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TEPCO Unveils Plan To Deal With Fukushima Crisis

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the convert-to-a-mutant-farm dept.

Japan 238

RedEaredSlider writes "Tokyo Electric Power Co. unveiled its plan for dealing with the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. TEPCO said the radiation levels should drop over the next three months. It will take about six months for the reactors to achieve 'cold shutdown' in which the temperature of the water inside the reactor is less than 100 degrees Celsius (212 F). The current plan for cooling the reactors will mean injecting nitrogen into the reactor pressure vessel. All four damaged reactors experienced hydrogen explosions when water, heated by nuclear fuel, turned to steam and reacted with the zirconium alloy cladding of the fuel rods. Hydrogen, when exposed to oxygen, combusts. Nitrogen is an inert gas, so TEPCO hopes that it will prevent further explosions."

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238 comments

Half-life (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 2 years ago | (#35858976)

Really, all they have to do is keep saying what they're going to do, and the problem is going to go away on its own, eventually...

Re:Half-life (2, Funny)

icebike (68054) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859034)

Your assertion then is that they have done and are doing nothing?

Pack your bags, smart ass, we are sending you over there to run into the plant and turn on the cooling pumps.

Re:Half-life (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859186)

Sure. Do you want to see my rate sheet for that kind of work, first?

I'd have locked this shit down on day 1. But it would have been a much messier day than day 1 was, and you might have been conscripted as wadding for a valve core.

And no, I'm not saying they haven't done anything, or haven't done anything heoric. I'm saying they don't really have to do anything else, and basically aren't, besides keeping stasis until the thing cools off. And it's literally about the half-life. They're just running water over it until the low-level radiation within the individual fuel rods has decayed to where they aren't generating water-boiling levels of heat.

Re:Half-life (2)

icebike (68054) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859354)

Iodine-131 has a half-life of eight days but Cesium-137 has a much longer half-life of 30 years.
30 years of maintaining a leaking plant that is in shambles and too hot to enter.

This says nothing about the plutonium in the other reactor.
http://lewis.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/3906/fepc-info-sheet-414#more-1429 [armscontrolwonk.com]

Re:Half-life (2)

blair1q (305137) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859470)

They didn't say they're waiting for it to be safe enough to hug.

They're just waiting for it to be cool enough to dismantle.

It's still going to be a radioactive nightmare when they have to do that.

Re:Half-life (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35859568)

blair1q, do you do anything with your life? I'm curious. I see your posts everywhere, and none of them actually contain anything requiring thought or originality. Yet you post so much and often with an aggressive undertone, like you're trying to make up on some Internet message board for something you lack in real life. So, what's up? Would you like to talk about it?

You, I and everyone reading this post will both be dead in, what, 80 years? We're both nothing but accidentally and very temporarily organised space dust, so consider me your equal and let's sit down and have a chat.

Re:Half-life (4, Interesting)

camperslo (704715) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859616)

I'm saying they don't really have to do anything else, and basically aren't, besides keeping stasis until the thing cools off.

Uh no. They can't just keep doing what they're doing and wait. It's more urgent than that. With the rupture in unit 2 (believed to be in the suppression tank), that water they have to keep pumping in keeps coming out bringing highly radioactive particles from the damaged fuels rods along. They pumped over 100 tons of it out of one tunnel only to have it fill back up within two days. They may have briefly interrupted what's getting into the ocean, but it is piling up and needs to be dealt with soon.

They're injecting nitrogen into unit 1 hoping to reduce the chance of a hydrogen explosion, but the pressure not rising indicates a leak. They've said it may be venting contaminated gases. (but don't be too surprised if it turns out they are unintentionally pushing more contaminated water out somewhere)

For some pretty good articles check out what the media over there are saying.

Here's a six part series on how Tepco and the government have complicated matters.
It has many details no covered by most U.S. media.

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T110416002672.htm [yomiuri.co.jp]
http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T110415004983.htm [yomiuri.co.jp]
http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T110414006040.htm [yomiuri.co.jp]
http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T110413004031.htm [yomiuri.co.jp]
http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T110412006319.htm [yomiuri.co.jp]
http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T110411004567.htm [yomiuri.co.jp]

Re:Half-life (1)

michelcolman (1208008) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859982)

But if they keep pumping water in, and water keeps coming out with radioactive particles, won't the fuel rods eventually just erode away completely? That would take care of that...

Re:Half-life (2)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859056)

Well, that and prepare for unforeseen consequences...

Re:Half-life (4, Interesting)

blair1q (305137) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859270)

You would hope. But given that they don't seem to have been prepared for foreseen circumstances*, I'm not betting on their team until I see management make some trades.

* - the 10-meter tsunami was the unforeseen circumstance. Everything after it was foreseeable, and there were design choices that guaranteed a destructive cascade once the power went out. Allowing the buildings to explode and damage the systems used to keep the buildings from exploding more is a pretty major fuckup in the realm of reliability engineering. The use of zinc cladding, the lack of effective venting for the hydrogen, the proximity of the explosion to components that could be damaged in a hydrogen explosion, blockage of access by debris from the explosion... Someone 40 years ago said that having backup generators would prevent these things from happening, and didn't consider what if the generators simply broke and couldn't be replaced. Even though they may have known what could be done.

Oh, and there's the part about how they did get generators rushed to the site, but the electrical connections didn't match up so they couldn't use them. I'm still not sure that's been reported right, because what the fuck?

Re:Half-life (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35859506)

You would hope. But given that they don't seem to have been prepared for foreseen circumstances*, I'm not betting on their team until I see management make some trades.

* - the 10-meter tsunami was the unforeseen circumstance. Everything after it was foreseeable, and there were design choices that guaranteed a destructive cascade once the power went out. Allowing the buildings to explode and damage the systems used to keep the buildings from exploding more is a pretty major fuckup in the realm of reliability engineering. The use of zinc cladding, the lack of effective venting for the hydrogen, the proximity of the explosion to components that could be damaged in a hydrogen explosion, blockage of access by debris from the explosion... Someone 40 years ago said that having backup generators would prevent these things from happening, and didn't consider what if the generators simply broke and couldn't be replaced. Even though they may have known what could be done.

Oh, and there's the part about how they did get generators rushed to the site, but the electrical connections didn't match up so they couldn't use them. I'm still not sure that's been reported right, because what the fuck?

You would hope. But given that they don't seem to have been prepared for foreseen circumstances*, I'm not betting on their team until I see management make some trades.

* - the 10-meter tsunami was the unforeseen circumstance. Everything after it was foreseeable, and there were design choices that guaranteed a destructive cascade once the power went out. Allowing the buildings to explode and damage the systems used to keep the buildings from exploding more is a pretty major fuckup in the realm of reliability engineering. The use of zinc cladding, the lack of effective venting for the hydrogen, the proximity of the explosion to components that could be damaged in a hydrogen explosion, blockage of access by debris from the explosion... Someone 40 years ago said that having backup generators would prevent these things from happening, and didn't consider what if the generators simply broke and couldn't be replaced. Even though they may have known what could be done.

Oh, and there's the part about how they did get generators rushed to the site, but the electrical connections didn't match up so they couldn't use them. I'm still not sure that's been reported right, because what the fuck?

I heard about the back up generators delivered on day two of this incident. Unfortunately I don't have time to track sources right now (I am at work and my initial Google search turned up nothing).

  The fact that the generator did not match up goes back to the 1800s

http://www.npr.org/2011/03/24/134828205/a-country-divided-japans-electric-bottleneck.

"That's partly an accident of history. Eastern Japan followed the German model and has a 50-cycle electrical power grid. The western part of Japan used the American model and has a 60-cycle grid. Transferring power from one grid to another requires a very expensive facility. And there are only three connections between eastern and western Japan. That bottleneck means the power transfer is just a trickle, even during this national emergency. Creating more capacity would take years."

Re:Half-life (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35859520)

I ask this question: " Would the reactor(s) be OK today if the battery backup could last 200 hours instead of 6?" or
"Did this problem arise because of the lack of $1,000,000.00 worth of nickle/iron batteries?"

Re:Half-life (1)

publiclurker (952615) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859722)

Would you need 200 hours of battery life? 6 hours is pretty pathetic considering what you are running, but couldn't you off-site some generators on trucks and get them there within, let's say, 24 hours?

Re:Half-life (2)

blair1q (305137) | more than 2 years ago | (#35860130)

People have argued the roads were out. But It's only a couple of hours by boat from Tokyo harbor, where there are ships and floating cranes and probably ten thousand spare generators, or even some non-spare ones that could be ripped out and moved because someone thinks stopping a nuclear meltdown is more important than flashing the Hitachi sign on the Ginza.

Instead they spent weeks unspooling cable from another grid. Retarded.

Re:Half-life (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35859538)

At least they didn't have a resonance cascade.

Re:Half-life (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859766)

Allowing the buildings to explode and damage the systems used to keep the buildings from exploding more is a pretty major fuckup in the realm of reliability engineering.

Its also a management failure. Everyone knows once zirconium heats up around water you get H2. But no one wants to be the management guy who pulls the trigger and says trash the roof with a wrecking ball or whatever. So, everyone just sit around until it blows up, that way it'll be an act of god instead of management deciding to crack the building.

Not that it would help (much).

Re:Half-life (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859504)

They'd better hope their gonads haven't been hit by too many rads, because they are going to need children, grand-children, great-grand-children, etc to keep repeating that message.

Half-life (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35859002)

Send in Gordon Freeman

Well crap (0)

OverlordQ (264228) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859006)

Hydrogen, when exposed to oxygen, combusts.

You better not tell water that.

Re:Well crap (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35859054)

Feel free to test that claim if you don't think it's true. It worked out pretty well for the Hindenburg as I recall.

Re:Well crap (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35859082)

You might want to go back to Chem class. Otherwise that element that reacts badly with water (Na), and a poisonous gas (Cl) will kill you. Yep salt. And I'm talking about a more immediate death than an increased risk of heart attack down the line.....

Re:Well crap (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859086)

Is water still too young to learn about what happens when a (previously stable and happy) diatomic Oxygen structure encounters a couple of barely-legal hydrogen atoms under sufficiently energetic conditions?

Re:Well crap (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35859410)

Hey, those Hydrogen atoms are old enough to be Oxygen's parents. I think they can handle it.

Re:Well crap (2)

snspdaarf (1314399) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859444)

When Hydrogen U. played Oxygen Tech,
The game had just begun,
When Hydrogen racked up two quick points,
And Oxygen still had none.
Then, Oxygen scored a single goal,
And, thus, it did remain,
Hydrogen 2, Oxygen 1,
Called because of rain.

Johnny Hart - "BC"

Re:Well crap (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35859744)

Haha, geek rap :))

Re:Well crap (1)

SETIGuy (33768) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859498)

The temperature in the containment building was sufficiently low that both the hydrogen and oxygen were bi. The twisted combination was inevitible.

Re:Well crap (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859204)

Take water, add a great deal of energy and a catalyst or electrical current, and you get oxygen and hydrogen.

Take oxygen and hydrogen, mix, ignite, and you get water and the heat is released.

So Water already knows this. Combustion is waters birth place.

Re:Well crap (1)

OverlordQ (264228) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859408)

Yes, we all know how combustion works. If TFS means combustion it should say that, it shouldn't bandy about phrases like the above. Bad science is bad science and we shouldn't encourage it.

"cool shutdown" (1)

Iamthecheese (1264298) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859022)

I'm confused: If it's above 100 c it's steam or under a huge amount of pressure; The cooling water has always been below that temperature. What does the fine article mean here?

Re:"cool shutdown" (2)

blair1q (305137) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859108)

It's above 100C. The coolant is constantly flowing, and under pressure; or, if the pressure vessel is breached, it's just flowing and there's steam being generated constantly.

When the temperature stays below 100C, presumably when the water is standing and not flowing, then the reactor is considered cold.

That's in six months, when the low-level reactions in the fuel have run through their half-lives enough that they don't generate heat faster than non-boiling water can pull it away.

Re:"cool shutdown" (1)

gman003 (1693318) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859144)

Not necessarily a "huge" amount of pressure. Water at 1.5 atmospheres is liquid up to 111.7 C, and up to 120 C at 2 atmospheres. Both of those are well below the pressure inside a car tire, or a champagne bottle. Hell, it's below standard water pressure for city mains water.

Re:"cool shutdown" (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859158)

I'm confused: If it's above 100 c it's steam or under a huge amount of pressure; The cooling water has always been below that temperature. What does the fine article mean here?

Cold Shutdown is just a technical term.

Cold shutdown means the reactor is at a temperature where is is not producing enough heat to make steam and drive generators. That happens as it falls below 100c/212f. Its not clear to me if that state is With or Without active cooling systems running.

However, that temperature is not the goal, just some definition of a stable state that is thought to be manageable. Ideally you would like to get it to a state cold enough so that you could de-fuel it, or where you could build a sarcophagus around it as they did in Chernobyl.

Re:"cool shutdown" (2)

Solandri (704621) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859434)

The boiling temp of water rises with pressure. So under pressure, water can be above 100 C and still liquid (ignoring partial pressure of course). The submersible Alvin had a close encounter with this when they discovered the first deep water thermal vents. They were trying to move in for a closer look, when someone glanced at the temperature gauge and realized the water temperature at the manipulator arm (>400 F) was hotter than the melting point of the Plexiglas windows (320 F).

What's magic about 100 C is that even if a pipe bursts and you lose pressure, the system is guaranteed to remain stable. With a rapid depressurization, the temperature will drop (think of a can of compressed air getting colder as you use it). So if your initial temp is 100 C under pressure, the final temp after depressurization will be below 100 C. If it were above 100 C, some or all of the water would flash into steam if a pipe burst.

Chemistry class (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859030)

Hydrogen, when exposed to oxygen, combusts.

No, something has to raise it above its autoignition temperature, which is over 500C in air.

But, since it was in a nuclear reactor that was probably still that hot...

Re:Chemistry class (1)

owlstead (636356) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859128)

In such huge buildings with electrical wires and equipment all around, and the possibility of lightning and other static discharges, and people trying to fix a nuclear reactor, I don't think it would be a good idea to store a large amount of hydrogen in the buildings. Of course, if you look at the pictures, the good thing is that there are plenty of holes that could be used by the hydrogen to escape (except in the closed loop cooling system, I suppose).

I was more impressed by: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35859214)

"Nitrogen is an inert gas"

I wasn't aware it had been promoted to nobel gas status but hey, Pluto's not a planet anymore so who knows...

note: that's not necessarily dissn' the plan - nitrogen may be a lesser of evils (dunno) but unless there's some new (possibly PC) definition of "inert" of which I'm unaware nitrogen ain't it...

Re:I was more impressed by: (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35859468)

"Nitrogen is an inert gas"

I wasn't aware it had been promoted to nobel gas status but hey, Pluto's not a planet anymore so who knows...

note: that's not necessarily dissn' the plan - nitrogen may be a lesser of evils (dunno) but unless there's some new (possibly PC) definition of "inert" of which I'm unaware nitrogen ain't it...

Nobel had a much more violent use for nitrogen.

Re:I was more impressed by: (1)

toastar (573882) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859530)

"Nitrogen is an inert gas"

I wasn't aware it had been promoted to nobel gas status but hey, Pluto's not a planet anymore so who knows...

note: that's not necessarily dissn' the plan - nitrogen may be a lesser of evils (dunno) but unless there's some new (possibly PC) definition of "inert" of which I'm unaware nitrogen ain't it...

Hunh....

Maybe you should edit the wikipedia page to remove N2 and SF6
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inert_gas

or maybe Just... yah know... read it.

Re:I was more impressed by: (2)

blair1q (305137) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859532)

N2 is as close to inert as you're going to get, in that kind of quantity, for the nickel Tepco has left to its name.

It takes some interesting lock-picking to pry those two N's apart and fix them to hydrogen. Mere banging won't do it.

Re:I was more impressed by: (1)

Politburo (640618) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859560)

Better tell all of the chemical manufacturers that inert tanks with nitrogen about your "discovery"..

Re:I was more impressed by: (4, Informative)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859706)

It's no noble gas; but N2 is pretty mild mannered. Nitrogen fixation generally requires either really clever enzymes(as with nitrogen fixing bacteria) or fairly abusive temperature and pressure along with a catalyst(as with the Haber Process). It is commonly used as a shield gas for welding of many of the less zesty metals; because it is probably the best-placed material on the cost/inertness curve. Nitrogen, liquid or compressed gas, is dirt cheap compared to any genuinely inert gas, and is inert enough for quite a few applications.

Compounds with a high proportion of nitrogen atoms, on the other hand, are to be considered guilty until someone who loves their fingers less than you do has finished proving them innocent...

Re:I was more impressed by: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35859936)

N2 was pretty unreactive last time I checked... that is unless you've a load of alkali metals knocking about, which you probably don't in a huge pool of boiling hot water.

The new plan in brief (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35859072)

"Wait six months."

(Plus the five weeks it took to come up with the plan.)

Not inert at all. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35859080)

"Nitrogen is an inert gas"

Not really. Neon would be an inert gas. Nitrogen can react with a bunch of stuff.

Re:Not inert at all. (4, Funny)

blair1q (305137) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859378)

Sigh.

N2 is inert, unless they're planning on planting peanuts in the reactor room...

Re:Not inert at all. (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859540)

I think that was, in fact, actually one of the plans at one point. But they've had sooooooo many plans, who can keep track anymore.

Better plan - just nuke it (-1)

gr8_phk (621180) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859120)

I'd prefer they just use a tactical nuclear weapon to push the whole plant into the ocean. The fuel rods will then have adequate cooling. Also, since the tsunami destroyed the surrounding area already, there should be no collateral damage if not an actual clean-up. ;-)

Re:Better plan - just nuke it (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859248)

Nukes don't work that way.

If they put a tactical nuke(s) right by the buildings containing the reactor and detonated it there would be tons of fallout in the area and out to sea and well downwind. The reactors vessels, the fuel, the fuel rods and the remains of the nuclear weapons themselves would all be fallout.

If they airburst one to minimize fallout it wouldn't "push the whole plant into the ocean.", it'd just mess up the structures and containment structures worse than the earthquake and tsunami did.

Re:Better plan - just nuke it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35859550)

What a brilliant idea. Vaporize the 4000 tons of uranium and plutonium that is stored onsite and launch it into the upper atmosphere, where it can be shared with the rest of the world over the next week as fallout.

Jesus are you stupid.

Bad Article (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35859138)

"The current plan for cooling the reactors will mean injecting nitrogen into the reactor pressure vessel."

Last I checked, nitrogen was to prevent a hydrogen explosion, not to cool the reactor.

Morons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35859146)

Pump the reactor full of lead birdshot. Displace the water. Circulate the molten lead. Problem solved. Heaven forbid they use sodium.

This disaster wouldn't have been nearly as bad if they had simply let the fuel rods melt instead of blasting the region with steam, xenon, and iodine. Speaking of which: why in the hell is steam vented to the atmosphere and not run through a condenser?

Here's an idea: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrostatic_precipitator Use corona discharge to clean the steam before it even gets to the fucking condensor!

I'm living on the goddamn planet of the apes. I didn't even go to college and I have better ideas on how to manage this shit than PhDs. What the fuck is wrong with the world?

Re:Morons (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859278)

Because they didn't have any electricity on site to run water pumps, let alone bring in your electrostatic precipitator and power it.

Remember the earthquake and tsunami there?

Re:Morons (1)

kevinNCSU (1531307) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859394)

This disaster wouldn't have been nearly as bad if they had simply let the fuel rods melt instead of blasting the region with steam, xenon, and iodine. Speaking of which: why in the hell is steam vented to the atmosphere and not run through a condenser? Here's an idea: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrostatic_precipitator [wikipedia.org] Use corona discharge to clean the steam before it even gets to the fucking condensor! I'm living on the goddamn planet of the apes. I didn't even go to college and I have better ideas on how to manage this shit than PhDs. What the fuck is wrong with the world?

Maybe if you HAD gone to college you might see the difficulty in attaching the input feed of a condenser unit onto a collapsed and burning pile of radioactive rubble that's pouring steam out of every orifice? Or the danger in allowing nuclear fuel to melt through the bottom of the containment vessel/structure unopposed. Or if you're talking about before the accident, perhaps if you had gone to high school and learned how to Google BWR designs [nucleartourist.com] you'd see they do have a condenser after the steam turbines in the internal loop. But no, why bother to to do even precursory research to gain an understanding of the problem and situation when you can just arrogantly assume you live in a world of apes and all them college boys don't know what they're doing.

Re:Morons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35859984)

I'm living on the goddamn planet of the apes. I didn't even go to college and I have better ideas on how to manage this shit than PhDs. What the fuck is wrong with the world?

What's wrong with the world is an excess of people like you.

Best laid plans (5, Insightful)

divec (48748) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859150)

I wonder WTF their contingency plan is if a big tsunami hits now ...

I strongly believe we know how to set up technical systems for safe nuclear power. However I'm extremely sceptical of the idea that we know how to set up social / administrative systems for safe nuclear power. It's too easy to hide systemic weakness behind secrecy, or too embarrassing to identify and fix present failings, or the debate gets too polarised and ideological so people, politicians and regulatory systems lose sight of the actual safety issues because of the headline effect etc.

I wouldn't be quick to blame money or corruption or unscrupulous people, either. The key problem is secrecy -- even without malice, familiarity makes you blind to system flaws -- we software people know this very well. Only total transparency can ensure that flaws do not get hidden. On the other hand I don't know how this can be reconciled with security against sabotage.

There's a need for a sober, measured debate about all this and it's a pity that a few fundamentalists (on both sides) are making this impossible.

Re:Best laid plans (4, Interesting)

BlueParrot (965239) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859608)

To give you an idea of just how retarded political and administrative dealings with nuclear power is, consider what we've been doing in Sweden. Nuclear was bad, so we banned construction of new reactors, then we closed down one of our existing plants, replacing its energy generation by turning up the power on the other plants ( thereby reducing safety margins). Now because the renewables that were supposed to replace nuclear didn't make it (surprise surprise ), we will extend the reactor lifetimes by 50% or so.

I.e, rather than building newer and safer designs we have cranked up the power on the old ones and extended their operation permits beyond their design lifetime, and we still don't have any plausible way to replace them other than some wishful thinking about wind power. We're not building new reactors, so the obvious outcome will be further life extensions to our already ageing reactor fleet. Then when they finally do fall apart at 6+ decades of operation, it will all be because nuclear is inherently dangerous, and not at all because we stopped its development and improvement for 40 years and decided to go with a wind power pipe dream that saw the reactors pushed way beyond what they were ever designed for.

If it was down to me we would be building ESBWR or CANDU reactors for the short to medium term, with an aim of Lead or Molten Salt cooled breeders in the long term, but there's far too many people here who honestly think we will replace Petrol and Nuclear with Wind farms and Solar Photovoltaics. Yes, Solar, in Sweden ... It isn't even economical in California, but somehow we expect to do better because we're not Americans.

Re:Best laid plans (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35859644)

At least they will have plenty of water.

Re:Best laid plans (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859802)

I wonder WTF their contingency plan is if a big tsunami hits now ...

4th biggest earthquakes in recorded history don't happen often. However, our regular scheduled hurricane season is rapidly approaching. Now that light at the end of the tunnel is not really avoidable.

Re:Best laid plans (2, Insightful)

Solandri (704621) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859844)

Generally I'm agreed. However, safety measures need to be scaled to the actual level of risk involved. Due to the high-publicity nature of nuclear accidents, the nuclear industry already faces much stricter safety standards than any other energy technology. The radiation alarms at nuclear plants will trigger if you bring in certain substances anyone can buy at the corner drugstore. Per TWh of electricity generated, wind and solar have killed more people than nuclear. Coal kills hundreds of times more people each year than Chernobyl did. And the deadliest power generation accident in history was a hydroelectric dam failure. Yet people accept all those risks without a second thought. It's only nuclear which gets raked over the coals.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't be trying to improve nuclear safety. But if our goal is to save lives, our money and worrying would be much better spent improving the safety of the other power technologies, instead of concentrating on the one which generates the most media coverage when there's an accident. The latter is the very definition of hysteria. Level of fear generated is a lousy metric to use for risk assessment (though it is a legit measure for PR).

I wonder WTF their contingency plan is if a big tsunami hits now

This is something I've been harping on over and over though it hasn't been getting as much favorable moderation here. When people do risk assessment, too often they only consider independent events. The risk of a generator failing to start is (say) 10%, so just put a half dozen generators there and you have 99.9999% reliability, right? This fails to account for the possibility of a single event, like oh, I dunno, a tsunami? wiping out all your generators at once. Likewise, the probability of a two large tsunamis is not just the probability of one large tsunami squared. If an earthquake generated a large tsunami, it's almost certain to generate several large or larger aftershocks (technically the 9.0 quake was an aftershock to an 7.2 a few days prior). And along with it comes a high probability that one of those aftershocks could generate another large tsunami. So important structures in tsunami-prone regions should be designed to withstand two successive tsunamis. Not just one.

Are these guys dumb, or is it just Slashdot? (1)

tekrat (242117) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859152)

Is it just me, or does that summary make absolutely no sense whatsoever? Almost everything about it sounds just plain idiotic. I can't tell if it was dumbed down for the press, or if the Slashdot submitter/editor (sic), just got everything wrong.

Nitrogen? (-1, Troll)

pushing-robot (1037830) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859164)

Aren't they concerned that the N2 will start fusing into silicon, starting a chain reaction that incinerates the entire atmosphere?

After all, this is nuclear energy we're talking about; common sense has no place in this discussion.

Liquid N2? (1)

MrQuacker (1938262) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859178)

Is there a technical reason they cant just pump in liquid nitrogen?

Re:Liquid N2? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35859258)

It would still take the same amount of time to cool it and have it stay cool. Half-lives et all

Re:Liquid N2? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35859308)

Because it would boil off rapidly, while at the same time making the container walls, which weren't designed for LN2, brittle? Which, you know... Bad combo?

Re:Liquid N2? (1)

tippe (1136385) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859474)

Possibly because the shock of the violent expansion that would result would possibly cause way more damage than there is already? Also, assuming nothing was damaged when all of that LN2 expanded back into gas, what do you think would happen to the pressure inside the RPV? I could imagine that the resulting pressure and large volume of gas would also displace the coolant, uncovering more of the rods and making things even worse, overall. For the last month, they've been fighting to reduce pressure and temperature inside of the vessel while keeping the coolant topped up (or filling it back up in some cases, because some had been lost).

Anyway, I haven't read the article but have been following what has been going on at the IAEA website, and I believe the procedure that they are following is pumping nitrogen gas into the containment vessel (which surrounds the reactor pressure vessel where the core and coolant are) to displace any air that might be there. I don't think they are proposing to pump nitrogen directly into the RPV.

Nice job framing the issue (-1, Troll)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859254)

"the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl"

I see what you did there! But there are parts missing...where's the "TEPCO is a corporation and all corporations are evil so this result was totally expected." The link text says, unveiled its plan for dealing with the crisis...don't you really mean "snowed the gullible media with its non-plan for handwaving away reality while paying no corporate income tax?" And where's the throwaway comment about capitalism failing? I mean, a dry recital of facts with a single opinion statement disguised in the middle is how things work these days, isn't it?

What's the point of a crisis like Fukushima if we don't take advantage of it to score points in favor of environmentalist anti-nuclear political objectives?

Disclaimer: as a dissident, I must be a paid shill of the nuclear companies, there is no other explanation for me speaking such heresy in public, nobody could possibly have a different opinion that the approved correct one [motherjones.com].

Cold shutdown is supposed to take a few days (5, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859314)

Normally, cold shutdown takes a few days. At Three Mile Island, it took two weeks. Six months is worrisome. Too many more things can go wrong during that period.

They still have so little information about what's going on inside the reactors. Check the latest JAIF status report. [jaif.or.jp] Pressure is unknown. Temperature is unknown. Water level is unknown. "Fuel rods exposed partially or fully". Reactors 1 and 3 are buried under piles of rubble. And they have to fix the plumbing under that debris.

I'll say it... (3, Interesting)

Mr.Fork (633378) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859456)

...the problem with this entire situation is that Japan let commercial companies run their entire nuclear infrastructure. I'm not sure about you folks, but all commercial companies do exactly what is required within the letter of the law, but not an ounce more if it would cost more money. Sure, it's a 40 year old facility, sure it was built within the specs for the time. But it was still operational in 2011.

Question is, would a public-run utility design and build nuclear infrastructure to within the letter of the law or would they 'overbuild' for safety? Is this entire situation the cause of capitalism running into its core fault - its lack of concern for the expensive 'doing the right thing' vs the cheaper 'doing things right.'? I don't really know, but it smacks of the reality of letting a company totally focused on making and saving money vs making decisions to protect the people of Japan.

Re:I'll say it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35859600)

So do you drive under the speed limit? If you drive the speed limit, you're just operating to within the letter of the law. If you get in an accident, it is your fault for just doing the bare minimum for what the law requires. This problem has nothing to do with 'capitalism.' If they were following the laws and everything was up to spec, the only argument is that the laws might need to be changed. Don't let your misguided ideals blind your opinion.

Re:I'll say it... (1)

DeadCatX2 (950953) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859826)

Are you seriously comparing speed limits to nuclear reactor regulations?

Just consider for a moment: if you speed and cause an accident, you might die. Maybe you kill someone in another car. Maybe a few people.

If a nuclear reactor melts down, we're looking at thousands of deaths. At least.

The problem is in fact with capitalism. The ruthless pursuit of profit means cutting corners where the risks are considered acceptable. There are no acceptable corners to cut when it comes to nuclear reactor safety. Therefore, nuclear power should be a public utility, to prevent the pressure to profit from compromising safety.

Re:I'll say it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35860026)

Yes, I was comparing speeding to nuclear regulations. The GP argued that TEPCO was only following the law, and not going above and beyond it. The comparison to driving was not SPEEDING, but driving under the limit, since the LAW only requires you to drive at a certain speed. Arguing that capitalism is the cause of this disaster is much like arguing that driving the speed limit and causing an accident was because you were not DRIVING SLOWER THAN THE SPEED LIMIT. TEPCO was following the letter of the law, and was reasonably safe from everything but a 1000-year disaster. The costs of engineering something to withstand a 1000-year disaster vs the planned life the reactor was taken into account by the Japanese government when writing the regulations and design requirements in the first place.

There have to be trade offs on safety vs. affordability, otherwise we'd have to over-engineer everything to withstand every possible disaster that could ever happen.

Want to build that wind turbine? Sorry, can't do that until you can build something that can withstand the sun going supernova and causing the blades to break off. Might land on someone and kill them!

Re:I'll say it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35859626)

A public run utility might argue for "overbuilt" standards, but they would probably always build right to the minimum. Public entities are not immune from the pressures of capitalism and are constantly forced to justify their expenditures. At least that's my experience with public entities (commuter railroads).

Re:I'll say it... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35859632)

As someone who works in Government, I have to say that you're wrong. State run endeavors also do exactly what is required within the letter of the law but not an ounce more. They just take three times longer to do it and at ten times the cost. Even then, it would be of inferior quality.

Re:I'll say it... (1)

MobyDisk (75490) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859836)

Every safety feature costs money. The question always is "how much does it cost?" That doesn't change when moving to the public sector. There is still a finite amount of money.

Would it be economically viable to overbuild it? Would the taxpayers be willing to pay for it? Would that necessarily even solve the problems? I wonder if it would even have been physically possible to overbuild Fukushima to withstand this assault.

Re:I'll say it... (3, Insightful)

Kjella (173770) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859854)

Question is, would a public-run utility design and build nuclear infrastructure to within the letter of the law or would they 'overbuild' for safety?

If safety margins are needed the safety margins should be in the law, not expecting everyone to overbuild. Just like building codes design for worst possible load and then some - basically you can have the whole place stacked with people doing line dancing and the floor still won't collapse by 100 people jumping simultaneously.

Re:I'll say it... (1)

mr1911 (1942298) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859922)

A public-run utility would hire commercial companies to design, build, and maintain the entire nuclear infrastructure. It would look a lot like what we have today. But ignore that for a minute.

Question is, how far would you have them overbuild? Overbuilding adds a significant amount to the cost of a project. The Fukushima reactors were build to a specification and they survived much worse with regard to the earthquake to the point of stating they were overbuilt for safety. The tsunami wasn't unexpected, but overwhelmed the design redundancies. So now you are a genius and will design a reactor for a 7.2 earthquake and resulting mega-tsunami. Won't you look like a dumbass when the 7.7 earthquake and resulting even-bigger tsunami wipe our your design.

Re:I'll say it... (0)

drachenfyre (550754) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859978)

Question is, would a public-run utility design and build nuclear infrastructure to within the letter of the law or would they 'overbuild' for safety? Is this entire situation the cause of capitalism running into its core fault - its lack of concern for the expensive 'doing the right thing' vs the cheaper 'doing things right.'? I don't really know, but it smacks of the reality of letting a company totally focused on making and saving money vs making decisions to protect the people of Japan.

Lets ask the fine folk of Pripyat how the government run nuclear facility, completely free from capitalism running into it's core fault worked out.....

Pyramid? (0)

Max_W (812974) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859696)

Why not just bury it under an artificial mountain?

Or is it because nuclear agencies like to tinker with remaining gear?

"inert" is relative (1)

cinnamon colbert (732724) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859794)

As a chemist, may i remind /.ers that "inert" is a relative term.
You can certainly get nitrogen gas to react; I think that is what causes serious pollutants like nitrogen oxides.
of course, really inert gas - "noble" gases like Helium, Argon, Neon, Xenon, Krypton - are $$ and probably not available in sufficient quanty; in the old days, you would make nitrogen by simply chilling air; a nitrogen generator is a big honkin' machine iwth a little spout; you turn it on and liquid N2 starts pouring out the spout; I think the more modern technology is a sheet that is permable to only oxygen or nitrogen; since air is mostly N2 or O2, simply pushing air against the sheet means that you can generate relatively pure N2 easily and cheaply.

Alternate plan (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35859860)

If they are planning on pumping nitrogen into the containment vessels under pressure then I assume they could also vent the pressure to an external container. Why not look into converting common containers into temporary storage units for the pressurized gas. Look for common, transportable storage containers for gases such as rail cars used to ship gasses and ship them in and encase them in concrete or another more appropriate material on site. Dig a hole, line up rows of containers, connect the appropriate plumbing, fill in hole with dense concrete, let cure, open valves to vent pressurized gas into buried containers. The process of venting the gasses quickly should cool the containment vessel.

I have an idea. (1)

mbkennel (97636) | more than 2 years ago | (#35859910)

Why not run nuclear reactors in a nitrogen heavy/oxygen-light atmosphere all the time?

Explosions + nuclear cores do not mix well. Surely some genius might have recognized this.

Re:I have an idea. (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#35860006)

Why not run nuclear reactors in a nitrogen heavy/oxygen-light atmosphere all the time?

Explosions + nuclear cores do not mix well. Surely some genius might have recognized this.

Nitrogen atmosphere kills too many people; even highly trained and prepared individuals under normal conditions. NASA ground crew, etc.

Crazy as it might sound, even this late in the game, running in a pure N2 atmosphere for 40 years would have killed way more people than are gonna die from this event.

Re:I have an idea. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35860024)

Because the cores are normally filled with water?!

They should make the whole reactor structure out of the stuff they make the black box from airplanes from.

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