Fukushima Nuclear Reactor Radioactive Danger in Japan
Unfortunately, I can’t offer you reassuring messages. What will be the outcome cannot be predicted at the moment. If you dont know how nuclear reactors work, it may be necessary for you to read “What happens when this nuclear reactors are not controlled?” before reading further. The news from sources I’m observing – IAEA and TEPCO – have almost stopped. Not a good sign, I agree. The last statement of the IAEA I saw, regarding the reactors, (14 March 2011 at 15:35 CET) said that they were injecting seawater into the reactor of block 2. It remained unclear whether inside or outside the pressure vessel. TEPCO hasn’t issued any further information. Other news sources in Germany (not necessarily reliable) said that inserting coolant inside failed and the pressure vessel is now just kept immersed in sea water. If that’s true core meltdown will progress in block 2.
LATEST UPDATE: IAEA-has an update at 15 March, 00:03 CET: “The IAEA can offer support in technical areas such as radiation surveys and environmental sampling, medical support, the recovery of missing or misplaced radioactive sources or advice on emergency response. In addition, the IAEA is coordinating assistance from Member States through the Response and Assistance Network (RANET). The network consists of nations that can offer specialized assistance after a radiation incident or emergency. Coordination by the IAEA takes place within the framework of the Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency.”
What it means is that they are preparing for international assistance and support after the release of large amounts of radioactivity.
Please don’t blame the operator for the reported falling dry of the reactor core of block 2, if that can indeed be attributed to human error. Government and media pointing fingers because they don’t know what to do any more, is another very bad sign. All of these operators have been working round the clock for several days now, and have done an incredible job – under enormous physical and psychological stress at the cost of “suffering personal tragedy” (quoting DG of IAEA) – trying to control something that can hardly be controlled. They might even have been fighting a lost cause from the beginning. If you have to blame someone, blame the people who thought it was a good idea to put nuclear power plants in one of the geologically most unstable places in the world, having even the guts to place all of them right at the coastline for convenient cooling by seawater, fully aware of the dangers of tsunamis that accompany many large earthquakes there.
Levels of RadioActive Danger
It is still possible that the outside cooling might prevent the reactor pressure vessel in block 2 from completely melting through or bursting. But that depends on a lot of factors that not even the operators themselves can oversee or control any more. As long as they are able to provide cooling by any means, there is still a chance. They have to keep cooling for several half-lives of iodine-131 (half-life ca. 8 days), however, with no more interruptions of cooling, depending on how much iodine-131 there was inside the fuel rods from the beginning of the emergency shutdown, until the molten and re solidified core has reached a stable temperature that no longer poses a threat to the steel of the pressure vessel. That means they have to sustain uninterrupted cooling with sea water for several weeks now. And its unclear if the operators can provide that considering that stable outside power supply has not yet been reported which the government certainly would do immediately to show some improvement.
Should the reactor pressure vessel melt through or burst, the reinforced concrete containment may or may not be able to contain all of the radioactive material permanently. It may slowly burn through the bottom, it might burst free violently. In the case of a quick significant (much less than a percent would already be an incredible amount of radiation) release of the radioactive content of the core into the surrounding the Fukushima I site would immediately become a death zone, so no personnel would be able to operate there even for short periods of time without risking to become gravely ill within the next days or weeks or even die immediately. I cannot see how cooling of blocks 1 and 3 could be kept up under such circumstances. So if block 2 goes all three will very likely go.
To make matters worse the Director General of IAEA declared at a press conference (14 March 2011 20:30 CET) that block 3 is not fueled by uranium-oxide alone but from MOX-fuel which consists of a mixture of uranium and plutonium.
So it stays an extremely dangerous situation that has seen no improvements despite all efforts, but still has a very small chance of ending mild.
What can you do, if you are in Japan?
To be honest – if you have the means and can get onto an international flight, I would leave the country now at least for a few weeks until it’s clear what becomes of Fukushima. If nothing serious happens, rebuilding infrastructure and economy of Japan will still be a major challenge not to mention the tragic loss of thousands of lives. If you want or have to stay I cannot give you advice on where to go or what to do, because no-one can predict exactly what will happen.
Let’s hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. My feelings are with you and I wish you and all of Japan the best of luck.
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- 3.16.11 / 6pm