Monday, March 28, 2011

Good news/Bad News

There's bad news and good news from this past weekend:

Radiation levels in Reactor #2 are 100,000 times above the normal level.

Unfortunately, this is the good news.

"Good" because a previous report suggested that radiation levels were 10 million times normal level.  This extreme reading has now been dismissed as erroneous, "due to operator fatigue".

The bad news is:

--That levels inside reactor 2 are over 1000 mSv/hour.  We don't know how much over this level because apparently the dosimeters used to measure radiation levels don't go that high.   This is a little hard to believe given that the range from 1000mSv to 6000mSv is the range where severe radiation sickness and death occur....that's just the range I'd want to be sensitive to in a case like this.  (workers at a different Japanese nuclear facility received doses in this range and above at an earlier criticality accident ; two of them died)  The Japanese gov't. is extremely upset with TEPCO for releasing the erroneous data.  However I can easily understand that it could have occurred when, a day after two co-workers were sent to the hospital with radiation burns, one worker  got a high reading and got the hell out.

-- Iodine-134 was detected.   This is the most troubling observation to me.  We've all been talking about radioactive I-131, which has a half life of 8 days.  But I-134 has a half life of just under an hour.   It is also a fission product.   To me this implies only one thing:  that fission was still going on inside somewhere (probably in the core) within a few hours of when that reading was taken (Saturday, I think).  If fission is ongoing it means that one  or more of these reactors have "turned themselves back on".

--To control the situation (and cool the fuel), they need to continuously circulate water, which means fixing the pumps.   To fix the pumps, they need safe (ie non-lethal) conditions for the workers.  To make it safe for the workers, they need to remove the highly radioactive water that's pooled there now, which they are trying to do.  But CNN is reporting that

But Nishiyama noted that there is no place to put water pooled in the No. 2 building's basement.  The plan is to extract the water using what he called a condenser. But that apparatus is "almost full," as are several storage tanks nearby. A similar challenge is holding up the removal of collected water in the No. 3 unit's turbine building basement.
In other words, with each passing day, we are getting farther and farther away from solving the problem, rather than closer.

--There is growing but indirect evidence that a leakage of Uranium or Plutonium has occurred.  This has not been stated directly in the media, but I am inferring it based on articles like this one from Kyodo news, which states that a measurable flux of neutrons is coming from somewhere outside the reactors. The neutrons could be from spontaneous fission of Pu-240 or perhaps U-238.    I'm going to go out on a limb here an make my first prediction in this blog, based on rather sketchy evidence:  in the next few days, we'll get a report that the reactors have released Plutonium or Uranium into the environment.   TEPCO may already suspect this is happening, but since Plutonium is such a frightening nuclear buzzword, they are likely hesitant to make any such announcement until they have both confirmation and a plan of action for how to deal with it.

That's all I've got time for now, I'm working on research paper, a proposal and repainting the bathroom at home.

UPDATE:  About an hour after making this post,  TEPCO admitted a Plutonium leak.   In fact they said that the soil samples were collected about a week ago, so Plutonium was on the ground there for a week without anybody knowing (unless you assume that TEPCO has been sitting on this information...which I am not claiming).


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