Another trustworthy source connected with the industry believes, short of a miracle, Fukushima reactors won’t be cooled enough in time to avoid “fission product release”

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Hi Blog.  I’m sorry to keep quoting sources who wish to remain anonymous, but this is another person I trust, who says:  “Prefer to remain in the background – for now. Please rest assured, my sources are VERY HIGH up in the industry in the United States and are working 24 hours a day to follow this incident due to the dramatic potential ramifications if multiple units ‘meltdown’.”  However, he wishes for this information to be known, and chose Debito.org to be his venue.  Take this letter within that context.  Arudou Debito

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March 18, 2011

In light of the debate occurring over the scope of the nuclear catastrophe on Debito-san’s blog I would like to present some information.

I am not the individual that made the original post (which some have asked Debito to remove) and I agree with some of the arguments refuting that post. Those who have asked Debito to remove the post should also state their credentials as well and provide a more detailed rebuttal to each issue (I do agree with some of the refuting conclusion). My credentials are presented further below.

However I would like to deal with one specific issue, using seawater to cool the reactor and reactor cooling, as this is within my area of expertise. Essentially the only thing that matters now is reactor cooling.

I am glad Debito displayed the original post. It has been interesting for me to watch others debate and react to this issue. I am flabbergasted that the Japanese government and TEPCO still call this a Level 5 incident. I believe it will end up being a Level 6, or if meltdown occurs, Level 7.

Regarding credentials; I have over 25 years experience as a registered professional engineer and have worked in the nuclear power industry. I have performed SSFI inspections (Safety System Functional Inspections) on several power plants and have performed one post accident investigation. My roles in the assessments related to the power distribution system for the reactor cooling system.

I have been discussing this issue with several colleagues, some of whom are top level experts in the nuclear industry and one who is in a position to have access to whatever information the U.S. government has. Because TEPCO has not been at all transparent and has been hesitant to issue any specific technical information on this disaster it is difficult to say for sure what is happening. We also have reason to believe that TEPCO or the government has not been completely forthright (for whatever reason) regarding radiation levels near the plant (but that is outside of my area of expertise).

One of the individuals I have been in contact with has been very accurate in predicting the events as they are unfolding. He was wrong in one of his predictions, that the situation would have resolved itself by now (either meltdown/melt through of the reactor pressure vessel of one of the units or restoration of station power).

We believe radiation is being released in three forms:

1. Slightly radioactive steam from the initial explosions. The initial explosions were caused when TEPCO vented the reactor pressure vessel, hydrogen was released and exploded.

2. Higher levels of radiation being released from burning fuel rods, especially in Unit 4, which was being used for spent fuel storage.

3. Higher levels of radiation from compromised containment in Unit 2 (and possibly other units) due to cracking or some other type of compromising of the containment. This was confirmed last Tuesday when TEPCO and the government reported the pressure in the reactor pressure vessel was at 1 atmosphere (the normal atmospheric pressure outside). Normally these are operating much higher. The fact that these units lost pressure indicates a crack or some type of other event that caused pressure to remain at atmospheric.

At this point the radiation being released is very serious and will undoubtedly cause deaths (most likely in the long term in the form of cancer) in the areas near the reactors (admitted yesterday by the head of TEPCO).

However, the level of radiation released if there is a meltdown of one reactor pressure vessel will dwarf the levels of radiation being released now (up to 10 x 10 to the 5th power higher). This is why cooling is imperative.

Below is our assessment of the situation (this is speculative because TEPCO has not released further information, which may lead us to draw more severe or less severe conclusions). I hope the situation is less severe and they have been able to provide at least minimally cooling.

We believe the cooling situation has become dire. We think at this point, barring a miracle, they clearly are not going to be able to establish any reasonable means of core cooling for the affected units before suffering severe core damage, which means the potential for large fission product release. The wind direction will be up to Mother Nature. The spent fuel pool fire is interesting and very troublesome. There are no barriers against fission product release if the spent fuel rods are involved in the fire. We don’t know the cause of the spent pool fire and nobody’s talking either, which may lead one to draw much more interesting conclusions which are too highly speculative for me to mention.

Below is a technical explanation upon which we base these conclusions.

The earthquake and tsunami caused a “perfect storm” event. That is total loss of onsite power, backup generation, utility station service power, and eventually a loss of DC power due to the fact that the AC power system was not available to charge the station batteries. This is an event that has not occurred before.

We believe that initially the plant did have some limited AC and DC power available, and thus could run pumps and operate valves. However, it appears that they were still unable to keep adequate water on the core. We believe that because of this the reactor pressure vessel (RPV) pressure was allowed to increase to a point that no available pumps had adequate discharge head to overcome the high static pressure in the PRV. In this case the pumps that were pumping try to pump but no water is going into the vessel. We believe with certainty that the most important pump, the High Pressure Coolant Injection (HPCI) pump was not and still is not available. This is a very big pump, 400 horsepower or bigger and is probably too big for the current power available. This pump is capable of dumping 6,000 gallons per minute of cooling water into the RPV.

When they were venting to atmosphere it was clear they were having problems reducing pressure by venting to the torus (which serves as a quench tank during an accident). This led us to believe that the torus was operating at saturated conditions, which means it is not possible to reduce pressure unless the steam bubble in the torus can be collapsed. Obviously they could not do this so they vented to atmosphere and the subsequent explosions occurred. The fact that these initial explosions occurred was due to the fact that hydrogen was vented from the RPV. The presence of hydrogen during the vent was almost certainly due to the fact that the fuel cladding was damaged and the process of a meltdown was in the early stages (likely started very late Friday night or early Saturday morning).

When the fuel cladding material (Zirconium) gets very hot in the presence of moisture it begins to breakdown and hydrogen is formed. The explosions at U1 and U3 were clearly very large, and thus indicative that the operators were venting large volumes of hydrogen gas (along with steam). Because of the magnitude of the explosions (especially Unit 3) this is unmistakably indication of partial melting and deformation of the fuel rod assemblies. This represents the first stage of “melt down.” The fact that the Unit 3 explosion was much, much stronger than Unit 1 indicates the melt down was continuing to get progressively worse. As this melting and deformation progress, the fuel material will eventually drop to the bottom of the RPV. This represents the next stage of meltdown in which the fuel then begins to corrode and melt through the RPV. When this phase of the accident is reached it’s time to clear out (which TEPCO has done, leaving only 50 people on site) since there remains only one of the three fission product barriers intact, the drywell containment structure. At this point we believe that fuel assembly damage has occurred for sure, the core has likely deformed and started to melt, and the process of melting through the RPV has started.

Once you melt down the RPV, you have a “meltdown”. This has not occurred yet, but is still a possible scenario. The only way to avert this is to cool the reactor.

Using seawater to cool the reactor as well as dumping water with helicopters and using water cannons are acts of desperation. Specifically the use of seawater contaminates the reactor cooling system and essentially makes all units scrap and virtually incapable of being reused (good these cannot be reused in my opinion). This is a decision not taken lightly by a utility such as TEPCO.

For your information the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued what they call a “generic letter” in 1988. In this generic letter, which I have sent to Debito-san, the NRC basically addressed this identical event (not tsunami, but total loss of grid power, station service, onsite generation, backup generation, and batteries) and recommended plants using GE Mark 1 reactors address this issue. This was 23 years ago and most or all plants in the U.S. have addressed this issue. It is obvious TEPCO did not with these units. The conclusions in the NRC letter are based on severe accident PRA analyses, which identified two critical areas for the older GE Mark 1 containments that should be improved.

• Alternate water supply to drywell spray & injection
• Better PRV depressurization capability

It is ironic that these were the 2 technical problems that were preventing the plants from reestablishing control in the initial stages of this incident. Had they been able to spray down the torus and drywell, thereby rapidly decreasing RPV and torus pressure, the low head pumps would likely have been available to cover the core. If this would have occurred, they probably would not have needed to resort to seawater injection.

Regarding the management of the situation I have my opinions but will withhold them until the final resolution is reached.

I read the article in the Daily Mail, showing Akio Komiri breaking down and finally admitting that the radiation levels are potentially lethal.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1367684/Nuclear-plant-chief-weeps-Japanese-finally-admit-radiation-leak-kill-people.html?ito=feeds-newsxml

ends

==========================

Source letter from United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued what they call a “generic letter” in 1988 (PDF, download, click below:)
8-29-1989-NRC
ENDS

64 comments on “Another trustworthy source connected with the industry believes, short of a miracle, Fukushima reactors won’t be cooled enough in time to avoid “fission product release”

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  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    @ #44 Ken — I think the article is clear from the very beginning that the “foreign thieves” stuff is nonsense.

  • I will not post any more.

    Any person who is aware knows what is happening. We don’t know the full scale, but it is becoming clear what it is.

    Anyone who is knowingly denying it, obscuring it, making it sound harmless is an accomplice. That includes people above. I find them despicable and irresponsible. I hope that their digestive system can process their paychecks, they might need it.

    My sympathies and love who those who do not have any place to go and to those who decide to stay because they feel they belong there. I am all too aware of residence problems — restrictive and difficult almost everywhere and hard to give up. Yet, my firm conviction is that any parent should not expose their child to danger.

  • PS: Since I’ve been asked for sources by a person who is clearly filled with nervous bad faith, I would let him search for sources (hint: they are to be found at spiegel. de, comments to the story to which I linked before). But as a goodbye gift, allow me add this.

    “A nuclear expert has warned that it might be 100 years before melting fuel rods can be safely removed from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant.”

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/04/01/3179487.htm?section=justin

  • jonholmes says:

    @mumei, you seem to be justifiying inertia. “What do people with working visas do?” Well, they can do whatever they like!
    And I dont understand why you say a working visa will be voided if you quit a job, unlike say, in Korea, your work visa is not tied to one employer in Japan.
    FYI, I left Saitama on a Sunday, in a hurry,from Haneda and there was no staff or time for me to get a re entry visa. Aside from this ridiculous insistence by J immigration(ie money scam of getting yet more money from gaijin)of needing both a work visa AND a re entry permit but I digress, they didnt take my alien card, nor did they stamp anything on my still valid (for 2 more years) work visa.

    With the plane leaving in 5 minutes and a lack of info as to radiation levels in my area,(other than they were 40 times normal and rising), “what will happen to my Japanese work visa, boo hoo” was the last of my concerns.
    But you say you intend to spend the rest of your life here in Japan, good for you that is your choice, and I presume you intend to become either a permanent resident or a Japanese National. 161,000 non Japanese did not, and so they left, thereby making millions of bottled water more available!

    But you say you ve already made two large sacrifices to live in Japan. Are such sacrifices worth it?

  • @Jonholmes:

    You say:

    I dont understand why you say a working visa will be voided if you quit a job.

    For the past couple of years, the rule has been that if a visa holder quits employment, the presumption is that they are going to leave Japan, and the visa is voidable/i> after 90 days.

  • Jonholmes,

    > And I dont understand why you say a working visa will be voided if you quit a job

    Not immediately. But if you do not find work within 3 months, the visa will become void. Hello Work reports this to Immigrations and then they will come around knocking.

    > hey didnt take my alien card, nor did they stamp anything on my still valid (for 2 more years) work visa.

    Did you quit your job? If so, then it is your obligation to surrender your alien card and have your visa voided. Whether you can get away with it or not is another matter.

  • I wonder if the people who are downplaying the problem haven’t noticed:

    The levels of radiation are always reported as going lower, but the exposure numbers keep going higher and the area affected keeps getting larger.

    Nobody even pretends any longer that the reactor cores have not been breached.

    Contaminated water at 100 times the allowable level of radiation is being intentionally dumped to make room for all the water contaminated at more than 100,000 times allowable levels.

    Reactors number five and six which were reported as stable are now experiencing overheating, flooding and increasing levels of radioactivity.

    Stability which was earlier projected to be restored in days, is now projected to be restored in months.

    Every measure which we were assured would finally resolve all issues has failed to do so, for example, everything would be ok once all cooling ponds were flooded, once electricity was restored, etc.

    Every passing day shows more problems are occurring while no problems have yet been resolved.

  • jonholmes says:

    mumei and hoofin, thanks for the update.

    With 5 minutes to go before the flight left, at midnight in Haneda, such details such as “did you quit your job?” were not fully addressed, although they did ask “is your job finished?” to which I replied “no” and I kept the card.

    I ll go and see the Japanese Embassy tomorrow and let you know what they say.

    My feeling now is that Japan makes it hard to leave even in an emergency, and I still think this whole re entry visa scam is just to get additional income from foreigners; a 3 year work visa should be enough, don’t you think?

    I don’t really care enough about living in Tokyo anymore to really give much of a toss; if they make it difficult for me to come back then I won’t, plain and simple. The business folds. Or relocates to China.

  • I found the article linked below today particularly disturbing

    http://www3.nhk.or.jp/daily/english/05_38.html

    The levels of radiation inside the reactors 1 through 3 are immeasurable with the onsite equipment. Obviously there has been a major breach. The levels outside the buildings are concerning.

    I had the chance to take a large quantity of food to Sendai and Ishinomaki. When we were handing out food and supplies in Ishinomaki I found the situation to be a humanitarian tragedy as well. People not in the shelters are definitely falling through the cracks (was not working with the guy mentioned in other posts and never came across him).

    It certainly appears this is a situation (the combination of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear issue) that is just too much for the J-Govt. to handle (or perhaps any other single government for that matter).

    Although there are small silver linings, the situation still looks pretty bad. The quote from the radiation monitor, “The monitor expressed frustration, likening the situation to looking up a mountain that one has to climb, without having taken a step up”, who is a representative of TEPCO, is very troubling as well.

    Let’s all hope we get some beter news soon.

  • jonholmes says:

    I m afraid the Japanese Consulate just gave out a standard line and there will be no flexibility or exception to visa regulations for any of the 161, 000 “fly jins” who would like to return at some point. Basically it is business as usual, so if you ve left without getting a re entry visa because it was the weekend or there wasnt the staff or time at Haneda, etc to issue it -and according to the Consulate I went to, “many many people” did so- you ll have to through the whole rigmarole (defined as “A complicated, petty set of
    procedures”) from the start, i.e. get a company to sponsor your working visa from square one. Oh, and pay again.

    I don’t think I am going to bother.

    However, if there is something I can do for Sendai from overseas, I certainly will. Good luck to all those choosing to remain in Japan for whatever reason, I wish you well.

  • I went to a lecture yesterday at my university given by a colleague who specialises in radioactivity. The lecture was titled ‘Radioactivity around us’, and was meant to give staff a grounding in the science and the current conditions.

    The general take home message is that Sendai is safe at the moment, but there are parts of Fukushima that will be uninhabitable for decades, and it is important to base decisions on current, accurate information.

    According to data collected by one of his friends at the scene, the incident has already surpassed Chernoble according to some metrics. He gave the example of a spot 45km from the nuclear plant where they recorded higher cesium 137 (30-year half-life) readings than were found 6km from Chernoble.

    Then I see people in Fukushima, who clearly haven’t been given enough information, going on TV saying things like: “Fukushima is completely safe, and we just need to get the rest of Japan to understand that!”. Sadly, not all of Fukushima is safe, and we need to get real information and appropriate advice out to people in a timely manner. Otherwise we will have both unwitting victims on the ground and overreaction elsewhere.

  • Interesting News

    The Japanese Government has officially decided to raise the Fukushima disaster to a 7 on the international scale, which is on a par with Chernobyl.

    http://www3.nhk.or.jp/daily/english/12_05.html

    Although this situation may not end up being as bad as chernobyl (no graphite rods to burn and spew radioactive material into the air) it has other characteristics that warrant the raise in severity.

    It will be interesting to see if the cumulative amount of radioactive material released from Fukushima equals or surpasses Chernobyl.

    We are living through engineering history, albeit tragic. I just hope they do not continue to have earthquakes exceeding M4 with such great frequency as it has a cumulative effect on the plant’s mechanical systems.

    If you look at the link below, these seem like a bit more than the usual aftershocks. Definitely strange.

    http://tenki.jp/earthquake/entries?p=1

  • Debito,

    All the naysayers on this post can shove it. I lived in Fukushima City downtown for almost seven years. After the quake, I got myself at great expense, two different Geiger counters by two different makers. The radiation on my balcony alone, (5.2 micro sieverts), was enough to convince my wife and I to take our two year old and get the hell out. My wife quit her job, and my job was already in another prefecture anyways. We still have a home loan to pay, but I don’t think there will be any buyers for our three year old house. Now the city of Fukushima will be providing all families with children radiation detectors in the coming month. I’m glad my family got out of there. Kids can’t even play outside at school, period. It’s absolutely ridiculous.

    Debito, I really wanted you to be wrong on this, but unfortunately you were all too correct. Does your source have any new insight into this situation now that we know there were three meltdowns?

    — Thanks for capitulating. That’s what real honest people do, even in retrospect.

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