Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Patience and Monitoring the Japanese Reactor Situation

The news is sparse over the past week.  Every little bit sounds more worrisome, but we must have patience as the final analysis of the facts are often different than that which was first reported.

Tune into reliable sources such as NEI.  Be careful and look for assumptions and keep that questioning attitude.  The end game here is a set of actionable lessons learned for all industry.  I would also like to see how the reactors faired compared to the refineries and gas facilities for total human and environmental impact based on breach of their containments and overall releases to the environment.  Will non-nuclear facilities be analyzing and applying lessons learned to mitigate future events?  Are we asking or expecting them to or do we have disproportionate expectations for nuclear?

Perfect example:  Pu found on reactor site indicates core and containment breach which leads us to assume that the MOX fuel is the source of the problem.  This leads to a discussion of the dangers of MOX fuel use and a discussion of more widespread contamination beyond the reactor site.

It is more likely that the Pu  background as described by NEI: 
"On Monday, TEPCO discovered minute levels of plutonium in the soil at five locations at the site. The plutonium measured is as little as was in the environment in Japan following nuclear weapons testing during the Cold War and poses no health risk to humans."

Or is it really from the core?: To determine whether these readings are the result of weapons testing the samples must now be compared with samples from outside the site.

Plutonium is a by-product of the nuclear power generation process. At unit 3 at the Fukushima-Daiichi plant it is an ingredient in mixed oxide, or MOX, fuel, but only 6% of the total fuel loadout is MOX. Plutonium is a health risk mainly when it is inhaled because it can remain in the lungs and other organs, causing long-term damage including cancer.

At the same time NEI also reports the following:
"On Monday, TEPCO reported radiation levels of more than 100 rem per hour on the surface of puddles in the reactor 2 turbine building and in a trench outside the building. TEPCO is using sandbags to keep the water confined to the trench, a concrete channel that does not connect to the ocean. The trenches at reactors 1 and 3 are also at risk of overflowing and measures are being taken to contain the water."

Now we have some data that substantiates highly radioactive water at the site with a concern on how to manage it so that it does not spread beyond the site.  We need more information to understand the true nature and source of this radiation. The amount and composition of isotopes in water that has leaked from the unit 2 primary loop and reactor pressure vessel indicates that fuel damage in this unit is most serious and that fuel might have begun to melt, according to calculations by French Institut de Radioprotection et de Sûreté Nucléaire (IRSN).
Containment has been an assumption from the start, but we still do not know the extent of damage to the reactor from the earthquake.  Time will tell.  I am hopeful that a rational fact based response will continue.  Despite some early shock reporting and the standard greenpeace response, there has not been a
serious anti-nuclear uprising.

More to follow as the facts come in.

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