-hand experience.

In the Navy, for example, I literally *lived* with a reactor .. while stationed aboard a nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarine, home-ported in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii (.. with the Dog) for a few years.

In commercial nuclear power, I might as well have lived there. I've worked at a handful of different plants around the country .. as a migrant nuclear worker of sorts.

I've worked at both pressurized and boiling water reactor plants. (I prefer PWRs, as I think do most rad ho's.) On both the East & West coasts.

I have been to the nasty-of-nasties (highest dose areas) .. in both PWR & BWR plants. Which is why I have a lifetime occupational exposure record with respectable numbers (.. selling my body for $Rad dollars).

[ Dont think I wasnt a little concerned when the Bug was born .. but he came out "perfect." Whew. ]

Meanwhile, military/Navy plants have no really nasty places (.. radiation-wise). You could literally eat lunch sitting on the reactor in your street clothes. (If they would let you. Which they dont.)

Nuclear fuel pellets» Ceramic Pellets Inside Long Metal Pins (Rods)

Yeah, I know a little about reactor fuel cell construction. Tho that was never my focus. (Rather » plant operations & radiation protection.)

The military doesnt teach you how to build a reactor, just how to operate one.

They do however, teach enough so you know what kind of animal you're dealing with. From an operational perspective, you dont really need to know from-whence-the-beast-cometh. Only what it looks-like here-n-now.

But I picked up bits here & there .. along the way. Plus I ask lotsa questions.

A fuel cell is comprised of little pellets (dark gray), similar in size and shape to that of a thin cigarette filter .. like a long stick cut into small pieces, tho a little smaller and stubbier than a cigarette filter.

A bucket-load of these ceramic (uranium-containing) fuel pellets are fed into long pins (called "rods" by some) .. that are maybe 12-feet tall.

Uranium hexaflorideThese pins are made of an exotic (metal) alloy .. specifically design to withstand the enormous heat and pressure that is generated when a reactor is operating at power (.. a truly beautiful thing, technologically speaking).

[ Uranium is classified as a METAL, but they (somehow) convert it into a GAS (Uranium hexafloride) .. during the production process .. in order to enrich it .. using centrifuges that spin at superfast speeds. More about enrichment later.

I'm no chemist, but the technology required to turn a super-heavy metal such as uranium into a gas .. seems very sophisticated. No? Modern alchemy. ]

Reactor Fuel CellAll of the fuel cells that I saw came in grids of 8-pins by 8-pins, for a total of 64 pins (i.e. "rods") per fuel assembly. (I hear there exist other configurations than the 8x8 variety.)

[ Many of the news articles that I read used the term 'fuel rods'. I have never heard that term used before. Rods were always control rods (discussed below).

So maybe they use a different reactor core construction in Japan. And I guess you could call these pins (that make up a fuel cell) 'rods'. But I wouldnt.

Intuitively, to me, a rod is round and a cell is square. Either way, melting nuclear fuel is very bad, no matter what terminology you use. ]

That glowing shaft pictured above is a single fuel cell. The average reactor core consists of maybe a thousand such assemblies .. tho these smaller, older reactors at Fukushima used half that many. I'm not certain, but I think the life of a fuel cell in a reactor core is ~3 to 5 years. Then it's 'spent'.

New fuel cells are first loaded at the outer edges of a reactor core (.. during a refueling outage, while the reactor is shutdown). During subsequent refueling outages, they are moved toward the inner areas, where the neutron flux is greater. The goal here is to try to provide an 'even' burn (uranium) across the core. No localized hot spots.

I never did find out how much each fuel assembly costs. I'd guess a quarter mil .. but if anybody knows for sure, my curiosity will thank you.

Cherenkov Radiation Spent Fuel Pool» Decay Heat & Reactor Scram

The problem with the reactors in Japan is » decay heat .. caused by radioactive decay of the fission products.

Newly-fissioned fragments are not 'happy' campers. They undergo radioactive decay vigorously and often, a process which gives off considerable heat (.. tho not nearly as much as the fission process itself).

This process of decay subsides with time, tho never stops (.. at least not for thousands of years).

First sign of a problem, the reactor operators are gonna perform a normal or expedited reactor shutdown.

In the case of a massive earthquake, I guess they would scram the reactor, which is like hitting a kill-switch .. that immediately sends all control rods IN (.. to the reactor core). A scram is the closest thing you get in nuclear power to a get-out-of-jail free card.

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