Fukushima Update - Radioactive Ash, Sludge, Steam

Update # 48: August 16 & 17, 2011

by Nelle Maxey

Dear Readers,

I resume daily updates with this report. I collected a number of stories during the week I didn't write and will prepare a synopsis of those stories as a separate post.

Today's report starts with this story on earthquake damage at Fukushima from the UK newspaper, The Independent.

As readers are aware, the question of earthquake damage at Fukushima is extremely important to the nuclear power industry and much has been done to perpetuate the myth that the meltdowns occurred as a result of the back-up generators for electricity being wiped out by the tsunami. The other myth is that this disaster was somehow "unforeseeable". Perhaps this article, which reviews most of the articles previously reported here and adds new insights as well, will put those myths to rest? (H/T to Kevin Logan for this article.)

The Explosive Truth behind Fukushima's Meltdown

Japan insists its nuclear crisis was caused by an unforeseeable combination of tsunami and earthquake. But new evidence suggests its reactors were doomed to fail.

by David McNeill in Tokyo and Jake Adelstein, August 17, 2011:

Quotes from the article:

[…] The Independent has spoken to several workers at the plant who recite the same story: serious damage, to piping and at least one of the reactors, occurred before the tsunami hit. All have requested anonymity because they are still working at or connected with the stricken plant. […]

Worker B, a technician in his late 30s who was also on site at the time of the earthquake, recalls: "It felt like the earthquake hit in two waves, the first impact was so intense you could see the building shaking, the pipes buckling, and within minutes I saw pipes bursting. Some fell off the wall…

"Someone yelled that we all needed to evacuate. But I was severely alarmed because as I was leaving I was told and I could see that several pipes had cracked open, including what I believe were cold water supply pipes. That would mean that coolant couldn't get to the reactor core. If you can't sufficiently get the coolant to the core, it melts down. You don't have to have to be a nuclear scientist to figure that out." As he was heading to his car, he could see that the walls of the reactor one building had started to collapse. "There were holes in them. In the first few minutes, no one was thinking about a tsunami. We were thinking about survival."

The suspicion that the earthquake caused severe damage to the reactors is strengthened by reports that radiation leaked from the plant minutes later. The Bloomberg news agency has reported that a radiation alarm went off about a mile from the plant at 3.29pm, before the tsunami hit.

Why it matters

  • The reason for official reluctance to admit that the earthquake did direct structural damage to reactor one is obvious. Katsunobu Onda, author of Tepco: The Dark Empire, explains it this way: A government or industry admission "raises suspicions about the safety of every reactor they run. They are using a number of antiquated reactors that have the same systematic problems, the same wear and tear on the piping." Earthquakes, of course, are commonplace in Japan.

By the time the tsunami arrived and knocked out all the electrical systems, at about 3.37pm, the plant was already on its way to melting down."

Related to the above story in the Independent are two stories at NHK today. All are the result of the release of information on the disaster by the government.

You will note that both NHK stories skirt the earthquake damage question. The claim in the first report (ie, that no one expected hydrogen explosions) is of course silly, if only for the reason that the reactors were equipped with emergency release valves and venting systems to release hydrogen. What they really didn't "foresee" was the blast power of the explosions and the damage to the reactor buildings, not to mention the volume of radioactive releases into the atmosphere.

TEPCO never expected hydrogen explosions: report

"A government investigation has found that no one at the utility operating the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant had expected hydrogen explosions to occur at the plant….

TEPCO officials say they were aware that a core meltdown could cause a hydrogen explosion, but had never considered the possibility of a blast outside a reactor.

This finding exposes the utility's underestimation of the potential dangers at the plant." Wednesday, August 17, 2011 13:36 +0900 (JST)

Cooling stoppage unknown to plant chief

"Government investigators have found that the chief of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant did not know that a backup cooling system for one of the plant's reactors was manually shut down on March 11th, the day of the quake and tsunami….

University of Tokyo Professor Koji Okamoto said the reactor lost all cooling functions due to the stoppage, and that the reactor's core should have been cooled by all possible means.

Okamoto said the failure of communication may have worsened the situation by delaying orders for water injections and government evacuations of nearby residents." Wednesday, August 17, 2011 22:20 +0900 (JST)

And here is SKF on the government review of the early days at Fukushima.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Fukushima I Nuke Plant: Early Days of Confusion and Mistakes at the Plant Being Revealed

"The Kan Administration set up a fact-finding commission in late May to figure out what went wrong at Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant that led to the catastrophic accident, even if the accident is still ongoing as of August….

What better way to give the impression that the accident is over, than to form a commission to investigate the accident?

Still, the commission led by a Tokyo University professor (emeritus) and including 3 attorneys (one of them a UN committee member fighting for equal rights for women) and one novelist, has been interviewing (or "interrogating" is the word used in the Japanese press) TEPCO managers at Fukushima I Nuke Plant, and part of their findings have apparently been leaked to Mainichi Shinbun. The commission meetings are not open to the public.

From Mainichi Shinbun (2:31AM JST 8/17/2011), what TEPCO managers at the plant is saying:

[Japanese characters removed.]

About the explosion of Reactor 1 building at 3:36PM on March 12:

TEPCO was preoccupied with the condition of the reactor and the Containment Vessel, and didn't think of the risk of hydrogen explosion. "There was no one who could have predicted the explosion."

There was no manual for the vent operation. They figured out the procedure by studying the blueprint [of the reactor and Containment Vessel]. After station blackout, they started to collect equipment for the vent, but since there was no detailed information as to what type of equipment was necessary, a wide variety of equipment was brought in, and they wasted time choosing the right equipment.

Then, as they prepared for the vent, some of the equipment was delivered by mistake to Fukushima II Nuclear Power plant (10 kilometers south of Fukushima I) or to J-Village (20 kilometers south of Fukushima I), and someone had to go there to get the equipment. One TEPCO employee at the plant said "There was not enough support from the TEPCO headquarters."

General Manager of the Plant Yoshida and his men planned the accident countermeasures, but they weren't aware that the isolation condenser (IC) that cooled the fuel core of Reactor 1 had stopped temporarily. Yoshida said to the Commission, "It was a huge mistake not to have had this vital information."

Prime Minister Kan's visit March 12:

"We have no idea why he came."

As to Prime Minister Kan's question of "What's going on?", "it was not the atmosphere where we could speak frankly and give detailed explanation."

About Self Defense Force helicopter dumping water on the Spent Fuel Pool:

"We were grateful, but we felt it was not efficient. Most of the water didn't seem to go into the SFP."

Well, the dumping of water from the SDF helicopter was just for the visual effect to impress Americans, as it would look as if the government was actually doing something. That, along with having its soldiers irradiated and injured when the Reactor 3 building blew up, is said to have alienated the SDF from the administration."

While the following is a "good news" story at NHK today, it underlines the huge amount of radiation that WAS being emitted for 5 months by the plant reactors and the spent fuel pools (prior to the installation of the recirculating water systems and heat exchangers that have lowered the temperatures). Of course, it also does not touch on the fact that contaminated debris and sewage is being burned and re-emitting radiation into the air or that radioactive ash is piling up. (See the Tuesday stories from NHK below.) Also note the radiation levels are estimated, not measured.

Radioactivity down to one-fifth of July levels

"The Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Company say the amount of radioactive material being emitted from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has dropped to one-fifth that of a month ago.

The government and TEPCO said on Wednesday that maximum radiation levels around the plant during the past 2 weeks were 200 million becquerels per hour.

This is one-fifth the levels detected in July, and one-10 millionth the levels in mid-March, shortly after the troubles began at the plant.

The state minister in charge of the nuclear crisis, Goshi Hosono, said the maximum reading of 200 million becquerels is just an estimate because the exact emission levels cannot be accurately measured…."  Wednesday, August 17, 2011 22:23 +0900 (JST)

Contamination continues to be a huge problem. First is this story from NHK on Tuesday.

Radioactive sludge piling up

"Radioactive sludge from sewage facilities across Japan has been piling up in storage facilities, despite the government's plan to bury it.

NHK asked local governments in 17 prefectures in northeastern to central Japan how they are coping with sludge that's been contaminated by radioactive material from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Contaminated sludge from sewage facilities now totals more than 54,400 tons. 75 percent of it contains less than 8,000 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive cesium, the government-set limit for disposal by burial.

Despite this, some 27,700 tons of sludge — 51 percent of the total — remains in storage at water treatment plants.

Local governments say some burial projects have been rejected by residents near proposed sites.

In addition, 7 storage facilities in 4 prefectures have had to set up "no entry zones" where radiation levels have gotten too high." Tuesday, August 16, 2011 22:51 +0900 (JST)

Then there is this story on the pile-up of radioactive ash from SFK:

Apartment with radioactive waste pilesRadiation in Japan: Pile of Radioactive Garbage Ashes Next to an Apartment in Fukushima City

From Twitpic of Massahisa Sato, member of the Upper House of the Japan's Diet.

Bags of radioactive ashes from the garbage incinerating plant are piled up high right near an apartment building in Fukushima City. He says some of the residents in the apartment building have evacuated for the fear of radiation coming off that pile. {Image at SKF link]

There is a story today on the steam escaping from cracks at the plant site along with an RT video. I included the SKF report on this in my earlier update.

Report: Workers say ground under Fukushima plant is cracking and radioactive steam is coming up – Melted core may be moving out of building (VIDEO)

August 17th, 2011 at 11:34 AM


Here are quotes pulled from the RT video story at Energy News:

Host: "Workers at Japan's Fukushima plant say the ground underneath the facility is cracking and radioactive steam is escaping through the cracks" […]

Dr. Robert Jacobs, Hiroshima Peace Institute: "It's a very serious and alarming development because this started to happen specifically after two large earthquakes in the last few weeks, there was a 6.4 on the 31 of July 31 and a 6.0 on August 12″ […]

"It's an indication that radioactive material is moving under the ground" […]

"When you have a fragile structure that's already suffered a great deal of damage and when you have continual aftershocks at the level of six-point, or there's been some even higher, what we have now is we have the radioactive core that has melted down into the basement, into the bottom of the containment vessel of these reactors, and if the radiation level is going down, where it's been monitored inside the buildings, and if the water pressure is going down, and the temperature is going down, it's not that the radiation is just suddenly going away, it means that the radioactive material, the melted core, is simply moving further away from where it's been measured. And it may have – as a result of these aftershocks – be moving down out of the building itself." [….]'

Remember Arnie Gunderson has stated he "knows" the groundwater table is being contaminated.

Here is the link to the video on youtube if you don't want to watch it on Energy News:



The Watershed Sentinel is proud to share Nelle Maxey's Fukushima Updates prepared for the BC environmental community.

Every day, Nelle pours over the media and other reports of the status of the reactors at Fukushima, comparing figures and trying to make sense out of the conflicting reports.

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