This is Alex Smith of Radio Ecoshock with Bulletin Number Two concerning the atomic emergency in Japan, following the record-breaking earthquake and tsunami in March, 2011.
As of ten o’clock Pacific Time, Saturday the containment building of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor #1 has blown up. The video of a violent explosion is seen all over Network news and the Internet.
Now we learn up to six Japanese nuclear reactors are out of control and in danger of melting down.
The cause of the first explosion was likely not atomic, but caused by extreme heat generated by an atomic pile with insuffient cooling. Japanese government officials admit the radioactive rods inside the reactor were above the water line, emitting radioactivity and heat.
The government was attempting to release pressure and heat from the reactor, when the outer concrete shell of the structure blew up.
The direct cause may have been thermal decompostion of water into it’s consituent elements, including oxygen and hydrogen. Hydrogen is very flamable, and may have blown the building. That would put the temperature inside the reactor building over 1000 degrees Celsius.
The other possibility is a steam explosion. Water suddenly and rapidly expands into steam, while interacting with molten metals in the reactor core, and under pressure. Again, this requires very high heat as well.
In either case, a solid concrete building around an over-heating and out-of-control reactor was blown into dust. The Japanese government claims that the reactor itself was not damaged. Even less believable, the government then said emissions of radioactive materials declined after the explosion.
Meanwhile, the government increased the area for evacuations from 5 to 10 kilometers, and then to 20 km (12.4 miles) following the explosion. By the end of Sunday, about 170,000 people were evacuated from their homes, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Most of them would be wondering whether they would ever be allowed to return to their homes again. Many of those evacuated from Chernobyl were never allowed to return, to an area left as a radioactive wasteland. Whether this happens in Japan depends on the extent of the melt-downs to come.
It turns out both the operating company Tokyo electric Power (Tepco) and the government knew that at least two other reactors were also in danger of melting down, but this was not announced until almost 24 hours later, on Sunday morning in Japan. Tepco was releasing more radioactive steam from other reactors at both the Number 1 and Number 2 plants.
More radioactivity, with few announcements.
The government is now admitting that at least 160 people have been irradiated, including some patients and ambulance workers at a hospital some miles away. Thousands are being checked with wands for radioactivity, another frightening experienc, espeically for parents with children.
Officials are also showing tablets on television, ready in case children in the
region are exposed to thyroid destroying radioactive particles.
The radioactive element caesium has been detected outside the power plant. This can only come from the reactor core.
The utility company admitted Sunday morning that in the No.1 Fukushima plant, they could no longer cool the reactor core. That made 2 reactors heading toward, or already fully involved in, a melt-down. On the same day, Kyodo, the official Japanese news agency, said this was “the sixth reactor overall at the Fukushima No. 1 and No.2 plants to undergo cooling failure since the massive earthquake and ensuing tsunami struck Japan on Friday.”
Six reactors in cooling failure – a multiple chain of system failures in Japan. The outcome is not known at this time. Perhaps the government, following its performance so far, is covering up not just the risks, but the damage already done.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano on Sunday told the press that a “partial meltdown” is “higly possible” – but the heat and danger are so high, no one can get close enough to the reactors to see what is happening. He admitted the fuel rods had been exposed for some time.
Various American nuclear experts say they think a melt-down has already occured in at least one reactor.
These reactors are old, commissioned around 1971, built by Westinghouse.
The Japanese government was warned these and other reactors in Japan were unsafe, due to the likelyhood of earthquakes. Seismologist Ishibashi Katsuhiko, a professor at Kobe University, told government ministers that Japanese atomic plants at Shika, Onagawa and Kashiwazaki-Kariwa were all hit by earthquakes larger than their design capabilities, between 2005 and 2007.
The older Fukushima plants were built to withstand just 7.0 (on the scale used inWestern countries) – and not 8.9 as actually occured.
After the Kushiwazaki reactor caught fire, and released radioactivity following an earthquake July 16, 2007 – Professor Katsuhiko warned the government many reactors were unsafe, due to predictable seismic activity. The government took no action.
Further, there has been a trend in the nuclear power industry world-wide to build reactors both near Seismic faults, like several in California. Two big reactors at San Onofre and Diablo Canyon were not designed to withstand such an earthquake. American scientists point out a quake in California could be even larger, due to the opposing tectonic plates just off shore.
But also, around the world, nuclear power plants were built at the sea-side. That allows the reactors to dump their heated water into the sea (which harms the nearby ecosystem). But it also sets them up for tsunami damage once a quake occurs. I am still searching for the number of ocean-side nuclear plants, but it could be up to 100, in over a dozen countries. All of them are at extreme danger from a tsunami.
It appears that the tsunami, rather than the earthquake, flooded the reactor buildings in Japan, knocking out controls, but also the diesel backup systems and other safety measures.
Now the government and the utility are using their last hope: flooding the damaged reactors, up to half a dozen of them, with sea water and Boron.
From everything I have read, this means those reactors can never be reopened. The salt damage will be too extensive to repair. It is the end for most reactors at the Fukushima site.
That could be a big relief for the local residents – if their homes and schools are not irradiated, closing the area possible for a hundred years or more.
I have not even discussed another nuclear facility that is also damaged, which houses radioactive waste from the reactors. Few details have been provided about that situation, as those waste pools must also be constantly cooled.
During all this, the goverment of Japan, and the utility company, have been soft-pedalling the situation, to avoid panic. I have heard officials say the concrete container buildng just had its walls “fall down” – even as we saw video of a big explosion. At almost every press appearance, the repeated radiation releases from an admited “partial melt-down” (whatever that means) is always “minor” and of no health concern.
It is just this withholding of information, which even President Obama complained about, that happened at Chernobyl, at Three Mile Island, and at the next nuclear accident near you.
Authorities simply cannot be trusted in these matters. That is the record, and that is happening now.
IMPACT ON THE WORLD ECONOMY
We move from the developing nuclear accident, to the larger impact this has on the world economy. As I said in my first podcast Friday night, big car manufacturers like Toyota and Honda have completely closed down their operations. Sony had several semi-conductor plants in the Northern part of Japan, in the quake-struck area. Several airports are closed, the Tokyo airport is refusing many flights except Japan Airlines. All the sea ports are closed. Some of them are inoperable.
As the world’s third largest economy, Japan matters. The country was starting to climb out of a long-term recession, the government claimed, although others doubt official statistics.
This grand-scale disaster may provide a short burst of rebuilding jobs, as the cost of pushing Japanese government debt into a stratosphere, teetering again on the edge of bankruptcy.
Japan’s national debt is already more than twice it’s Gross Domestic Product. The government of Japan makes countries like Greece and Spain look like good credit risks (and they are close to bankruptcy).
In order to pay for the rebuilding, we can expect Japanese insurance companies, big business and big investment funds to sell off their huge holdings in U.S. Treasury bonds. Japan is second only to China as the largest holder of U.S Treasuries, holding an estimated 882 billion dollars worth.
If Japan starts selling, America will have even more trouble selling the debt it needs just to operate the government, which is still in heavy deficit spending. Nobody knows the impact this change in money flow will have on either economy.
Others speculate that Japan will stop buying eurozone bonds. Again, Japanese insurance companies were buying into European investments, apparently as part of the so-called Shadow Banking system. That is unregistered trades between private parties, not held on public books, with unregulated trading.
At the financial blog Zero Hedge, star writer Tyler Durden asks “Will The Japanese Earthquake Be The Straw That Breaks Europe’s Back?”
That is, will this disaster finally trip various European countries, or even the whole Euro system, into bankruptcy?
Of course, this demonstration of the huge risks, and unstoppable accidents, could paralyze new nuclear construction world-wide. The new Japanese government had promised a program of renewable energy during the election, but afterwards switched to a very expensive promise of more nuclear building. That seems unlikely now.
Greens who have criticized nuclear power as inherently unsafe are suddenly appearing on television again, after a long time in exile. In the German Parliament, there are calls for an end to Germany’s nuclear plants.
Today, Saturday, in Germany anti-nuclear protesters held a demonstration by creating a human chain 45 kilimeters long, running from Stuttgart to an old nuclear power plant, still running despite promises it would be closed. That was at least 50,000 people in the demonstration, just two weeks before an election that could see more Greens elected in Germany.
THE RAW SITUATION IN JAPAN
On the ground back in Japan, there are at least a quarter of a million people in temporary shelters. Likely there are thousands still awaiting rescue. Even in the big cities, basic food-stuffs and bottled water have disappeared off store shelves. Being prepared with stored food and water is always a good idea.
Gasoline stations have run out, or are rationing. Many telephone systems are not working. Million of people are without power. Thousands of people are still missing and presumed dead.
Tokyo streets look like a ghost-town. And while the clock ticks, six nuclear reactors are overheating, threatening to close off large parts of that island nation into a long-lasting radioactive no-man’s land.
Even though I have warned about the dangers of nuclear power for more than 30 years, I sincerely hope that does not happen. If the technicians and workers can pump enough sea water into those half dozen reactors, to prevent a complete and total melt-down and release, I will cheer along with all the people of Japan.
And then we have to imagine the new carbon-free future – without this insanely dangerous nuclear technology.
I’m Alex Smith for Radio Ecoshock.
Listen to more shows on nuclear power risks, by using our audio on demand menu, on the main page at http://www.ecoshock.org.