Nelle's Fukushima Meltdown Update: September 16, 2011

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Japan Update September 16th, 2011
by Nelle Maxey
At the Plant Site: SKF reports this morning that TEPCO will be abandoning the Kurion (American) and Areva (French) systems for water decontamination. #Contaminated Water Treatment System at #Fuku I: TEPCO to Use SARRY Only from October

Just as I thought. TEPCO will ditch the Kurion-AREVA combo that has had numerous problems from the beginning and will rely solely on Toshiba (and IHI and US's Shaw)'s SARRY for highly contaminated water treatment. Toshiba's SARRY has had its share of problems but not as many as the Kurion-AREVA duo.

The latest trouble at the water treatment system: the density of radioactive materials, reduced after Kurion's treament, shot up again after AREVA's treatment.

From Mainichi Shinbun (9/15/2011):

TEPCO announced on September 15 that there was a trouble in the reactor cooling system that circulates water treated in the contaminated water treatment system. The density of radioactive materials that decreased after the treatment with Kurion's system increased after the treatment with AREVA's system. It is possible that highly radioactive sludge in AREVA's system leaked. TEPCO is investigating the cause. Currently, AREVA's system is stopped, and the treatment is done by Kurion's system alone.

TEPCO plans to stop using Kurion-AREVA system starting in October, and use Toshiba's SARRY exclusively for contaminated water treatment. SARRY has had a relatively small number of failures compared to Kurion's or AREVA's system.

TEPCO was working on both Kurion's and AREVA's system from September 13, replacing a pump at Kurion's and a stirrer in the coagulation settling unit at AREVA's. Maybe that had something to do with the problem. Maybe not. TEPCO is not very forthcoming, as you may have noticed over the past 6 months.

Also here is that video of the water injection system into the reactors with English subtitles now, Very instructive.

The Experts

The government agency, JAEA, has now confirmed that TEPCO mishandled (delayed) the cooling of the reactors following the earthquake. This lead to the subsequent meltdowns and explosions. The release of this study does provide an explanation as to why TEPCO's Safety Procedures Manual was completely blacked out when it was handed to the Diet (legislative) committee investigating the accident.

Researchers say meltdown could have been avoided

A group of researchers says the meltdown of a reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant could have been avoided if water injection had been carried out 4 hours earlier than it was.

The researchers at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency on Thursday reported the finding based on a computer simulation of the accident at the plant's No. 2 reactor.
The core meltdown took place within a few days after the reactor's cooling system failed due to the major earthquake and tsunami on March 11th.
The Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, said earlier that data analysis shows that the cooling system may have stopped working shortly after 1 PM on March 14th.

The utility started injecting water to cool the reactor at around 8 PM that day, after reducing pressure in the facility. But by 8 PM the next day -- around 100 hours after the quake -- much of the reactor's fuel had melted and collected at the bottom of the reactor's pressure vessel.

The simulation suggests that if water had been injected by around 4 PM, it could have prevented the meltdown by lowering the temperature of the fuel before it reached 1,200 degrees Celsius, destroying the fuel's container.

Group leader Masashi Hirano says the damage to the fuel could have been avoided, and that he wonders why TEPCO did not start injecting water earlier despite difficulties.

TEPCO says it doesn't believe the operation was delayed, adding that workers did their best amid high radiation levels and other severe conditions. [...]

There a two other reports of interest prior to the big conference on nuke safety in  Europe next week, followed by a big one in New York thereafter.

Of course, Fukushima is the main topic of discussion.

First, the Wall Street Journal ran an article yesterday about the TEPCO Decommissioning Plan.

Japan Atomic Energy Body Sees Technical Hurdles Ahead

TOKYO—Japan's efforts to safely dismantle the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex is expected to be fraught with technical challenges and take more than a decade to complete, the government's Atomic Energy Commission said Wednesday. [...]

The commission, an independent body tasked to formulate the nation's nuclear policy, will explain to other countries about a decommissioning plan during the annual general meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency, to be held in Vienna next Monday.

 This is a short and very concise article on the plan. Well worth the read as it puts the seriousness of the situation in perspective. Also of interest are their references to quake damage, structural damage to reactors and spent fuel pools from the high radiation, and the concerns of fuel reaching re-criticality.

Next we have the UN jumping into the act.

(As Naomi Klein explains in Disaster Capitalism, some folks can never let a good disaster go to waste.)

Note that while they too want to regulate nuclear energy,  at the same time they want to promote it . .. for those suffering from "energy poverty". Oh Yeah.

 Easy to predict contracts galore for the industry experts who didn't see Fukushima coming. Equally easy to predict that monitoring/data reporting will continue to be based on faulty dosage standards in the interests of industry, since the UN, the IAEA and the NSA (Nuclear Safety Agency) are all joined at the hip of commerce.

UN: Fukushima plant based on poor safety assessment

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has blamed the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in northern Japan on its design which, he says, was based on poor hazard assessments of natural disasters.

The secretary general released a 43-page report on Wednesday, after studying the March accident with UN entities including the International Atomic Energy Agency and the World Health Organization.

The report says it is necessary for nuclear power stations to strengthen their safety standards.

It proposes the creation of a global system to allow the IAEA to internationally monitor radiation levels, citing the international impact of major nuclear accidents and emergencies.
The report calls for an international emergency response framework in the event of nuclear accidents, to secure human health and food safety.

The report also stresses the importance of the peaceful use of nuclear energy, in order to help improve the lives of the 2.4 billion people in developing countries suffering from energy poverty.

The UN secretary general is to convene a high-level meeting on nuclear safety and security on September 22nd in New York.


#Radiation in Japan: Tsukuba City's Idea of Voluntary "Decontamination"

Shorts, short-sleeve T-shirts, no masks, sneakers, with small kids. (In other words, all the things you should never do.)

As "decontamination" is set to become a new bubble for Fukushima Prefecture if not for entire Japan, the national government strongly encourage citizen volunteers to "decontaminate" their own neighborhoods.

So, one elementary school in Tsukuba City in Ibaraki Prefecture called on the parents to do the "decontamination" of the school yard on September 9, and Ibaraki City proudly posted the photographs of the occasion on its webpage.

Except... oops one of the photos showed the presence of small children. It was supposed to be done by adult volunteers only, for the safety for the kids. People started to question the wisdom of "decon" with children, so the city quietly substituted the photo with one without any children in it.

What were these parents thinking? Well I guess they couldn't secure babysitters. Or they thought this was some kind of family fun activity. Probably the answer was that they weren't thinking.

Professor Hayakawa of Gunma Prefecture (of radiation contour map fame) is one of those people who happened to capture the photo before Tsukuba deleted from its site.

[see picture at link]

Not only [do] you see children, but the parents are seen in shorts, T-shirts, no masks, no protective gear. They have rakes, shovels and brooms as tools. Tsukuba City's webpage shows houses right next to the school yard. (I bet they were not too happy to see the dust flying up from the operation.)

[...] I still occasionally see some tweets by people from high radiation areas saying "We'll adapt to high radiation quickly, won't we? After all, there are locations in the world with 10 millisieverts/year radiation!" Well, according to Dr. Alexey Yablokov (link is PDF file), it takes about 20 generations or 400 years for people to become less sensitive to radiation effect.

Sunflower Planting Hardly Did Anything to Reduce Radioactive Cesium in Soil

Well, it sure looked pretty, a field of sunflowers, but [...] it did not do much more than looking pretty, and creating radioactive sunflowers that'll have to be somehow safety disposed as nuclear waste.
Sunflower seeds were planted in many, many areas within the 20-kilometer radius exclusion zone. Who is going to dispose these nuclear waste, and how?

From Asahi Shinbun (9/14/2011):
The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries announced the result of its study in Fukushima Prefecture on the effectiveness of various methods of decontamination of the farmland that have been contaminated with radioactive materials. While it was confirmed that scraping off the surface soil was effective, planting sunflowers to absorb radioactive cesium proved to be hardly effective at all.

The Ministry has been experimenting on the decontamination methods since late May[...]
Of different methods to scrape off the surface soil, the most effective was scraping about 3 centimeters with the shallow-rooted grass. This method decreased radioactive cesium by 97%. Scraping the soil alone about 4 centimeters achieved 75% reduction. If the surface soil was treated with solidifying agent before being scraped, the reduction was 82%.

Filling the rice paddies with water, then tilling and stirring the soil and draining the water reduced radioactive cesium by 36%. Digging the field 30 to 60 centimeter deep and burying the surface soil was also effective in reducing the radiation level in half.

On the other hand, the amount of cesium that sunflowers absorbed from the soil was only one-2000th of the density of radioactive cesium in the soil. The Ministry concluded that "there is no other candidate that has higher absorption ratio. Practically speaking, sunflowers are not effective in decontamination".

Based on the result, the Ministry disclosed its ideas of decontamination based on the density of radioactive materials in the soil.
The farmland whose radioactive materials in the soil would exceed 5,000 becquerels/kg (limit above which the planting of rice is prohibited) is estimated to be 8,300 hectares [about 20,500 acres]. From the result of the experiments, in case of the farmland whose radioactive material density exceeds 10,000 becquerels/kg, it may be difficult to reduce the level down below 5,000 becquerels/kg unless the surface soil is removed. Between 5,000 and 10,000 becquerels/kg, there may not be other choices but removing the surface soil.

If the surface soil is removed in 8,300 hectares, the amount of contaminated soil generated would exceed 3 million tonnes. The Ministry says it hopes to develop a technology to remove cesium from the soil so that the soil can be put back in the field. (reported by Keiichiro Inoue)

What about plutonium and strontium? Cobalt-60?
Isn't removing the surface soil what Russia/Ukraine/Beralus have done and to very little effect? The fresh supply of radioactive cesium and other nuclides come down from the mountains. What about decontaminating the mountains?


I wouldn't call Iitate-mura and Kawamata-machi "close to Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant". They are more than 35 kilometers away. The reporter should have said "close enough for the government researchers to go anywhere near the plant".

By the way, as one refugee from Iitate-mura strongly hints in his tweets, Iitate-mura's political leaders seem in excellent terms with the national government and government-connected contractors keen on getting "decon" jobs. After all, 200 billion yen (US$2.6 billion) is to be spent on this village of 6,000 people alone so that the villagers can come home in 2 years.


From NHK today:

Cesium found in industrial waste

Industrial waste at 6 incineration facilities has been found to contain radioactive cesium at levels that exceed the government-set limit for disposal.

Following the nuclear accident in Fukushima, the ashes of garbage from private homes were found to contain levels of radioactive cesium, well above the limit of 8,000 becquerels per kilogram. The contaminated garbage was treated at waste disposal plants in the Kanto and Tohoku regions.

The Environment Ministry had asked 16 prefectures in the Tohoku, Kanto and Koshin-etsu regions to examine ashes from woodchips and other industrial waste.
Out of the 110 incineration facilities tested, levels of radioactive cesium exceeded 8,000 becquerels per kilogram at 4 sites in Fukushima Prefecture and one each in Iwate and Chiba prefectures. The highest measurement was 144,420 becquerels per kilogram at one facility in Fukushima.

These facilities were found to be temporarily keeping the ashes without disposing of them in landfill sites.
Since the 6 facilities had been storing the waste material outdoors before incineration, the Environment Ministry plans to examine other facilities that follow similar methods.

Energy News reports two new contaminations discovered in soil west of Tokyo.

West of Tokyo: 24,000 Bq/kg of radioactive cesium in soil sample — 250 km from Fukushima (VIDEO) September 14, 2011

Americium-241 found in soil west of Tokyo at 74 becquerels/kg — “Much more dangerous” than Plutonium-241

EnergyNews explains the dangers of americium as follows: [...] Plutonium-241 presents a more insidious threat. It is not very toxic, but as it slowly decays, it produces the much more dangerous isotope americium-241.[Timothy Mousseau of the University of South Carolina, who has spent the past decade studying the ecological consequences of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster,] said concentrations of americium are still increasing in Ukraine and Belarus, where unspent plutonium fuel from Chernobyl dispersed. “It looks like (americium-241) will peak in about 2050 in these areas,” he said.

The Telegraph carries this story:

Radioactive cesium from Fukushima on tour of Pacific Ocean

Scientists from the government’s Meteorological Research Institute and the Central Research Institute of the Electric Power Industry announced their findings at a meeting of the Geochemical Society of Japan this week, adding that some of the cesium will also flow into the Indian Ocean and, eventually, reach the Atlantic.

The scientists estimated that some 3,500 terabecquerels of cesium-137 was released into the sea directly from the plant between March 11, when the earthquake and tsunami struck, and the end of May. Another 10,000 terabecquerels of cesium fell into the ocean after escaping from the reactors in the form of steam. [...]

Another site comments on the same article:

Government experts in Japan have released findings that radioactive cesium will circulate to parts of the Atlantic and Indian oceans. The experts also said it will circulate south and west eventually coming near the Phillipines and eventually back to Japan over a total of 20 to 30 years. So much for the theory of total dilution. The article talks about cesium as it has a longer half life than some isotopes like iodine-131. What is rarely mentioned in these predictions are the amounts of other more dangerous isotopes like stronium-90. It would be good to know the total make up of these migrating clouds of contaminated water.


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