Friday, March 25, 2011

Utterly, Amazingly Extremely Very Very Very Bad Things

Attack Of The Mushroom People (aka Matango), 1963

From Associated Press, this morning, Friday, March 25th:
A suspected breach in the reactor core at one unit of a stricken Fukushima nuclear plant could mean more serious radioactive contamination, Japanese officials said Friday...

Suspicions of a possible breach were raised when two workers waded into water 10,000 times more radioactive than normal and suffered skin burns when the water splashed over their protective boots, the [Japanese] Nuclear and Industry Safety Agency said.

From The New York Times online this morning (Note: This was a below-the-fold article, not a headlined story):
TOKYO — Japanese officials began quietly encouraging people to evacuate a larger swath of territory around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant on Friday, a sign that they hold little hope that the crippled facility will soon be brought under control.

The authorities said they would now assist people who want to leave the area from 12 to 19 miles outside the crippled plant and said they were now encouraging “voluntary evacuation” from the area. Those people had been advised March 15 to remain indoors, while those within a 12-mile radius of the plant had been ordered to evacuate...

...Prime Minister Naoto Kan dodged a reporter’s question about whether the government was ordering a full evacuation, saying officials were simply following the recommendation of the Japan Nuclear Safety Commission.

In the latest setback to the effort to contain the nuclear crisis, evidence emerged that the reactor vessel of the No. 3 unit may have been damaged... [raising] the possibility that radiation from the mox fuel in the reactor — a combination of uranium and plutonium — could be released.

One sign that a breach may have occurred in the reactor vessel... took place on Thursday when three workers who were trying to connect an electrical cable to a pump in a turbine building next to the reactor were injured when they stepped into water that was found to be significantly more radioactive than normal in a reactor.

Conditions At The Fukushima TEPCO Plant Create Difficulties For
Workers Attempting To Repair Damage To Reactor Cooling Systems

Typical understatement for the NYT: Any water which is ten thousand times more radioactive than ordinary H2O is hot, hot hot. And, while I'm only a Dog and not a nuclear engineer (though I may play one on television; you just don't know, do you?), water at that level of radioactivity has to be coming from the nuclear core in that reactor, meaning the actual steel containment vessel is breached.

One observation I can make based on common sense is, seawater is being pumped into the reactor vessels in all four facilities. Normally, it would be fresh water, and part of a semi-closed system where (in theory) the water would not be allowed to flow freely back into the environment.

Now, the seawater is running into cracked containment vessels and spent-fuel pools, and has been running into the ground for almost two weeks -- right into the ground water table. In Tokyo, levels of radioactivity in the city's drinking water has been reported to rise, at the same time the Japanese government asks everyone to remain calm; there is no real danger.

More understatement came in the government's reaction to news of a possible reactor core breach -- they 'suggested' that persons in a wider zone around the plant might 'voluntarily' evacuate because the nuclear facility may be able to glow in the dark at night, sufficiently to be spotted from Pluto. Might want to step back from that.

This reticence to admit to the level of danger -- whether culturally-based, influenced by Japanese national politics, or simply a refusal to accept that the situation is out of control -- has contributed and compounded on itself, enough to push the situation, day by day, into Chernobyl territory.

What will solve this crisis? Let me spell it out for you in realistic terms: Human Sacrifices. More people in Japan are going to have to die.

In order to repair damage to the four reactors, or (if that isn't feasible) remove enough nuclear material to prevent continuing fission (i.e., meltdown) of the cores in at least two reactors, and remove the spent fuel, and seal up one and perhaps two reactor buildings -- an unknown number of human beings workers will have to be exposed to high levels of radioactivity.

This will require that some of them will die, horribly, in a matter of days or weeks. For others, it will take months. The survivors will be debilitated for a time, and spend the rest of their lives wondering when their turn in the cancer barrel will come.

The longer this crisis goes on, the higher the levels of radioactivity become, the more people will die and be injured to eventually stop it. And, it doesn't even address the exposure of ordinary citizens to the increased levels of released radioactivity -- through the water table, the food chain, the very soil people live on, the air they breathe.

This is what the failure of TEPCO, and later the Japanese government, to move swiftly enough to contain the damage to the plants has brought to Japan, and, to my mind, something out of some classic 1960's science fiction film: We all know the story -- monster on a rampage; scientists try to warn government officials, who laugh and tell them they need to eat some fruit and take a vacation. Then, the monster comes, and the government issues some self-serving statement to minimize their culpability:
The sea monster approaches the city. The mayor announces "We believe there may be some slight disturbances in the ocean offshore, and so recommend that only those living in beach cabins may wish, voluntarily, to move a few blocks inland. Stories of a 'sea monster' are not accurate; it is merely a very large fish. Our scientists are working diligently to control it with repellents, and shouting recipes for Bouillabaisse at it from shore. Please remain calm; there is no real danger."
All the signs point to Bad, and getting worse. I'd suggest central Japan just go for pizza, and come back in the year 27,011, when the amount of radioactivity in the Plutonium will have been reduced. By half.

Unless, of course, that's not an option.