From Scientific American – explanation of what could happen at Japan’s nuclear reactors from overheating –
Bergeron explained the basics of overheating at a nuclear fission plant. “The fuel rods are long uranium rods clad in a [zirconium alloy casing]. They’re held in a cylindrical-shaped array. And the water covers all of that. If the water descends below the level of the fuel, then the temperature starts going up and the cladding bursts, releasing a lot of fission products. And eventually the core just starts slumping and melting. Quite a bit of this happened in TMI [Three Mile Island], but the pressure vessel did not fail.”
Former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) member Peter Bradford added, “The other thing that happens is that the cladding, which is just the outside of the tube, at a high enough temperature interacts with the water. It’s essentially a high-speed rusting, where the zirconium becomes zirconium oxide and the hydrogen is set free. And hydrogen at the right concentration in an atmosphere is either flammable or explosive.”
Bill Nye the Science guy is on CNN right now explaining it – (a few minutes ago now and it is 10 pm ET right this minute) It can be found in the transcripts from CNN online from today’s show before 10 pm.
Very interesting insight he gave to the situation.
There are also ongoing reports from the Japanese news stations.
Just a note from yesterday on the USGS site –
|MAP||5.1||2011/03/12 17:13:02||25.466||-109.727||10.0||GULF OF CALIFORNIA|
|MAP||5.3||2011/03/12 14:11:05||25.396||-109.652||12.1||GULF OF CALIFORNIA|
My Note –
I bring this up to note that we are not anywhere near as prepared as Japan has been . The massiveness of the damage there indicates that we are far away from where we need to be in preparedness, California included.
It looks as though a cost/trade-off has been made in the US which would be extremely costly in human lives during and after an event of any magnitude, whether an earthquake or hurricane or any other series of disastrous events. Just as we’ve seen in Japan during this event with the earthquake and the tsunami – the possibility does exist that everything can go wrong at once including bad weather conditions of cold and wet, loss of electricity and phone / communications systems, loss of clean water and fuel availability along with some natural disaster occurring and possibly even human dangers further exacerbated by industrial plants, nuclear plants and other facilities being compromised simultaneously.
We are in no way ready for that and we do need to be. Many people visiting areas like Hawaii, did not know that the sirens meant to get to higher ground, in Georgia and other areas prone to tornadoes, visitors for tourism or conventions or business may not know that the sirens mean to protect immediately from an imminent tornado that is on the ground and been spotted. The systems we have in place for emergency notification almost exclusively rely on the public being in front of a television or having a radio playing on a station which might carry it. That is unacceptable.
If we are learning anything from this disaster in Japan, aside from them needing a massive amount of help there from the international community to complement what their national resources are doing, it is that in America, we need to get ready and do more about being prepared for such disasters here. Our buildings in earthquake zones are still not upgraded to be earthquake resistant for the most part where people live, go to school, dormitory or work. Our systems for notification are not as immediate and well-known and comprehensive as they should be, and our plans are not willing to account for the worst possible scenarios where everything can go wrong at once. We can be better prepared.
On CNN just now from the NHK World broadcast about the earthquake and tsunami –
3 pm the Japan government announcements to get to higher ground, including the announcement made over public loud speakers from the tops of buildings
2.46 pm the earthquake of 8.9 magnitude had occurred 80 km east of Sendai airport in the ocean
3.11 pm the tsunami swept through the city
My Note –
That meant only 14 minutes from the time of the earthquake until announcements were made to get to higher ground and after that only 11 minutes to get to safety. A total time elapsed in which to seek shelter away from the damage path of only 25 minutes from the moments that the shaking started. For whatever length of time that the earthquake lasted, that time was not available to move to any other location of safety and high ground for the most part since the immediate dangers of building materials falling would have taken the attention of people in the affected areas.
Essentially, where could anyone get within twenty minutes? How could an entire school full of children move anywhere in 20 min?
How long would it take in the US for word to be given using the systems we have in place right now? Would an alert appear on our cellphones or some sound come through our cellphones warning of an impending situation? Could we then get on our GPS or Cellphones or internet and see the alert immediately and exactly where the danger might be or where to get out of the path of it? Can that be done when it is raging wildfires right now? Or when blizzards are coming?
Do planes even know that a blizzard has blown into an airport where they are expecting to land – before they get within a hundred miles of it while there are other choices that could be made? Do our truckers know they are running into an area with tornadoes in progress? Do people traveling in their cars from one place to another have any way to know unless they happen to have the radio on just the right station that chooses to carry it?
I would say those are problems that we could fix before it becomes a matter of greater damage during any future events. We all know these things do happen and that they do happen every single year. These things at the very least could be fixed. The habit of stores shutting their doors during the disasters could change to them bringing what they have left that is fit to sell out to the sidewalk and selling it to those who need to buy it after a disaster has happened. There could be a way for insurers to accommodate that being done.
And, our emergency notifications could work better. We could have nation-wide wireless as they do in Japan which allowed many people to communicate despite the phone lines and cell towers being down. we could produce some preparedness plans for assets to be regionally available in the event of worst case scenarios and some idea among disaster agency decision-makers of what those things could be and what to do in that range of possibilities as well – and how to develop the resources for that “on the fly” if necessary. We could do that before any more hurricanes, wildfires, floods, earthquakes, blizzards, or whatever else is common here.
Just a thought.
Oh yeah – and there should be a map in every single community within its emergency management books of the industrial and chemical-using plants, petrochemical storage and nuclear facilities of the immediate area along with whether they sit on high ground or low ground, above a river or downstream where a flood might hit them, etc.
This is an interesting view of the world’s earthquake activity prior to the 8.9 magnitude earthquake in Japan a couple days ago – busy time. The magnitude 5.0 and better charts from the last two days are still predominantly covered with earthquakes and continuing aftershocks near Honshu, Japan and their was a report a little earlier that the number of aftershocks have now reached 300 or will in the next little while.
1.04 am CNNI just mentioned that an official report from Japan states that some people being evacuated from the area surrounding the Daiichi reactor had been exposed to radioactivity with readings from their skin and clothing. Apparently, the officials are checking to see if that has been ingested – however that is done and I suppose they are giving them clothes and getting whatever they can from people’s skin through scrub down or something, but it wasn’t said in the report. I might go over to the Japanese news and see if they tell more about it. This is ridiculous. It never should’ve happened to add to the disaster that has occurred from the earthquake and tsunami. The evacuation zone needs to be increased for every emergency management plan concerning nuclear facilities generally across the world – such that in the initial phase of an event, the evacuation area would include at least the 10 mile radius surrounding the facility rather than a 3 km or 10 km zone. That can be changed right now – knowing what we do now. These events can get from 0 problem to a million times stupid too fast.
lookup “Black Rain”
The discussion about what happens when it rains (or snows) immediately after there has been a release of nuclear / radioactive materials into the air . . .
I do want to say this about nuclear power plants especially those being built in the State of Georgia where I live along with the older ones still online – what we know about producing nuclear power today is far beyond what was known or designed in 1971 when the Fukushima Daiichi plant was built. There were redundant backup power systems for those plants which were compromised by both the earthquake damage and the tsunami and then by simply the amount of time it has taken to get reserve battery or generator power of some other sources. That condition – now that it is known can be considered in the nuclear plants already working and those being built. These are not impossible problems to solve.
The containment systems we have now, the containment vessels and the systems used for cooling being put into the new plants are not as those built in the 1970 series of nuclear power plants. Some improvements have been made such that cooling is an integral part of the system – supposedly, self-cooling by virtue of the way the process is now designed. Maybe true, maybe mostly true, maybe not – but what is absolutely true is that there is a need for a better solution to complete and efficient containment in the kind of situation that is occurring right now when everything has gone wrong – and one has not been fully created appropriately for that.
There are still some problems with the reactors and the nuclear / steam turbine systems that we have in place and those we are building which include what to do with the spent fuel, but those things have had brilliant minds and business people combining to find solutions, many of which are being put into place across the world. These are not impossible things and there was a brilliant design recently shown that included a process as part of the system for the spent fuel to be used in a fusion process – all of it has great potential to make the process better, safer, and with better emergency planning – even things like the dangers posed right now in Japan by these nuclear plants suffering from compromises – could have a nearly zero exposure hazard to surrounding populations.
It just can’t be taken lightly, pretending that radioactivity has no danger nor treated without the respect needed to make it safe.
(above is also my note, cricketdiane)
I wanted to add this from the NY Times that has a map of the damage in Japan –
And this –