Saturday, March 26, 2011

45th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs

Special edition with a focus on Japan’s nuclear energy crisis

Dedicated to nuclear reactor workers everywhere who's prayers are for their colleagues at Fukushima

The Carnival is a weekly round-up of the best blog posts from the leading U.S. nuclear bloggers. If you want to hear the voice of the nuclear renaissance, the Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs is where to find it.

Past editions have been hosted at NEI Nuclear Notes, Next Big Future, Atomic Insights, ANS Nuclear Cafe, Canadian Energy Issues, Yes Vermont Yankee, and at Cool Hand Nuke, in addition to several other popular nuclear energy blogs.

If you have a pro-nuclear energy blog, and would like to host an edition of the carnival, please contact Brian Wang at Next Big Future to get on the rotation.

This is a great collaborative effort that deserves your support. Please post a Tweet, a Facebook entry, or a link on your Web site or blog to support the carnival.

Carnival begins here

ANS Nuclear Cafe The official blog of the American Nuclear Society continues twice daily new media updates seven days a week about the Fukushima nuclear crisis and a Twitter feed at @ans_org. See the blog for a list of information resources about Fukushima.

Nuke Power Talk

Gail Marcus, a former president of the American Nuclear Society, writes on her own blog that it is truly inspirational to think of the bravery of those who have, and still are, been fighting to get the power station under control, all the while knowing they face possible death or disease.

Fukushima_symbolSecond, it was a little surprising to me how much misinformation circulated about the unfolding events. It seems that our advanced communications technology spreads disinformation ever more efficiently.

Third, public concerns raised by the accident were only heightened when overly optimistic predictions made by some experts repeatedly proved wrong. While well-meaning, when reassuring predictions turn out to be false, they tend to undermine the credibility of the entire profession. (Image: Symbol of Fukushima via Wikipedia)

Fourth, it was somewhat disappointing to observe how some traditional nuclear opponents used the accident as a chance to further their agendas, claiming it as "proof" of their claims about nuclear power, regardless of whether the plant or the circumstances were really relevant to their viewpoints at all.

Areva North American New Energy blog

The Areva blog cites an article in the Wall Street Journal on the ‘Band of Brothers’ at Calvert Cliffs. See a moving photo slideshow about plant workers at the cited link. It will knock your socks off.

Workers throughout the plant say it has helped that they have had town-hall meetings led by plant vice president George Gellrich, who passed along information from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NEI and the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations about Fukushima.

Calvert Cliffs nuclear power station In addition to gaining a better understanding of the differences between the plants, they wanted to know how they could help Japanese workers. (Photo: Calvert Cliffs. Source: U.S. NRC)

This is the heart of the industry. “Nuclear energy is special and unique,” says Kent Mills, 51, from his perch overlooking the control room where crews monitor the reactors. “You should not be afraid of the technology but you should respect it to the utmost degree.”

“There are 60,000 employees at 104 nuclear plants in the U.S., according to the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry trade group. Many of them, like the workers here at this Constellation Energy Nuclear Group LLC facility on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay southeast of Washington, are likely watching events in Japan while asking and fielding questions of their own.” WSJ

Brave New Climate

Barry Brook, a scientist in Australia, has a superb blog that has been updating daily on the crisis in Japan. Here are some highlights from his blog post of March 26.

There has been concern about salt accumulation in reactor vessels 1-3 (as steam evaporates the injected sea water, the salt is left behind, and if concentrations build to beyond the saturation point, it will begin to deposit and potentially insulate the fuel assemblies).

TEPCO Workers laying cables in the turbine hall of unit 3 stood in ankle-deep stagnant water and their feet were irradiated with beta rays (~180 mSv dose), with shallow burns, after ignoring their dosiometer warnings. They have since been hospitalized. Details in the reports below. 17 personnel have now received doses of >100 mSv, but none >250 mSv — the dose allowed by authorities in the current situation.

Water spraying continues on spent fuel ponds 2, 3 and 4, to ensure the uranium fuel rods remain covered. The temperature in unit 2 pool was recently measured at 52 C.

On radiation: levels around the plant perimeter are relatively low and steadily decreasing. Levels of I-131 in drinking water supplies in Tokyo are now below regulated limits and restrictions have been lifted. The IAEA radiation monitoring data, at a distance of 34 to 62 km from Fukushima Daiichi, showed very low levels.


Cheryl Rofer asks so where is the radioactive water coming from?

We simply don’t know. There are enough radionuclide in the outflow to the sea and in the water in the plant that it looks like a leak is possible, but there are too many other things that we don’t know. If there is a leak, it is not a big one.

It’s not a big one, because reactor #3 has been pressurized. If you try to blow up a balloon with a big leak, nothing happens. You can blow up a balloon with a pinhole leak, though. The steel reactor containment vessel is equipped with pressure gauges to measure the pressure. With a big enough leak, the pressure wouldn’t rise, but it has been rising as water is pumped in and turns to steam.

Michele Kearney’s Nuclear Wire

Michele, who has long professional experience with the nuclear world, cites an important article in Foreign Affairs: Preventing the Next Nuclear Meltdown – by Victor Gilinsky

As Japan's ongoing nuclear crisis shows, older reactors are the most vulnerable to failure. Aging nuclear plants pose a risk in the United States as well, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must enforce up-to-date safety standards more forcefully -- or risk the possibility of a disaster.

Gilinsky is a physicist and an energy consultant. He served on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from 1975 to 1979 and was the senior commissioner in charge during the first day of the Three Mile Island accident in 1979.

Atomic Insights

Rod Adams writes "It has become increasingly apparent during the past week that my view from afar was not as clear as I would have hoped. I was overly optimistic about the final consequences of the events at Fukushima Daiichi.

Shaken, flooded, stressed by power outages, Fukushima Daiichi moves into second place. On the catastrophic scale of nuclear accidents, where Three Mile Island or Windscale were in second place and Chernobyl was the clear leader, Fukushima Daiichi has moved into second. It is likely that it will end up to be far closer to Chernobyl than to Three Mile Island in overall economic, public health and geographic consequences.

What this event has taught me is that I need to retreat a bit. I remain firm in my belief that human society needs nuclear energy and that there is no other alternative to fossil fuels that has a chance of meeting needs for reliable power. The importance of reducing fossil fuel consumption should be apparent to anyone who is following the current events in the Middle East and North Africa, whose community is a new host to gas extraction, whose mountains are being blown up, or who is concerned about the effects of dumping 20 billion tons of waste gases into our common atmosphere.

Margaret Harding – Four Factor Consulting

Events at the power plants in Japan, have been unfolding for ten days and counting and so far, no member of the public has died, or even been hurt. In our modern, fast paced age, we want our events to happen in quick sound bites, not long novels. When things take more than that requisite few hours, we turn it into a disaster movie.

An optimist and a pessimist both look at a situation. The pessimist says: “It is going to fail. A terrible tragedy. People will die.” The optimist says: “It’s OK, it will work. No one will die.” Events unfold. Things neither one predicted happen. The situation resolves and all can see the result.

Pop Atomic Studios

Suzy Hobbs writes I want to challenge everyone in the nuclear industry to take special interest in working together and cooperating in creative ways. I have been deeply inspired both by the Japanese citizens effected by Fukushima, and a small hand full of nuclear professionals who have taken time off work and stood up at a time when the rest of the industry was silent.


Charles Barton argues that during the 1960's the Washington Nuclear establishment discounted the potential for light water reactor accidents/ The establishment regarded nuclear accident research as a waste of money and, shut down accident research at AEC Laboratories.

The consequences were a split between the nuclear establishment and the scientific researchers which gave credibility to the opponents of nuclear power. However, by conventional industrial standards reactors are highly safe, and even safer reactors are possible. However, whether the facts will satisfy a fearful public is open to question, but it is also possible to better educate the public.

Yes Vermont Yankee

Meredith Angwin points out that American plants are probably better protected against hydrogen explosions than Japanese plants are, but that we don't know very much yet.

The NRC is therefore keeping the horse (facts) firmly in front of the cart (possible new regulations).

NEI Nuclear Notes

Editorial boards around the country continue to ruminate about nuclear energy in this country in the wake of event in Japan.

How are our major newspapers reporting on the situation in Japan today? The New York Times still has it at the front of its site, but Libya and Syria have the lead positions. The Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post also lead with radiation in sea water.

Canadian Energy Issues

Steve Aplin writes "How will the Fukushima nuclear emergency affect elections in other nuclear countries? Canada could be the first country to answer that question. This country will likely have a federal election in May; Ontario will definitely have an election in October. Nuclear energy was a major issue at both levels even before Fukushima: now that situation has introduced a wildcard into all contending parties’ electoral calculus."

Idaho Samizdat

The nuclear crisis in Japan has sparked questions about the construction of nuclear plants in the U.S. Unlike energy-starved developing nations like China and India, which have national imperatives to build new reactors, the U.S. currently has an abundance of coal and natural gas to keep its economy going for hundreds of years.

That is, of course, if you assume the other national imperative to reduce greenhouse gases, can safely be ignored for that period of time and that green politics will not force other, less-effective energy choices on utilities.

On March 14, 2011, White House spokesman Jim Carney said President Obama continues to support nuclear energy and that the administration would incorporate lessons learned from Japan into U.S. regulation.

In budget hearings before two committees of the House this March 16, 2011, Energy Secretary Steven Chu also testified that the Obama Administration believed the U.S. must “rely on a diverse set of energy sources, including…nuclear power.” His budget request included up to $36 billion in loan guarantee authority for nuclear reactors.

Still, some anti-nuclear House Democrats, including Rep. Henry Waxman of California and Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, demanded a freeze on all new nuclear reactor construction, plus a rescission of NRC’s recent decision to re-license Entergy’s Vermont Yankee reactor. On March 21, 2011, the agency formally issued the license extension despites congressional angst.

But Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said he was not going to allow any nuclear new-build witch-hunts based on events in Japan. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) defended the safety record of the U.S. fleet and suggested that despite the current crisis, Japan will remain a leader in nuclear technology, while the U.S. has fallen behind.

Next Big Future – Brian Wang

China suspension of new nuclear reactor licensing does not impact already approved nuclear reactors. In an exclusive interview with the China Business News, Mu Zhanying, president of China Nuclear Engineering Group (CNEG) Co., said construction of the Rongcheng plant would begin by the end of March or early April. The Rongcheng Shidaowan Nuclear Power Plant is China's first high temperature gas-cooled pebble bed reactor power plant.

“This fourth-generation reactor will make cooling totally independent of external power sources, making it much more safer,” said Jerzy Grynblat, nuclear business director at Sundbyberg, Sweden-based consultant Scandpower AB, said in Singapore today. “Developing new technologies where safety will be increased is very significant after what happened in Japan and countries re-looking their nuclear future.”

The 10MW pilot plant was shown to be walkaway safe. Cooling was shutoff and the reactor safely cooled off by itself without further action.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk Wednesday rejected a German call on Poland to cancel the planned construction of nuclear power plants, saying the Polish public supports the project.

“We can’t succumb to hysteria about it,” Mr. Tusk said in remarks from northwestern Poland, near the border with Germany. “The reason for radiological risks in Japan isn’t an accident at the nuclear plant, but an earthquake and tsunami.

Cool Hand Nuke

Warren Buffett's nuclear bet in Iowa
There’s no threat of a tsunami in the cornfields

Berkshire-Hathaway CEO and billionaire Warren Buffett is rolling the dice for the third time on a potential investment in nuclear energy. His first two efforts did not produce any winnings. Now Buffett is looking at the possibility of building small modular reactors through MidAmerican Nuclear Energy.

William Fehrman, MidAmercan's CEO, is asking the Iowa state legislature to pass a bill that would allow the utility to recover the costs of building a new reactor while it was under construction. Critics have attacked the proposed legislation with renewed energy following the crisis in Fukushima Japan and on the grounds it would cost too much.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad said March 21 it “makes sense” for state lawmakers to move ahead with the legislation. Branstad said he did not have a problem with legislators taking up the nuclear power issue this session because the MidAmerican proposal is a long-term project that would take eight to nine years to complete

“We have a problem because of most of the power in Iowa is generated by coal and EPA rules now are really very restrictive on coal-fired plants,” the governor said during an Iowa Public Radio interview.

“So we’re either going to have to shut those plants down or do major expenses on retrofitting them or replace them with something that’s going to have the environmental problems that we have with coal.”

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Fukushima news & information updates

Where to get the news

Fukushima_symbolA 9.0 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami have damaged nuclear power stations in Fukushima, Japan.

These links are sources of information and news about Japan’s nuclear reactor crisis in Fukushima.

Humanitarian Assistance

News & Updates


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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Japan crisis could affect some U.S. new build

There are no tsunamis in Texas but that’s where the impact could be felt first

This is my coverage for Fuel Cycle Week for March 17, 2011, V10:N416 published by International Nuclear Associates, Washington, DC. It has been updated to reflect breaking news.

EIA_coal_trainThe nuclear crisis in Japan has sparked questions about the construction of nuclear plants in the U.S. Unlike energy-starved developing nations like China and India, which have national imperatives to build new reactors, the U.S. currently has an abundance of coal and natural gas to keep its economy going for hundreds of years.

Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration also shows that even if the U.S. builds more nuclear power plants, use of coal for electricity generation will increase significantly over the next 25 years.

That is, of course, if you assume the other national imperative to reduce greenhouse gases, can safely be ignored for that period of time and that green politics will not force other, less-effective energy choices on utilities.

On March 14, 2011, White House spokesman Jim Carney said President Obama continues to support nuclear energy and that the administration would incorporate lessons learned from Japan into U.S. regulation.

In budget hearings before two committees of the House this March 16, 2011, Energy Secretary Steven Chu also testified that the Obama Administration believed the U.S. must “rely on a diverse set of energy sources, including…nuclear power.” His budget request included up to $36 billion in loan guarantee authority for nuclear reactors.

Still, some anti-nuclear House Democrats, including Rep. Henry Waxman of California and Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, demanded a freeze on all new nuclear reactor construction, plus a rescission of NRC’s recent decision to re-license Entergy’s Vermont Yankee reactor. On March 21, 2011, the agency formally issued the license extension despites congressional angst.

But Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said he was not going to allow any nuclear new-build witch-hunts based on events in Japan. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) defended the safety record of the U.S. fleet and suggested that despite the current crisis, Japan will remain a leader in nuclear technology, while the U.S. has fallen behind.

Advantage for passive safety reactor designs

FCW understands, however, that from a commercial perspective, the troubles in Japan’s antiquated reactors at the Fukushima site might make a compelling case for use of Generation III reactors, such as the Westinghouse AP1000 and GE-Hitachi’s ESBWR, which have built-in passive-safety features.

“The situation in Japan relative to the new build in the U.S., will have a positive effect for the AP1000 and ESBWR,” a retired utility executive told FCW. “Their passive safety measures will be seen as having more value.” The executive said the AREVA EPR, which relies on emergency diesel generators, might not fare as well in the new, super safety conscious market.

But AREVA spokesman Jarrett Adams told FCW that the EPR could handle blackouts.

“The EPR has quadruple diesel generators, and any one of them can power the entire plant. They are protected in a separate concrete bunker, each with its own fuel supply,” said Adams.

Lynchpin to Come Undone?

NRG LogoIntense speculation has arisen in Texas about whether NRG’s two proposed Japanese (Toshiba/Hitachi) reactors face new financial woes due to the situation in Japan. The utility executive told FCW that Japan’s Export Bank might have to reallocate funds formerly set aside for loans and loan guarantees, to rebuild infrastructure at home. Because the two reactors were sourced in Japan, NRG had planned to obtain a loan for their construction.

A bigger concern is that Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), which owns and operates the stricken reactor complex at Fukushima, was an early investor in the South Texas Project. But its investment is contingent on NRG’s ability to win a loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy.

But now TEPCO is struggling to deal with its damaged reactor complex, and will soon need to replace lost generating capacity. That may make it hard for the utility to keep its $275 million commitment. On March 22, 2011, TEPCO said it might need as much as $25 billion from Japanese banks to rebuild the electric generation capacity destroyed at Fukushima.

Even if TEPCO is able to use units 5 and 6 again, the cost of replacing the power lost from the seawater cooled units 1, 2 and 3, which are unlikely to ever run again, could eat into TEPCO’s cash reserves. The six reactors together supplied about 10% of Japan’s nuclear generated electricity. (4,246 MW out of 43,361 MW or about 10%)

The Economist reported on Tuesday that Japan’s government could be stretched thin in the reconstruction effort, noting, “Japanese sovereign debt is in a league all its own. Its gross debt- to-GDP ratio may reach 228% this year—more than twice the ratio in America.”

In Japan individual savers hold a lot of that debt, and as they withdraw it to rebuild their homes and businesses, it could put a cash squeeze on the government. That could make it hard to extend government support to TEPCO’s reconstruction efforts, leaving the utility to fend for itself.

In short, Japanese institutions have served as the financial lynchpin for NRG’s project. In seeking a government loan guarantee NRG was counting on the bona fides of these organizations to help it meet the stringent criteria of DOE’s due diligence process, especially in regard to independent, unregulated merchant generators.

But the vastly changed financial scenario in Japan may undermine NRG’s effort to secure the loan guarantee. Without it NRG officials have said the company would not proceed with the $10 billion project.

Disaster Stalls Contract Negotiation

In another blow to the South Texas Project, CPS Energy, a San Antonio utility, suspended contract negotiations to buy power from the planned reactor. Officials from both companies said they needed to halt discussions to assess the impact of Japan’s nuclear crisis on U.S. new build.

“We need to have a better idea of what’s going on,” CPS spokesman Lisa Lewis said in a statement.

Barclays told Reuters on March 14, 2011, that should NRG decide not to build the twin reactors at STP, they could in the short term write off their expenses, plus gain a long-term benefit of a better overall strategy for the company. Moody’s agreed, noting that removing the uncertainty of massive cost overruns related to construction of the two reactors would stabilize investor confidence in the company.

NRG said in a statement that it would not engage in “speculation” about the project based on the crisis in Japan.

Some U.S. Projects to Proceed

nei logoNot all the news is bad. The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the industry’s trade organization, asserted that U.S. plants are safe and that the crisis in Japan is not expected to affect U.S. nuclear expansion.

Tony Pietrangelo, the chief nuclear officer at NEI, said in an interview with investor groups in New York March 14, 2011, that most U.S. new construction will be in the southeast, which has few if any active faults and no history of devastating seismic events.

The two U.S. projects most certain to reach the finish line at present are the Southern Company’s two planned Westinghouse AP1000s at its Vogtle site and SCANA’s two planned AP1000 units at its V.C. Summer power plant. Neither is near a coastline. TVA’s reactor completion projects at Watts Bar and Bellefonte sites are also inland.

“New construction will be unaffected by this given where the plants are located,” Pietrangelo told investors.

Plus, since September 11, 2001 NRC regulations require older plants to prepare more thoroughly for emergencies. For example, they now need more emergency equipment to manage cooling of shut-down reactors under blackout conditions.

In a company statement it issued on March 14, 2011,, Southern Company noted, “We do not anticipate that events in Japan will impact our constructions schedule or our ability to stay on budget.”

In a public webcast on March 15, 2011,, SCANA officials stressed that the AP1000 is a Pressurized Water Reactor, which, unlike the Boiling Water Reactors at Fukushima, do not require outside electricity for cooling down the core.

SCANA President and COO Kevin Marsh said, “[W]e remain committed to the construction of two additional nuclear units [at V.C. Summer].”

Mitsubishi Reactor Review Delayed

PermitIn a separate development, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced last week that it had postponed the license applications of Luminant and Dominion for new Mitsubishi Advanced Boiling Water Reactors.

Luminant plans to build two 1,700 MWe Mitsubishi APWR reactors and Dominion plans to build at least one 1,500 MWe version of the same design.

The NRC received Mitsubishi's application in December 2007. It "docketed" the application in 2008. Because the company had since made changes to the plan, NRC said it needs to do more review of the application. Seismic analysis is expected to be part of it.

That pushes back the beginning of a safety review of Luminant’s Comanche Peak project to June 2013, and of Dominion’s North Anna project to July 2013.

A nuclear energy utility executive familiar with the license applications of both utilities told FCW the delay might not matter much to either utility. Neither, apparently, is in any hurry to build a new reactor.

China Takes a Breather

In a dramatic reversal, China’s State Council announced on Wednesday that it had suspended the approval of nuclear projects until it could revise safety rules. The government said it took the action in light of the developments at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant.

The State Council, chaired by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, also said the government would do safety reviews at current nuclear facilities and those under construction. Many of China’s 9 GWe of nuclear power plants are Generation II designs.

The government has offered no indication, however, that it would halt its planned nuclear expansion in accordance with its most recent Five Year Plan, published earlier this month.

According to the Financial Times, the statement was probably aimed at reassuring an alarmed public that its nuclear program was producing safe facilities.

The report also cited industry observers who thought China’s Generation II CPR1000 reactors were the most likely to see the effects of new reviews.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Webinar notes from NFC Fukushima panel discussion

A panel of experts discuss the latest news about Japan’s nuclear energy crisis

NFC logoThese are my notes from the discussion that took place March 22, 2011, in an online webinar sponsored by Nuclear Fabrication Consortium (NFC), a coalition of manufacturers of components for nuclear power plants. [PR Newswire release:]

The one hour session reportedly had several thousand people signed up, and, according to the moderator, about three hundred questions were submitted via the web enabled interface.

Role of ANS in this outreach effort

While the American Nuclear Society arranged for me to be a speaker on the panel, I was not an official spokesperson for the society. My remarks were my own.

I relied on the news clips posted to the ANS Nuclear CafĂ© which has been updated continuously since March 11 with information resources about Japan’s nuclear crisis.

Speakers on the NFC panel included:

David Blee – Nuclear Infrastructure Council, former DAS at DOE for Public Affairs
Lake Barrett – Former Deputy Director, DOE Office of Radioactive Waste Management
Edward Davis – Former President, American Nuclear Energy Council
Dan Yurman – American Nuclear Society, (blogger at Idaho Samizdat)
Nate Ames – Director, Nuclear Fabrication Consortium

Highlights of the Webinar

* Blee

blee The earthquake and tsunami hit within ten minutes of each others. The wave was way higher than the design basis which was a six meter high sea wall. According to some reports, the wave came in at nearly three times that height. It wiped out the electrical switchgear for the plants and the diesel generators producing “blackout conditions.”

According to Blee, the NRC believes that the events in Fukushima will not significantly impact relicensing of U.S. reactors. Also, the NRC said 3/21 licensing for new plants is on track. Blee noted that President Obama and Energy Sec. Chu have made statements supporting nuclear energy.

* Barrett

Lake Barrett This was not a health catastrophe in Japan in terms of radiation exposure.

He talked about production of hydrogen gas in reactors #1 & #3 from partial uncovering and overheating of fuel rods and oxidation of zirconium fuel cladding due to high temperatures. He said large amounts of radioactive material were released as a result of the hydrogen explosions in the secondary containment structures.

Loss of water in spent fuel pool #4 did result in over heating of the fuel assemblies even though they had been there for 100 days. Hydrogen gas and radioactive materials were released via an explosion of the gas created due to loss of water and oxidation of zirconium. He called it a “zirconium fire.”

* Davis

He discussed Energy Sec Chu's comments on last Sunday's talk shows. Chu has said that nuclear energy is essential to meet clean energy goals.

Davis said NRC is confident hardening of nuclear facilities following 9/11 terrorist attacks has been completed, most plants were done by 2006. A lot of extra emergency equipment is now stationed at plants.

USGS updates seismic data for all reactor sites every year.

He talked about the Institute for Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) being created after the Three Mile Island Accident (TMI) in 1989. Defense in depth is still a viable paradigm. He cited the industry’s mantra "An accident somewhere is an accident anywhere."

Also, he talked about INPO’s self-inspection program which he said is more rigorous than NRC inspections.

* Yurman (speaking for myself and not as an official representative of ANS)

I talked about dysfunctional TV coverage that used fear, uncertainty, and doubt to raise ratings, boost advertising revenue. This is why some TV coverage is so "alarmist," because it is a form of reality TV.

Shock sells. The sale of hamburger helper, home cleaning solutions, and the promises of ageless rejuvenation through personal care products are all benefitting from round the clock attention on Fukushima. The more fear, uncertainty, and doubt the TV news crews can put on the air, the more people will watch, and the more eyeballs will be counted by advertisers.

See my complete blog post at Idaho Samizdat for the full text. I have about three minutes in the webinar to present a summary.

Q&A session (these were the questions selected by the moderator for the panel)

Q: Explain differences between BWR and PWR, differences between 40-year old Japanese plants and current designs?

Q: Explain decay heat. Is fission still taking place?

Q: Explain how the hydrogen gas is a problem. Why does radioactivity get vented when the gas explodes?

Q: What isotopes are released. Explain the health effects of Iodine 131, Cesium 137, half lives. Isn't the iodine captured in water?

Q: Explain the reasons why the NRC ordered a 50 mile evacuation of Americans when Japan only moved their people out 13 miles (20 km)?

Q: Did TEPCCO lie about conditions at Fukushima? Were there problems in communication between TEPCO and the U.S. based on cultural differences and translation?

Q: Explain the difference between the NRC and its counterpart in Japan.

Podcast available

The Moderator said a complete podcast would be posted on the NFC website in the very near future. The answers to the questions can be heard when the podcast is online. I was in the middle of most of them so note taking took a back seat to talking. I’ll update this blog post with the podcast link when it is available from NFC.

The session ended at 3:00 PM EDT

Wisconsin nuclear energy program has online video / slides about Fukushina

University of Wisconsin

“Understanding the Nuclear Emergency in Japan” – video & slides


Michael Corradinin, Professor and Chair of Engineering Physics Department
Paul Wilson, Associate Professor in Engineering Physics
Bryan Bednarz, Assistant Professor in Medical Physics Dept.

This panel discussion provides a technical and medical background to the emerging situation at Japan’s damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Experts in nuclear engineering and medical physics describe the chain of events that led to damage at the nuclear plant and what the risks are to public health of radiation releases.

See the full session video (under 2 hrs) with the slides in a single interface. It’s a bit unstable at first. You can browse the session by advancing the slides.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The news media and Fukushima

As expected it ignored reality to provide its own version of events

reality-tv1 Firms that advertise on television love the weather segment in the evening news. Everyone wants to know about it, and the possibility of offensive content is pretty low.

A new development is that ‘Reality TV,’ with its dysfunctional personalities, has brought a new dimension to advertising. This in turn has deeply influenced news coverage of the Fukushima nuclear reactor crisis.

Americans may have seen the unfolding horrors in Japan as a form of reality TV. Some have suggested the slow unfolding of events was a form of a ‘disaster movie,” but for many viewers, that pace of plot development is too slow for an attention limited mind set. (Image via “Reality Matters: 19 Writers Come Clean About the Shows We Can't Stop Watching” by Anna David (Amazon)

The thrill seeking element in reality TV, which provides a vehicle for the ads, peaked the past ten days as television news sought to scare the socks off viewers in reports about the horrific impacts of a 9.0 earthquake, and by some reports, a 15 meter high tsunami. Together they left half a million people homeless and may have killed more than 20,000 people.

eyeballsSome advertisers don't seem to care so much about content as they do about the number of eyeballs in the product. So long as the content it is wrapped around isn't too violent, or pornographic, the formula works. This means that following the news to see if a reactor “blows up” is more important to the news media than the facts of a complex nuclear accident. Remember, TV only works, and makes a profit, if advertisers stay with it. Shock sells.

The sale of hamburger helper, home cleaning solutions, and the promises of ageless rejuvenation through personal care products are all benefiting from round the clock attention on Fukushima. The more fear, uncertainty, and doubt the TV news crews can put on the air, the more people will watch, and the more eyeballs will be counted by advertisers.

Mainstream media no longer rules the air

There are differences between the media coverage of the Chernobyl and Three Mile Island nuclear accidents. The primary difference is that the mainstream news media no longer rules the air. In this blog post I am mostly concerned with television news because it reaches the greatest number of eyeballs.

We live in the Internet age where people can be selective about what news they get and expect to provide feedback about it. The old broadcast model famous in Walter Cronkite's day is a dead duck. Television still rules in the mainstream media, but it is fighting a battle against hundreds of channels competing for viewer attention.

In the middle of the first week of the crisis, Google News listed over 35,000 news articles about the nuclear crisis in Japan. However, the speed and power of the Internet works with equal efficiency for both accurate facts and wild conspiracy theories.

The mainstream media started out almost completely clueless about the nuclear reactors in Japan even though 104 reactors provide 20% of the electricity in the U.S. Anti-nuclear groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists exploited public fears about radiation and meltdowns.

flaming eyeballsNews media coverage of the nuclear crisis at Fukushima started with sensationalist flares, literally, as both CBS and CNN television networks gave updates on the status of the reactors with video images of a burning natural gas tank farm at the Chiba refinery in the background. Since the natural gas plants and the reactors are hundreds of miles apart, one can only assume television producers added the images to voice over reports about the reactors for their sensational effects.

It took days for the news media to accurately report that the primary containment vessels and reactor pressure vessels were not breached by the earthquake. It took even more time for the news media to accurately report that most of the damage to the six reactors at Fukashima was to the equipment outside the reactor buildings including emergency diesels, electric switchgear, and the other "balance of plant" infrastructure. (Image from Roger Norton on Flickr)

No connection to what happened at Chernobyl or TMI

There is no comparison between what's happened in Japan and the Chernobyl and TMI tragedies. The RBMK rectors built by the Soviets were inherently unsafe and they knew it. It was cheaper to convert a bomb making reactor to power generation than to build a new, safer reactor. International nuclear experts told the Soviets not to run the RBMKs, but they did anyway. The New York Times was one of the few newspapers to make these points.

cowboy thown by bull The Soviets at Chernobyl turned out to produce what the novelist Kurt Vonnegut calls a "wrang wrang." Once someone makes a huge mistake, no one ever has to do it again to make the point. A complete lack of transparency in providing timely information was a signature of the Soviet response to Chernobyl. Like a rodeo cowboy thrown by a bull before eight seconds have ticked off the clock, there is no second chance.

At Three Mile Island there was a meltdown, but no significant radioactivity was released and no one was killed as the melt core was kept inside the containment building. TMI resulted in a complete loss of faith in the nuclear industry. That hasn't happened with Fukushima. President Obama and Energy Sec. Chu has made statements supporting nuclear energy to meet clean energy goals.

Yet, during both accidents, the U.S. news media hysteria contributed little to public understanding of the risks and dangers of the events.

In the case of Fukushima, the news media had great difficulty separating the hydrogen explosions from the issues of decay heat in the spent fuel pools. Hint: if you heat water in a tea kettle on an electric stove, but turn if off after the water boils, the residual heat in the electric burner will boil off more water.

Six reactors make for confusion

In the the Chernobyl and TMI accidents, the news media only had to worry about one nuclear reactor. In Japan there were six. It was a source of major confusion for the news media and their audiences to understand which reactors were having problems, how problems at the spent fuel pools fit in the picture, and what the real threat was from radiation.

It took days for graphics of the reactors and maps of the site to appear in news reports. During this time, the news media kept asking experts, "what should we worry about?" Naturally, each expert had his or her own idea which gave the public an unfathomable number of things to worry about producing psychological melt downs and scary newspaper headlines.

The New York Times published an interactive graphic of the position of the spent fuel pools and how they work on March 18, a full week after the crisis began. Reuters produced a sophisticated graphic showing status information, but it didn’t make it into wide circulation.

IAEA accident scale

The news media, in wanting to know how serious the accident was, paid little attention to the efforts of the IAEA to communicate about its accident rating scale. Like the Richter earthquake accident severity scale, the IAEA's International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES) is not linear. It is logarithmic which means each increment is 10 times more severe in terms of impact than the last one.

INES, to facilitate understanding, uses a numerical rating to explain the significance of nuclear or radiological events. This is just like using ratings for earthquakes or temperature, which would be difficult to understand without the Richter or Celsius scales.

INES ScaleINES applies to any event associated with the transport, storage and use of radioactive material and radiation sources. Such events can include industrial and medical uses of radiation sources, operations at nuclear facilities, or the transport of radioactive material.

Events are classified at seven levels: Levels 1–3 are “incidents” and Levels 4–7 “accidents”. These levels consider three areas of impact:

(1) people and the environment,

(2) radiological barriers and control, and

(3) defense in depth.

INES at Fukushima

The IAEA assigned a level five out of seven to Fukushima. This score covered the reactor fuel assembly damage, loss of all cooling function at units 3 and 4, and the abnormal rise of radiation dose rates at the plant site boundary due to steam pressure releases by unit 1. Admittedly, it requires some science and engineering background to understand the distinctions.

Level 5 on the scale means an “accident with wider consequences." The event at unit 4, where there was loss of coolant to the spent fuel pool, has provisionally been rated as Level 3, which means “serious incident”.

In a report to the IAEA on units 1, 2 and 3 at Fukushima, Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) said electricity rooms and seawater pump rooms were flooded when the tsunami struck, and the only cooling function available was from a turbine driven pump.

The operation of this pump increased the pressure in the reactor’s suppression chamber and the pump had to be stopped. This resulted in the loss of all cooling function and the declaration of a state of emergency, the report says.

reactorcoreIn an effort to cool units 1, 2, and 3, seawater was injected into the reactor vessels using fire pumps. The gas in the containment vessels was also vented. When venting the containment, the radiation dose rate at the boundary level of the site exceeded the limit of 0.5 millisievert per hour, and for this reason the initial Level 4 classification for unit 1 was revised upwards.

The report says the explosions at the reactors on 12 to 14 March were believed to have been caused by hydrogen gas. The gas explosions, which were captured on remote video, were repeated endlessly on network TV because the sensational visual effect trumped sober analysis of why the explosions took place and that they did not damage the primary containment structures.

A view to the future?

svinicki What is the future for the U.S. industry? In a review of the Fukushima accident held March 21, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, one of the commissioners, Kristine Svinicki, (right) said:

"Some may characterize that our faith in this technology is shaken. Nuclear safety is not and cannot be a matter of faith. It must be a matter of fact."

Is it too much to ask the U.S. news media to be held to the same standard?

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Webinar – The Facts about Fukushima Nuclear Crisis

What happened in Japan?
nuclear sunsetThe Nuclear Fabrication Consortium (NFC) has assembled a panel of experts to talk about what  happened in Japan last week at the Fukushima nuclear power station.

The webinar takes place Tuesday, March 22, online. It is open to the public and the news media.

WebinarThe Facts about Fukushima

Date: Tuesday, March 22nd 2011
Time: 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm (EST)
Call-in Number: 614-384-5247  Pin Code: 029468#
Streaming Webcast:

The recent events in Japan have heightened public concern over the safety and feasibility of using nuclear power. This concern, coupled with the data fog that has been created by media outposts looking to put a unique perspective on the situation, has created an atmosphere where the lines between fact and conjecture have been blurred sometimes with extreme comments about the future of nuclear energy.

At NFC, we pride ourselves on being unbiased and fact-based. When we are not the technology experts, we reach out to those who are to verify the data that impacts our business.

NFC logo We want you to have access to the data regarding the situation at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in a form that is understandable to a non-Nuclear Engineer. As such, the NFC has organized a conference call and webinar that will give you access to experts from the nuclear industry.

They will provide you with the chain of events, without sensationalism or hypotheses, regarding what has transpired in Japan over the last week and half. You will hear directly from the experts and will have an opportunity to get your questions answered.

Panel of Industry Experts

David Blee – Nuclear Infrastructure Council
Lake Barrett – Former Deputy Director, Office of Radioactive Waste Management
Marc Goldsmith – Principal, MGA LLC & Former VP, Stone & Webster
Edward Davis – Former President, American Nuclear Energy Council
Dan Yurman – American Nuclear Society
Nate Ames – Director, Nuclear Fabrication Consortium

Note to readers – while ANS has arranged for me to be a speaker on the panel, my remarks will be solely my own.


The agenda is that each panelist will make a brief opening set of remarks. The balance of the session will be open to Q&A from the audience.  A moderator will choose questions likely to be of interest to the widest number of listeners and direct them to the panel for response.

Prior coverage on this blog

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Fukushima nuclear crisis unwrapped

Some things to ponder as the situation comes under control

tsunamiAs I write this on Sunday afternoon March 20, 2011, it appears the crisis involving six nuclear reactors in Fukushima, Japan, is headed toward cold shutdown. That's good news for the tens of thousands of people who evacuated the area following an order from the Japanese government. It is good news for Tokyo Electric Power Corp (TEPCO), which owns and operates the reactors.

Three of the six 40-year old reactors are basically junk having been cooled during the emergency with seawater. The other three were shut down for maintenance when the earthquake hit. Restarting any of them is an open question.

Heroism by plant operators made the difference in this emergency. They stayed at their posts knowing, for some, that their homes were swept away by the tsunami, and for others, that loved ones had died in the disaster.

Half a million people are homeless and tens of thousands are missing and believed dead from the combination of a 9.0 earthquake and 10 meter high wall of water (video) that breached the sea walls at the reactor site and elsewhere up and down the northeastern coast of Japan.

Things we know with relative certainty

The crisis at Fukushima was caused by two geophysical events, a huge earthquake and an equally devastating tsunami. For people who ask how the Japanese could have come to build reactors on earthquake faults zones, the answer is because they know how to do it.

Despite the incredible forces of these two events, the reactor cores and primary containment structures of all six reactors appear to have remained intact.

Fukushima unit #1 _______________________________________________________________________________

A schematic image of the reactor building. The hydrogen blast occurred in the top portion of the reactor building for Unit 1. The orange piece of equipment in this section of the building is a fuel-handling machine on rails. The reactor vessel is in the center of the image, and the containment structure can be seen surrounding it. (Image source: ISIS)

It is still unknown whether the suppression chamber, or torus, at one of the reactors is breached, but given the dropping radiation levels, it seems unlikely there is damage to the primary containment structure.

The tsunami, which came in at at least 10 meters, swept over a six meter seawall and flooded the electrical switchgear for all six reactors producing blackout conditions. The waves of water also flooded or swept away the fuel tanks for the emergency diesel generators. Some of the electrical switchgear and breaker rooms can be dried out and hooked into external power once it is brought to the site.

TEPCO used fire trucks from Tokyo with ladders that extend to almost 80 feet to pour water into the spent fuel pool at Fukushima reactor #4. The use of helicopters, which dropped huge amounts of water on the reactors, also suppressed radiation by scrubbing it out of the air.

Status of spent fuel pool at Unit #4

According to a “background” telephone call with a senior U.S. nuclear executive, the spent fuel pool at reactor #4 had "normal water" as of Friday morning March 18 and, as a result, the fuel in it will not melt down releasing massive amounts of radiation into the atmosphere.

The executive said that on March 17, the concrete on one side of the pool fell away. That damage may have come from one of the hydrogen explosions. However, the one-and-half inch steel liner around the pool remains intact which means it is likely the pool is not leaking.

The executive also said there is a possibility that reports of "core damage" are speculative that the fuel assemblies in reactors 1-3 may have deformed from heat, but since no one has actually seen them, their condition remains unknown. The term "core damage" does not mean the reactor pressure vessels have cracks or are a source of radioactivity other than what came out when TEPCO vented them.

The executive declined to speak on the record because of the sensitivity of the matter. He did not specify how he had acquired his information. Given the global nature of the firm's work, it is reasonable to assume the company has people on the ground assisting Japanese authorities. I can confirm the executive has no relationship with General Electric which is the vendor that supplied the boiling water reactor technology to Japan.

What did Jaczko know and when did he know it?

Gregory Jaczko NRC March 2011This brings us to the testimony of NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko (left: photo via NRC) on Wednesday March 16 to the House Energy & Commerce Committee. Jaczko told the committee he recommended that Americans in Japan evacuate to a distance of 50 miles from the Fukushima reactors.

Earlier in the week, Japanese officials had ordered an evacuation to a 20 km radius (13 miles) around the reactor. Jacko’s statement essentially quadrupled the size of the danger zone.

He said the basis for the recommendation is that there was "core damage" to three of the reactors. He added that there were additional threats of health effects to plant workers and the general population from dangerous levels of radiation.

"We believe that secondary containment has been destroyed and there is no water in the spent-fuel pool. And we believe that radiation levels are extremely high, which could possibly impact the ability to take corrective measures."

Japanese officials in the government and TEPCO executives immediately disputed Jaczko's remarks and his recommendation for a wider evacuation. Japan's nuclear safety agency and Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the complex, denied water was gone from the pool. Utility spokesman Hajime Motojuku told the Associated Press the "condition is stable" at unit 4.

Here are some questions about the NRC which need answers

This brings us to the question of how Jaczko came up with his recommendation and why he decided to make it if he had incomplete information. One theory is that he had access to remote sensing data.

The more important question is who else worked with him to develop the recommendation for the much larger evacuation?

Jaczko told Congress the NRC was staffed round the clock with nuclear experts monitoring the crisis in Japan and that a number of NRC staff were over there on the ground. What information, if any, from the operations center and the people in Japan did Jaczko use to develop his testimony?

Did the NRC chairman consult with the four other NRC commissioners before delivering his congressional testimony? They have a deep body of nuclear energy expertise and could have contributed to his understanding of the rapidly unfolding events in Japan.

Did the NRC chairman consult with his counterparts at the Japanese nuclear safety agency and with TEPCO officials?

Did the NRC chairman understand that by ordering Americans to evacuate to a much greater distance of 50 miles than the one ordered by the provincial government in Japan that he was creating new panic in Japan? Worse, from Japan's point of view, his startling recommendation might be seen as intervention in the domestic affairs of a sovereign nation. Did anyone at the NRC work with the U.S. State Department to address the diplomatic issues?

Did anyone advise the NRC chairman that a recommendation made in haste could create more panic, might damage the credibility of the agency, and its ability to communicate with its counterparts in Japan? What was the downside of waiting to get more definitive information?

Is there a possibility that Jaczko's recommendations were written at the White House based on distrust of the information coming from TEPCO and other Japanese sources?

There may also be another answer, and that is the White House had intelligence the NRC could not obtain on its own. Note that several private organizations, including ISIS, published remote sensing images of the damaged reactors.

Red light theory

nuclear sunsetIs it possible that infra red sensing provided the U.S. government with definitive intelligence about how much water was in the spent fuel pool at Fukushima #4?

Given the sensitively of satellites and aircraft mounted instruments, it might have been possible to get an approximate, or inferred measurement, of the temperature of the remaining water in the pool, which was open to the outside air.

Once you know the temperature of the water, you can make an assumption about how much there is given what is known about the fuel in the pool. For instance, at one point last week TEPCO released data saying the last known temperature of the pool water was about 180 F. This means that while you could cook a chicken in it, it would not boil off. The boiling point at normal atmospheric temperature at sea level is 212 F.

Infrared remote sensing is asset that both the U.S. and Japan have in earth orbiting satellites. This means that a spent fuel pool, with no water in it, shows up as a very bright white spot on the image and is obvious to a trained photo interpretation analyst. If there was no water in the pool, the temperature of the fuel assemblies would be well above 212 F.

Typically, these satellites orbit at about 200-300 miles above the earth in what is called “low earth orbit,” and typically they are in polar orbits which gives them more coverage of the earth’s surface over time.

A fly over at 35,000 feet by a photo reconnaissance aircraft from the U.S. Navy fleet off the Japanese coast, using visible light spectrum and infra red, would show even more definitive results.

Also, in a nuclear facility, operating under normal conditions, discovery of water leaks where they don’t belong triggers a cascade of communications. The shift supervisor and plant shift supervisor are notified and radcon is dispatched to survey it.

In abnormal conditions, it is impossible to predict what might have happened had any of the skeleton staff remaining at the plant noticed a plume of fog at ground level coming off 180 F water, hotter water, leaking into a 34 F atmosphere. That could have accounted for repeated reports of “smoke” from the reactors which in fact was fog from cold air hitting warm water.

This is why there is some speculation that Jaczko may have acquired his intelligence about the status of the spent fuel pool from U.S. military assets which may have also been supplemented or confirmed by similar Japanese assets acquiring similar data. If that’s the case, it would explain why he said the situation at reactor #4 was dire.

Transparency may have come from many sources

transparencyThe implication is that with these remote sensing assets purposed to image the Fukushima site, it is likely to have been made clear to TEPCO that transparency came from the skies.

However, if none of these assets were used, we are left with unanswered questions about Jaczko's congressional testimony and its consequences.

Both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal ran stories last week raising the question of whether TEPCO, which has dissembled in communications in the past about the severity of nuclear accidents, was up to it again.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) took action upgrading its assessment of the severity of the accident from a lower rating initially provided by Japanese officials. The IAEA Director also complained to the news media he wasn’t getting enough of the right information from TEPCO and the Japanese government.

The Wall Street Journal went further. In a mind bending report, it lays out the case that TEPCO executives delayed in using sea water to cool the reactors. Was this a fear of being blamed for being wrong? Were they trying to save capital assets with multi-billion dollar price tags for replacement.

There is no definitive answer to these questions at least for now.

What remains to be known is how much distrust and incomplete information played a role in what has turned out to look like a decision that didn't have to be made in time for a congressional hearing. Yes, that's hindsight, but these questions deserve answers and soon.

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Links for news on status of Japan’s nuclear crisis

A 9.0 magnitude earthquake has affected nuclear power stations in Japan. ANS Nuclear Cafe began at | 0800 | 2011 03 11 | a media clip service on breaking news about the status of nuclear energy facilities in Japan. The news reports are in descending order based on time/date stamps where available or when posted.

Update: News reports continue March 20 of the nuclear energy crisis in Japan. Follow breaking news items via @djysrv on Twitter.

Regular blog posts will return to Idaho Samizdat on Monday March 21 assuming the crisis in Japan continues toward resolution. Significant progress is taking place March 20 with the restoration of external power to several reactors.

There are news summaries at ANS Nuclear Cafe twice a the day. The ANS Nuclear Cafe is the blog of the American Nuclear Society (ANS).

Also, this week ANS sent emails to its 12,000 members with updates about Japan's nuclear crisis. I am supporting this work at ANS which is why you are not seeing anything here.

See a special technical statement by ANS on Japan's nuclear crisis. Below are some additional sources of information.

Sources of information about Japan's nuclear crisis