West Coast USA Danger IF Japan Nuclear Reactor Meltdown
“If they can’t restore power to the plant (and cool the reactor), then there’s the possibility of some sort of core meltdown”. An alarming statement made by James Acton, a physicist who examined Japan’s Kashiwazaki nuclear plant after a 2007 earthquake, who told CNN that Japanese authorities are in race to cool down the Fukushima reactor.
Following the fifth largest earthquake in recorded world history, a magnitude 8.9 earthquake, has resulted in the closure of all Japan’s nuclear power reactors, one of which, the Fukushima reactor, is overheating and in danger of a meltdown if coolant is not restored soon. It’s like a pressure cooker… when you have something generating heat and you don’t cool it off or release the steam…
Reported from abc NEWS, Scientists said that even though the reactor had stopped producing energy, its fuel continues to generate heat and needs steady levels of coolant to prevent it from overheating and triggering a dangerous cascade of events.
They go on to say, “Up to 100 percent of the volatile radioactive Cesium-137 content of the pools could go up in flames and smoke, to blow downwind over large distances,”
“Given the large quantity of irradiated nuclear fuel in the pool, the radioactivity release could be worse than the Chernobyl nuclear reactor catastrophe of 25 years ago.” said Kevin Kamps, a nuclear waste specialist.
Fukushima I (there are two plant locations) is one of the 25 largest nuclear power stations in the world.
How would a nuclear plant meltdown unfold?
- Control rods are driven back down into the core upon emergency (if rods don’t make it all the way… trouble)
- The coolant (water) could cease if backup systems fail (electricity, pumps, generators, batteries)
- Reactor continues to produce heat
- Numerous venting valve systems would release pressure above ~1,000 psi into containment vessel
- Eventually the uranium fuel encasement metal will melt (2,200 deg F)
- Radioactive contamination then released into the reactor vessel
- Radiation escapes into an outer, concrete containment building
- Radiation escapes into the environment.
Not only would such a disaster be horrible for the local region and Japan, but other countries, namely the U.S. would be effected next by airborne radiation particles, the magnitude of which is yet to be determined.
Why would the west coast USA be in danger?
The prevailing jet stream winds are blowing from Japan directly across the Pacific ocean to the west coast of the United States. Any airborne radiation would make its way across with the jet stream, reaching the U.S. in approximately 36 hours, depending on the actual speed of the jet.
Image of the Jet Stream from Japan to the U.S.
BBC News Asia-Pacific is now reporting that radiation levels inside the nuclear reactor are 1,000 times of normal, and there are now high levels (unspecified) ‘outside’ of the nuclear reactor plant. They report that people are being evacuated in an approximate 6-mile perimeter.
Map of Nuclear Power Plant Reactors in Japan
Fukushima Power Plant, Boiling Water Reactor (BWR) diagram
The Washington Post reports that a second nuclear reactor in the Fukushima power plant is also affected. The plant has a total of six reactors. Reports only a few hours left on battery power for cooling systems.
Clarification from NHK Wolrd News Japan… a second location, Fukushima II, not far from the Fukushima I nuclear power plant, is also experiencing cooling problems. The government’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said equipment failures have made it impossible to cool 3 of the plant’s 4 reactors. (Translation: ‘impossible’ is not a good word).
Reuters is now reporting that Tokyo Electric Power Company has lost ability to control pressure at some of the reactors at its Fukushima II (Daini) plant nearby the Daiichi power plant (Fukushima I), both suffering from core cooling problems. If battery power at Fukushima II is depleted before AC power is restored, the plant will stop supplying water to the core and the cooling water level in the reactor core will drop.
Kyodo news reports that the cooling system has now failed at three nuclear reactors at Fukushima II, and the coolant water temperature has reached boiling level.
Kyodo news reports, “the operator of the two plants in Fukushima Prefecture is set to release pressure in containers housing their reactors under an unprecedented government order, so as to avoid the plants sustaining damage and losing their critical containment function.” …”the action would involve the release of steam that would likely include radioactive materials”
From Kyodo news, Japan, URGENT: Concerns of core partially melting at Fukushima nuke plant. The core at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant’s No. 1 reactor may be partially melting, the nuclear safety agency said Saturday.
Reuters, Japan authorities: TEPCO plant fuel rods may have melted -Jiji, …could develop into a breach of the nuclear reactor vessel and the question then becomes one of how strong the containment structure around the vessel is and whether it has been undermined by the earthquake
Reuters, An explosion was heard and smoke was seen at the Tokyo Electric Power Company Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant, Jiji news agency quoted the police as saying on Saturday.
Outer structure of building that houses reactor at Fukushima plant appears to have blown off – NHK by Reuters_TonyTharakan at 3/12/2011 8:12:43 AM12:12 AM
Tepco says explosion may have been hydrogen used to cool Fukushima plant – Kyodo; Tepco says 4 people taken to hospital after reported explosion, no word on condition – Jiji
From The Associated Press, An explosion at a nuclear power station Saturday destroyed a building housing the reactor…the explosion destroyed the exterior walls of the building where the reactor is placed, but not the actual metal housing enveloping the reactor.
In 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded and caught fire, sending a cloud of radiation over much of Europe. That reactor – unlike the Fukushima one – was not housed in a sealed container, so there was no way to contain the radiation once the reactor exploded.
Fukushima Nuclear Reactor Explosion VIDEO
credit: abc NEWS
Fukushima Nuclear Reactor image, before – after Explosion
credit: NHK Sōgō channel news, sourced from Wikipedia
Things to know about Cesium-137, “IF” there is a complete meltdown and release into the environment
(also spelled, Caesium)
Where does cesium-137 come from?
Radioactive cesium-137 is produced when uranium and plutonium absorb neutrons and undergo fission. Examples of the uses of this process are nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons.
What is the half life?
The half-life of cesium-137 is 30 years. Because of the chemical nature of cesium, it moves easily through the environment. This makes the cleanup of cesium-137 difficult.
How do people come in contact with cesium-137?
Walking on contaminated soil could result in external exposure to gamma radiation. People may ingest cesium-137 with food and water, or may inhale it as dust. It is distributed fairly uniformly throughout the body’s soft tissues. Exposure may also be external (that is, exposure to its gamma radiation from outside the body).
How can cesium-137 affect people’s health?
Exposure to radiation from cesium-137 results in increased risk of cancer. If exposures are very high, serious burns, and even death, can result. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says everyone is exposed to minute amounts of cesium-137. The average annual dose in the Northern Hemisphere is less than 1 millirem annually. That falls below the 100 millirem exposure limit the Nuclear Regulatory Commission recommends.
(information sourced from the U.S. EPA)
There have been maps circulating around the blogosphere showing the would-be radiation pattern from Japan across the Pacific Ocean. In fact, one map indicates a long 7-day time frame to reach the west coast U.S…
One must use common sense when considering this possibility. It’s all really quite straight forward. Any particles would flow with the wind. Period. All one needs to do is know the wind pattern from the day of release, namely, the Jet stream. Currently the Jet Stream is moving over Japan and streaming across the ocean towards the U.S. (as it pretty much always does). The average speed of the jet is about 100 – 120 knots, or about 110 – 140 mph. Simple math, 4,500 miles divided by 120 mph equals about 37 hours (plus or minus). A day and a half. End of story.
Note, it’s all about the wind pattern. There are weather sites that illustrate this and update regularly. The first image of this post shows the current jet stream as of post time, which will wiggle waggle throughout time.
Also note, “IF” and whatever amount of radiation is released, will disperse rapidly from the site. It’s not like there will be millions of glowing people on the west coast U.S. 36 hours later, but there would certainly be some amount of exposure given the current jet. Not qualified to surmise how much that would be… Those in the immediate vicinity of Fukushima would obviously be tragically affected.
“IF” Fukushima suffers a catastrophic reactor meltdown, given the present state of red alerts there, it would likely happen fairly soon, within 24 hours I would think. They will either get things cooled down now, or it’s going to melt. Having said that, “IF” Fukushima melts down completely, the following image shows the position of the jet stream on March 14 and 15, which would probably be the approximate time frame for whatever radiation to make it across.
It appears then, that central California (San Francisco) to north to the Oregon border would be in the bulls-eye for the most part. Although none of the west really will escape the wind pattern as forecast from WeatherBank. The darker colors indicate the higher jet-stream wind speeds, which one might surmise to bear the greater majority of particles, or at least the first arrival.
Potassium Iodide (Potassium Iodate)
(similar, with the same purpose)
There are several suppliers of Potassium Iodide, an over-the-counter drug which itself is a preventative measure that all preppers really should keep in their inventory. Be aware of the FDA Guidelines for Potassium Iodide usage and dosage during a radiation emergency (generally 130 mg per 24 hours for adults). Here is an example of some low dosage Potassium Iodide tabs, which taken in proper quantity would in turn be an effective Thyroid blocking agent during a radiation emergency (prevent thyroid cancer).
Update, 12-Mar-2011, 2100 UTC
TOKYO (Nikkei), The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) said Saturday afternoon the explosion at the Fukushima I nuclear plant could only have been caused by a meltdown of the reactor core. Tokyo Electric Power Co. began to flood the damaged reactor with seawater to cool it down, resorting to measures that could rust the reactor and force the utility to scrap it.
Translation: last ditch effort to cool it down… hopefully it works.
Update, 12-Mar-2011, 2115 UTC
Reuters, A third nuclear reactor is now in trouble and has lost its emergency cooling system. “The emergency cooling system is no longer functioning at the No. 3 reactor at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility.
Update, 13-Mar-2011, 0200 UTC
There are lots of reports swirling on the internet regarding the condition of the nuclear reactors at two locations (near each other – see map above), many reports conflicting and interchanging facts between Fukushima I and II (Daiichi and Daini) as well as ‘reactor numbers’, e.g. 1, 2, 3, … interchanging with location numbers. Sloppy reporting I suppose.
In any event, what we do know is basically this…
Evacuation of 210,000 people within 12 miles of the Fukushima I (Daiichi) nuclear power plant.
Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant (Daiichi), has 6 nuclear reactors.
Unit 1, loss of cooling, explosion of outer containment shell, radioactive iodine and cesium detected ‘outside’, admitting ‘partial’ core meltdown – but contained within reactor enclosure, flooding the reactor with seawater as a ‘last resort’ to attempt to avert a full meltdown, internal pressure is reported as high while temperatures are ‘officially’ reported as dropping, unknown regarding ongoing meltdown situation
Unit 3, cooling system has reportedly failed, releasing excess radioactive steam, reportedly considering or attempting seawater flooding to avert a meltdown
Fukushima II Nuclear Power Plant (Daini), has 4 nuclear reactors.
Reports point towards 3 reactors in trouble (or were in trouble) there with cooling systems. Details sketchy on Fukushima II.
Update, 13-Mar-2011, 1130 UTC
(TOKYO) JapanToday.com, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano warned that a hydrogen explosion similar to one that blew away part of a building housing of another reactor (No. 1 at Daiichi) at the same facility on Saturday could occur at the reactor (No. 3 at Daiichi).
Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), began injecting fresh water into the No. 3 reactor’s core vessel on Sunday to deal with the problem that the tops of MOX fuel rods were 3 meters above the water inside.
Why did the Fukushima nuclear power plant reactor fail in Japan?
Following the magnitude 8.9 earthquake, the ensuing tsunami washed over the area and knocked out the backup power diesel generators. All that was left was battery power, which was not sufficient to keep the nuclear rods cool enough.
What is the local health danger from the nuclear accident?
People who are outside the immediate area could inhale radioactive particles. A nuclear reactor accident could release radioactive iodine and radioactive cesium. Breathing in or eating food contaminated with radioactive iodine can cause thyroid cancer. Potassium Iodide (or Iodate) tablets can help prevent this.
Contamination of food and water can result from radioactive dust that settles on water supplies, crops or grass. Cows or other animals eat, and it works up the food chain. Any suspected foods should be washed.
Radioactive cesium with its long half-life, can cause more long-term damage, including cancer.
How far might the radioactivity spread?
This depends of course upon how much radioactivity is released into the environment. Weather conditions, wind and rain, will mostly affect the spread.
Is there any danger to those outside of Japan at this time?
Currently there is no known danger, no. There is no evidence of a reactor core breach of containment vessel.
A Boiling Water Reactor assembly (BWR)
A BWR Fuel Assemblies and Control Rod Module
A BWR system