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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Japan's New Normal

Posted by on Wed, Nov 2, 2011 at 2:05 PM

Nearly eight months after the onset of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, plant operators still aren't exactly sure what the fuck is going on inside its damaged reactors:

Nuclear workers at the crippled Fukushima power plant raced to inject boric acid into the plant’s No. 2 reactor early Wednesday after telltale radioactive elements were detected there, and the plant’s owner admitted for the first time that fuel deep inside three stricken plants was probably continuing to experience bursts of fission.

The unexpected bursts — something akin to flare-ups after a major fire — are extremely unlikely to presage a large-scale nuclear reaction with the resulting large-scale production of heat and radiation. But they threaten to increase the amount of dangerous radioactive elements leaking from the complex and complicate cleanup efforts, raising startling questions about how much remains uncertain at the plant, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

Plant operators detected xenon 135, a fission product with a half-life of just nine hours, hence the rush to inject boric acid into the reactor. Boron atoms absorb neutrons, thus interfering with a chain reaction.


Comments (12) RSS

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Fifty-Two-Eighty 1
I was just wondering how long it would take you to post this.
Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty on November 2, 2011 at 2:15 PM · Report this
briantrice 2
What @1 said. I was also right about how little insight the post would have.
Posted by briantrice on November 2, 2011 at 2:23 PM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 3
Let's open a nuke plant at 11th & Pine.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on November 2, 2011 at 2:45 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 4
Let's open a nuke plant beneath Bill Gates house.
Posted by Will in Seattle on November 2, 2011 at 2:55 PM · Report this
venomlash 5
>mfw underground nuclear reactors
Posted by venomlash on November 2, 2011 at 3:03 PM · Report this
prompt 6
@5 As long as you have a cooling supply, why not?

Posted by prompt on November 2, 2011 at 3:27 PM · Report this
prompt 7
Lol wait. I just read the last part of Goldy's post. Uh, Goldy, care to explain what the boron does to the xenon?
Posted by prompt on November 2, 2011 at 3:29 PM · Report this
"Bursts of fission" is euphemistic nonsense, like being a "little bit pregnant". Fission exists or it doesn't, so evidently there is a critical mass of molten fuel in a puddle on the basement floor for fission --- period --- and that's very bad news.
Posted by Anastasia Beaverhausen on November 2, 2011 at 5:46 PM · Report this
rob! 9
@7, I'm a little puzzled as to what you're implying--the boron doesn't do anything to the xenon-135, either chemically or radioactively; it's just that xenon-135 is a clear indication that fission is still taking place. They're hoping that the boron (probably as boric acid dissolved in water) can trickle down to wherever the fission is happening and do its thing as a neutron-absorbing fission poison (xenon-135 is itself an effective neutron absorber but it doesn't stick around for long).

@8, I think they WISH there was a puddle of fissioning material on the basement floor, because then it would still be technically contained. But the reality is almost certainly that there is a very heterogeneous (in shape and composition) zone of melted fuel, cladding, and (former) containment materials spreading out in the substrate well below the original reactor structure--think vomit puddles in your favorite night-life district, except in three dimensions. Occasionally bits of concentrated fissionable material comes together randomly and brief bursts of fission occur. The hell of it is that this means that soluble radioactive fission products of widely varying half-lives will continue to leak into groundwater, seawater, and the atmosphere; the tarnished silver lining is that continued spreading out of fissionable material means that fission will gradually grind to a halt.
Posted by rob! on November 2, 2011 at 6:10 PM · Report this
ScandalMgr 10
Goldy, why not this one?…

Its got all the relative measurements a non-nuclear scientist could want.
Posted by ScandalMgr on November 2, 2011 at 6:32 PM · Report this
Captain Wiggette 11
point #1: Of course they don't know what's going on inside the "reactors" just 8 months later. They won't know for a long time yet because they have no way to measure, see, or approach the reactors yet. And fortunately or unfortunately, they're not the USSR, so they're not just sending thousands of people right in there to try to find out. They don't know where the cores even are, let alone what they consist of at this point, and what they're doing. For all we know the melt has already ablated through the concrete floors and is now burrowing underneath the plant. This is unlikely, but I have about as much of a clue, sitting comfortably thousands of miles away and non-fluent in Japanese, as anyone at TEPCO does.

point #2: this latest discovery of some fission happening shouldn't be terribly surprising. The media, understandably, can make sense of this. As far as *actual* cause for alarm, though, was this doozy that didn't really get noticed much:…

"Cs (Cesium) deposition and precipitation amount on 15 March. The cyclone produced a few millimeters of rain in areas on Honshu Island engulfed by the FD-NPP plume, which led to 137Cs washout. Precipitation was strongest (6mm) near FD-NPP, which produced particularly large deposition amounts of up to nearly 1000kBqm-2 in the vicinity of FD-NPP.
Our simulation suggests that this was the main deposition event over Japan for the entire duration of the disaster. It was due to an unfortunate combination of three factors: (1) the highest emissions of the entire duration of the accident occurred during 14–15 March, (2) the winds transported these emissions over Japan, and (3) precipitation occurred over eastern Japan. Luckily, it did not rain (also confirmed by radar data) exactly at the time when – according to our simulation – the highest concentrations were advected over Tokyo and other major Japanese cities. In such a disastrous scenario, much higher 137Cs deposition in the major population centers would have been possible."

Translation: thank god it didn't rain, Tokyo.

Apologists: you may now continue your idiotic drivel about how smart the engineers were in designing the weather using 'defense in depth' principles. Clearly, the weather-containment system they designed prevented this from posing any danger to anyone.
Posted by Captain Wiggette on November 2, 2011 at 10:25 PM · Report this
Captain Wiggette 12
@7: comprehension fail.
Posted by Captain Wiggette on November 2, 2011 at 10:58 PM · Report this

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