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Japan Science

Nuclear Risk Expert: Fukushima Fuel May Be Leaking 500

Posted by timothy
from the so-step-lively dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Three weeks after the nuclear crisis began at Japan's Fukushima Dai-1 power plant, there's still a real danger of melted nuclear fuel escaping the reactor buildings and releasing a large dose of radiation. So says Theo Theofanous, an engineer who spent 15 years studying the risks of nuclear reactors. Theofanous believes that melted nuclear fuel has already leaked through the reactor vessels and accumulated at the bottoms of the primary containment structures. All attempts to keep the reactor buildings cool may not be enough to prevent the overheated fuel from eating through the concrete floors, he says."
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Nuclear Risk Expert: Fukushima Fuel May Be Leaking

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 01, 2011 @09:47PM (#35691612)

    Problem is that they can't shut it down unless they get control of it first, and that's what they're trying to do right now

    That's why people are basically committing suicide by still working there, because if they don't continue their work the end result will be so bad that it'll make people forget that lil thing that happened in russia.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 01, 2011 @10:27PM (#35691740)

    Oh look, another volunteer. Since they're not dying on the spot, what's holding you back? If a little cancer is not worth mentioning in a discussion, it certainly isn't a reason not to help out, is it? People like you disgust me. The workers couldn't even do their job there under the normal limits. The limit has been increased to a quarter of a sievert. The workers incur the limit dose after just 15 minutes of working in some of the areas. Just one hour in the same area: Radiation sickness and 10% dead within 30 days.

  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Friday April 01, 2011 @10:39PM (#35691782) Homepage Journal

    Russia and the Ukraine were both part of the USSR but the place was effectively run by Russia anyway.

  • by semiotec (948062) on Friday April 01, 2011 @10:44PM (#35691796)
    You meant _ineffectively_ run by Russia, right?
  • by Man On Pink Corner (1089867) on Friday April 01, 2011 @11:14PM (#35691906)

    The lesson is we (humanity) should learn, it that we have only this one nest.

    If we don't solve that problem, we deserve whatever happens to us.

    We can't afford to foul it up (that is, any more than we have already.)

    So you'll be turning off your computer and lights in 5, 4, 3... Oh, yeah, I forgot. Solar, wind, and geothermal will give all six billion of us all the electricity we need, so I guess you can leave that stuff powered up.

  • by Darkness404 (1287218) on Friday April 01, 2011 @11:19PM (#35691916)
    ...And what power source would you recommend? Coal, which is pretty much the only other viable alternative to nuclear energy at this point, which kills over 5 thousand workers each year just mining it, not to mention all of the health risks associated with burning coal for power. On the other hand, we've had about 63 deaths occurring directly from nuclear incidents since nuclear power started. Now, while others have obviously had larger cancer risks and such resulting in death, but it is nearly impossible to be 100% certain about how many of those have occurred. Quite honestly nuclear power is the safest type of power we have at the moment.

    And we have to realize that the disaster at the Fukushima plant isn't normal. Rather, this was the fifth largest earthquake to be recorded in modern history. Not only that but it had a huge tsunami to go along with it. Could TEPCO have handled this better? Yes. Could the Japanese government have handled this better? Yes. Should TEPCO have built this reactor to withstand larger earthquakes? Yes. But is nuclear power more dangerous than coal, oil, and every other power source that can be used in large quantities? No.
  • by viking80 (697716) on Friday April 01, 2011 @11:25PM (#35691922) Journal

    Why would someone with no insight into the current status at Fukushima throw wild guesses around. This sounds more like an religious agenda then science.

    He teaches chemistry at UC Santa Barbara.

  • by OneAhead (1495535) on Friday April 01, 2011 @11:28PM (#35691932)
    First sentence says it all: "It's Theo Theofanous's job to worry about worst-case scenarios." The rest of the article is a description of a worst-case scenarios that is not entirely 100% impossible, but quite implausible. The cautious language also reflects this.

    At this point, it seems the bigger risk is a steady stream of isotopes from the fuel pools which are still not full and still steaming hot, and possibly some more from cracks in the reactor containment. It's going to be challenging to isolate it all from the air, given the contamination levels above and around these fuel pools.
  • by camperdave (969942) on Friday April 01, 2011 @11:46PM (#35691992) Journal
    Not arguing with you, but if you're counting deaths from mining coal, you need to also count deaths from mining uranium, not just deaths from "nuclear incidents".
  • by HiddenCamper (811539) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @12:03AM (#35692034)
    it doesnt reduce radiation dose. gamma requires several feet of shielding to bring it down. the suits are just there to prevent particle contamination from getting in/on their bodies.
  • by Terranex (1500465) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @12:10AM (#35692052)
    Having been in regular contact with good friends in Tokyo, it seems the general mood in Tokyo is one of calm, and it's the rest of the world that are panicking.
  • Re:8 hour backup (Score:4, Insightful)

    by v1 (525388) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @12:18AM (#35692066) Homepage Journal

    A lot of roadblocks go up in a sudden poof of smoke when you say "or would you rather deal with a nuclear meltdown?". Helicopters and fuel aren't going to be an issue when your need is at pretty much the very top of the pecking order.

  • by Anthony Mouse (1927662) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @12:32AM (#35692092)

    I guess buying a modern, safe nuclear reactor wasn't really on the top of his to do list, and mothballing the Fukushima reactors before the quake would have been unthinkable, they provided about 20% of the total power used in northern Honshu.

    The first reactor was scheduled to be shut down on march 26th 2011. [icjt.org], the others over the next decade. You can't do it all at once because you need time to build new plants to replace the capacity.

    Which, incidentally, is the main reason that so many old reactors are still running. Nobody will let them build new ones, so how can you shut down the old ones?

  • by cats-paw (34890) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @01:47AM (#35692256) Homepage

    you know, when 200 square miles of Japan is contaminated for the next 200 years along with substantial groundwater
    contamination, I hope that you'll still be here telling the rest of us how it isn't that bad.

  • by tftp (111690) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @02:56AM (#35692372) Homepage

    In the metric of deaths per TWh for which nuclear has 0.04 and coal has 161.

    Coal doesn't have a tendency to poison huge territories for millennia. Mining is dangerous, but the baby on the surface, above the mine, is not in any danger. We also have a good idea how to make mining safer (by using robots, for example, once we learn how to make them good enough.) A lot of coal is mined in open pits; this method is efficient and not very dangerous.

    With nuclear energy you are one accident away from losing your country. Japan is a small country; we are yet to see the aftermath, but I wouldn't be surprised if agricultural activities, if not residence, will be prohibited in some most contaminated zones. They didn't have any land to spare to begin with, so this will hurt.

    The chance of such an accident is small. The planet experienced only two large ones so far. But the damage from them {was,is} considerable, counting long term effects and denial of land and writeoffs of huge amounts of materials and resources. The question is simple - is the country willing to bet that nothing bad happens? Note that it's not enough to safeguard against technical flaws and personnel errors. You also need to safeguard against the nature, and against determined terrorists.

    Certainly this depends on the size of the country. A large one, like the USA or USSR, can survive an accident with "acceptable losses." If need be, they can throw money, men and resources at the problem because they have all that. But we already see that Japan is overwhelmed by their accident. It certainly didn't help that they had the earthquake and tsunami at the same time. But the previous nuclear incident in Japan was also handled pretty bad, and there was no earthquake to hinder the efforts.

  • by unity100 (970058) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @04:02AM (#35692488) Homepage Journal
    Excuse me but this is above any argument. Nuclear power, is like maintaining a glass full of nitroglicerin in your bathroom because it fulfills some of your crucial ass wiping needs - it may be the cheapest way to fulfill your needs, but, it is also a ticking time bomb :

    A lot of nuclear reactors are dotted around the world. And this planet is a moving one - there are always constant earthquakes :

    http://hisz.rsoe.hu/alertmap/index2.php [hisz.rsoe.hu]

    See. Its like a gamble. So far, we are alright because one of those quakes didnt chance up on a critical installation. This japan quake could have been much closer, and all of those 6 reactors could have been already totally shattered and we would be sucking iodine tablets right now.

    Germany did right. At a time when the planet was showing rather increased activity, they shut down all of their 10+ reactors, around 30% or so of their power. They are going to replace nuclear power.

    Indeed. It is the biggest folly of this civilization to rely on VERY dangerous, catastrophic things, because they are cheaper than alternatives. No - these are really dangerous - because ONE failure, may be enough to wreck our civilization and decimate populations. You go figure how the rest will come down with domino effect - it will come down, but the question is, how much it will. All depends on the level of the disaster happening on the next reactor. It may even be this one.
  • by thegarbz (1787294) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @05:23AM (#35692670)
    Except the worlds largest sources of uranium aren't in third world countries, and the coal numbers above for coal can be separated to include US only. Oh Look, it's 15 deaths/TWh just in the US alone [nextbigfuture.com] 3 orders of magnitude higher than world wide nuclear.

    There's a lot of negative things to be said about nuclear power, but in terms of human death coal is orders of magnitude worse regardless of how you neysayers try to skew the statistics.
  • by SimonTheSoundMan (1012395) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @06:51AM (#35692864) Homepage

    Their anti-nuclear movement blocked several plants back in the 90s.

    Yep, old reactors like this were to be shut down and replaced by newer, safer designs. All the activists did was keep old reactors going.

    It's not just Japan, but the rest of the world. Old reactors are still running in America and Europe because the movements forced governments to not build any new reactors.

  • by rmstar (114746) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @07:37AM (#35692946)

    Remember that they may not have staff and time to get the English translation perfect, also.

    Haha, yeah, and please put the most positive spin you can think of on whatever you read. If you read "It's a disaster" you must consider that the translation might be defective.

    Sorry, but it just doesn't work that way

    Can you consider the incredibly non-ideal conditions these guys are working under before you decide you have to find fault and start arm-chair quartierbacking?

    What I think you are saying is, well, maybe it is a disaster, but they had a hell of an excuse!

    That (i suspect willfully) misses the points completely. The reactor was not supposed to fail. Yet it did, and the results are impressive, to say the least. That a catastrophe that manages to make a reactor fail also severely hinders you ability to deal with the situation is a new thing we have learned. And that in fact nobody has a good plan for a situation like this is also suddenly in plain sight, although is nothing that wasn't known before.

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