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Japan Power Technology

Engineers Find Nuclear Meltdown At Fukushima Plant 664

Posted by timothy
from the that's-not-got-much-meltdown-in-it dept.
fysdt writes "Engineers from the Tokyo Electric Power company (Tepco) entered the No.1 reactor at the end of last week for the first time and saw the top five feet or so of the core's 13ft-long fuel rods had been exposed to the air and melted down. Previously, Tepco believed that the core of the reactor was submerged in enough water to keep it stable and that only 55 per cent of the core had been damaged."
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Engineers Find Nuclear Meltdown At Fukushima Plant

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    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Nuclear can be safe, but never will be. And wouldn't be affordable if it was. Not that it's affordable anyway if the cost of containing the long-term nuclear waste was factored in.

      Oh... News at 11.

      • by Lord Byron II (671689) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @01:59PM (#36110374)

        Let's define safe though. Coal power dumps tons and tons of pollutants into the air, so it has long term safety effects (acid rain, global warming, etc). Solar power is generated using panels made with toxic substances. Wind power kills thousands of birds each year. No matter what you do, there will always be some risk and the goal is to minimize it, not eliminate it.

        I think that a 40 year old nuclear plant suffered a magnitude 9 earthquake followed by a gigantic tsunami and only suffered a partial meltdown is a testament to the amount of safety, planning, and engineering that goes into these plants. This series of events has only made me feel safer about nuclear energy. Afterall, if that's what it takes to cause a problem at a 40 year old plant, then what would it take to cause a problem at one designed with the latest techniques, expertise, and equipment?

        • No, the goal *should* be to eliminate the risk, with the maturity to know that it never will be. You start aiming to only "mitigate" risk, and you start having a few who take it to heart, but many who use the ambiguity to cut corners and trade risk for profit. Stick with the unambiguous goal, and a realistic understanding of what it means.

          Otherwise, I agree with you.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by OeLeWaPpErKe (412765)

            That would be the mature way of thinking. Of course, it leads unequivocally to the obvious conclusion :

            nuclear is the safest power (by far) we have. Accidents are high profile, but they hardly ever occur (and when they do occur, there are hardly any victims. Even chernobyl only killed around 50 people. Total death toll for the nuclear industry over 60 years is perhaps 100 people. Is anyone seriously going to claim that even producing solar panels killed less than 100 people by now in simple workplace accide

            • by Coren22 (1625475) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @03:05PM (#36111396) Journal

              I don't really disagree with you, but there is one part of solar energy you missed. Solar Thermal power doesn't use those hazardous chemicals, it uses mirrors shining on a tower full of salt to store heat as liquid salt which is then used to boil water and produce power. It is much less dangerous, but still you lose land to it.

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_thermal_energy [wikipedia.org]

              specifically: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_thermal_energy#Power_tower_designs [wikipedia.org]

            • by peppepz (1311345) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @04:10PM (#36112206)

              Even chernobyl only killed around 50 people.

              The IAEA, i.e. the group lobbying worldwide for the construction of new nuclear power plants and the minimization of nuclear fear among the population, estimates 4,000 deaths at Chernobyl because of the disaster (source [iaea.org]). Yet with your faith in nuclear power you managed to be more catholic than the pope and lowered the death toll by 80 times. Enough said.

            • by HuguesT (84078) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @05:08PM (#36112830)

              Just a small correction: we don't really know how many victims Chernobyl made. The '50 fatalities' figure was at some point an official Soviet figure, which included only about 47 workers who died of acute radiation poisoning, and is hopelessly optimistic.

              The WHO and the AEIA estimates the number of direct victims of Chernobyl to 4,000 [who.int], but this figure is suspected to be low, as the AEIA has vested interests in the nuclear industry.

              The TORCH report (The Other Report of CHernobyl) [greens-efa.org], commissioned by the European Green Party, estimate about 60,000 extra cancers deaths due to Chernobyl. This figure does not include non-fatal cancers, which still have notable effect on victims.

              A recent book, written by reputed scientists and based over 5,000 survey, puts the number of victims at about one million [climateandcapitalism.com]. Of course, some people disagree with this figure [blogspot.com], however, there is no doubt that the scope of the accident was massive, and continues to make victims today.

              The Ukrainian government has claimed in 2006 that more than 2.4 million people, including 500,000 children, have suffered adverse health effects from the Chernobyl disaster. This does not include the effect on people displaced due to the disaster. Of course the Ukrainian people are the ones left with the very hot potato and they would dearly like some help.

              Also you may want to take a look a this photo essay [magnumphotos.com] and reflect on your "50 victims" figure. The bottom line is that there were definitely way more victims than the 50 you claim, and quite possibly way way more.

              I'm right now totally in favor of nuclear energy, but we need to all understand the very significant risks, and try to mitigate them as much as possible.

        • by NatasRevol (731260) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @02:10PM (#36110498) Journal

          Some of the pollutants that burning coal dumps into the air? Radioactive uranium.

          http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=coal-ash-is-more-radioactive-than-nuclear-waste [scientificamerican.com]

          • The linked article - towards the end - puts the radiation exposure around a coal plant into perspective and shows that it's less than 1% above background. 1.9 millirem per year vs 360millirem per year. That was really anticlimactic after reading all that blather about how burning coal concentrates the radioactive material. Oh, and it's about 3 times higher than around a nuclear plant. Hmmm. The problem with nuclear though isn't the normal operation, it's the accidents that can contaminate hundreds or even
      • by xmundt (415364)

        Greetings and Salutations...
        Kind of an interesting mix of comments to this topic, ranging from uneducated prejudice to some fairly knowledgeable and thoughtful analysis. Now, for what it is worth, just after the events at the Fukushima Daiichi plant started, a geologist by the name of Evelyn Mervine, who was annoyed and frustrated by the lousy reporting of the events there got the idea to interview her father, who is a Nuclear Engineer, discussing the situation as it evolved. Of course, the originally pl

  • Only 55%? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 12, 2011 @01:46PM (#36110174)

    I'm no nuclear expert, but if someone were to tell me that in the accident I only damaged 55% of my body, I wouldn't feel terribly good about it.

    • by hawguy (1600213)

      I'm no nuclear expert, but if someone were to tell me that in the accident I only damaged 55% of my body, I wouldn't feel terribly good about it.

      Unless of course you were pulled from the rubble caused by a 9.0 earthquake where you could have easily been killed, then you might feel better about it.

  • by spun (1352)

    Is this where we get to tell all the "Nuclear Power at Any Cost" folks "I told you so?" Nuclear power can be safe and inexpensive, but just plugging your ears and yelling "LALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU!" whenever anything goes wrong is not going to get us there.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Aphrika (756248)
      Imagine where we'd be if that attitude was present in the past.

      Steam!? High pressures? Sounds lethal, let's give it a miss... Internal combustion engine!? That liquid fuel might catch fire, people could die...

      Yes there are risks, but if anything, what Fukushima went through proves it's not as dangerous as people might think, even when it goes wrong (well it didn't go wrong, it suffered an earthquake and tsunami). It's not like there are fuel rods in the ocean and mushroom clouds kicking off. Hopefully thi
    • by egarland (120202)

      Wait.. are you saying that Nuclear power isn't safe? Check the numbers again... Nuclear is insanely safe. Coal kills more people each year than Nuclear has ever. The only rational reason not to replace all coal production with nuclear is because it's too expensive. And it *is* too expensive. If we fix that problem (and we've got some great prospects as far as that goes) it will be a phenomenal improvement. Everyone will be able to breathe a little easier... literally.

      "Nuclear at any cost" isn't a

    • by tnk1 (899206) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @02:47PM (#36111148)

      Is there anyone out that who is saying "Nuclear Power at Any Cost?". What I seem to be hearing is that it's dangerous, but the danger can be managed.

      I think the advocates of nuclear power are upset that a single incident at a 40 year old plant, due to extreme circumstances, with no deaths, is going to set back production of new plants that aren't within 500 miles of a fault line, let alone the ocean, due simply to an unreasoning fear of something that we are exposed to every day already.

      Think about it. Incidents like Three Mile Island, and this most recent one in Japan create more fear when they have killed no one at all, than industrial accidents that have killed dozens or even hundreds of people, both immediately and through chronic disease. Of course Nuclear Power advocates are groaning about this latest non-disaster, it's like saying that you can kill as many people as you want, just as long they aren't killed with "the nuculer radiation".

      Nuclear power can be really dangerous if mishandled, but so can coal, gas, oil or even solar power generation. All of those can create waste materials that can render areas uninhabitable if they are not stored properly. As far as explosions go, there's just as much danger from too much fertilizer being stored in one place as there is from any plant, nuclear or not.

      • by lennier (44736) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @04:59PM (#36112730) Homepage

        What I seem to be hearing is that it's dangerous, but the danger can be managed.

        Yes, that's the line we've been fed by the nuclear power industry for 60 years. "The danger can be managed." Problem is, Fukushima is only the last of a long line of accidents which should never have happened according to the probability scenarios used to manage the danger.

        a single incident at a 40 year old plant, due to extreme circumstances, with no deaths

        No dramatic and initial deaths. That's not quite the same thing [ratical.org].

        This is the big problem with nuclear accidents: they release toxic substances into the environment which remain toxic for centuries and kill slowly over time. Each time one of these happens, it contaminates land and water, and that contamination doesn't go away.

        This is why nuclear reactors are scary to people who have some imagination and can think beyond the bounds of "normal operating scenario" into "what if something goes wrong which should never go wrong?" territory.

        is going to set back production of new plants

        Yes, that would be a positive outcome if you're not convinced that new nuclear plants are a net long-term win to humankind.

        As far as explosions go, there's just as much danger from too much fertilizer being stored in one place as there is from any plant, nuclear or not.

        The point is its not just photogenic Hollywood explosions that we're talking about. It's toxic leaks of long-term radioisotopes accumulating in the environment. Not nearly as easy to measure or as exciting to report, but once it gets out of the bottle, you can't put it back in.

        The interesting thing is that a power reactor meltdown, small and benign as it might look compared to a nuclear bomb, can actually release more radionucleotides into the environment than an outdoor nuclear test. Plus, it does it in a location much closer to inhabited cities and farmland.

        We don't really want a lot more of those.

      • Is there anyone out that who is saying "Nuclear Power at Any Cost?".

        Pretty much everyone who is advocating that government needs to promote private nuclear power generation, since the main thing that is necessary to get the nuclear industry to do that is to (1) provide massive subsidies, and (2) provide complete immunity from liability in the case of accidents.

        Which, basically, means accepting both the cost of the subsidies, and unlimited potential future costs to encourage a for-profit industry.

        Which amou

  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @01:48PM (#36110210)
    This entire disaster has been framed as a failure of nuclear power almost every time it comes up. People don't seem to say this was a failure of management or engineering in these discussions. Why do you suppose that is?
    • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @01:54PM (#36110288)

      The point is that given the inevitability of human error and insatiable greed, is nuclear the best option? This is the point the anti-nuke crowd has been making. Yes, it CAN be done safely...in theory. But, what happens when corporation A figures that regulation X hurts profits too much so they lobby to get it waivered, and regulation Y is weakly enforced, so they just ignore it altogether?

      Personally, I like the idea of nuclear power. I just don't trust it in the hands of any organization with a profit motive.

      • by Colonel Korn (1258968) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @02:01PM (#36110400)

        The point is that given the inevitability of human error and insatiable greed, is nuclear the best option? This is the point the anti-nuke crowd has been making. Yes, it CAN be done safely...in theory. But, what happens when corporation A figures that regulation X hurts profits too much so they lobby to get it waivered, and regulation Y is weakly enforced, so they just ignore it altogether?

        Personally, I like the idea of nuclear power. I just don't trust it in the hands of any organization with a profit motive.

        But coal power is also handled by an organization with a profit motive. If we stop letting corporations run nuclear plants, it means we open new coal plants. Given our current level of inevitable human error, nuclear power has the lowest cost in human lives of any power source. Even with our big mistakes and the disasters we've seen, it just can't compete with the "working as intended" performance of coal:

        http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/03/deaths-per-twh-by-energy-source.html [nextbigfuture.com]

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          But coal power is also handled by an organization with a profit motive.

          They emit more radiation [scientificamerican.com] than nuclear power plants, too.

          • by gr8_phk (621180)
            Under normal operation, coal plants emit a few time more radiation than nuclear plants - a few time more than an irrelevant amount is still an irrelevant amount. It's when things go wrong that nuclear is many orders of magnitude than coal and goes way beyond the irrelevant level.
        • by rhakka (224319)

          it is simply not true that we must choose between nuclear and coal.

          the technology for conservation is far beyond what we are utilizing right now. to say nothing at all of the half a dozen clean and renewable energy sources that are within twice the cost of nuclear energy per KWH.

          that's the twice the cost of nuclear energy with NO CATASTROPHES to clean up, that is. I would be interested in seeing what the final cost tally from fukushima would do to the expected cost per KWH were it all borne by TEPCO inste

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Antisyzygy (1495469)
        Irrelevant. You can make the same argument about coal power, and coal is actually WORSE than nuclear in both radiation output and toxic byproducts that need disposal. I don't see any anti-nuclear idiot bitching about coal.
        • Irrelevant. You can make the same argument about coal power, and coal is actually WORSE than nuclear in both radiation output and toxic byproducts that need disposal. I don't see any anti-nuclear idiot bitching about coal.

          That would require them to realize that nuclear power is going to be required if we don't want to be paying 50% of our wages for electricity and oil sometime in the future. Humanity here on Earth needs a greater source of usable energy and oil/gas is not going to cut it over the long term. Neither is just fission over the very long term, but hopefully we have a few means of escaping gravity before things get that serious.

        • by dkleinsc (563838) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @02:24PM (#36110746) Homepage

          Well, the media may not be picking it up, but there's lots of environmentalist types complaining about the use of coal-fired plants too, due to the fact that it's one of the biggest sources of CO2 emissions contributing to global warming, and can turn the areas near where it's mined into wastelands.

          The green folks are pretty clear on what they want to see: widespread use of wind and solar power.

        • by Target Drone (546651) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @03:30PM (#36111752)

          coal is actually WORSE than nuclear in both radiation output and toxic byproducts that need disposal

          For a properly functioning power plant Coal puts out about 100 times [scientificamerican.com] the radiation of Nuclear. However even if you live near a coal plant it will only up your anual background radiation does by about 0.5%.

          The coal industry will put out about 101 PBq [wikipedia.org] of radiation for the years 1937-2040. By comparision Fukushima has spit out about 130-150 PBq [wikipedia.org] of iodine-131 and Chernobyl was about 1760 PBq.

          Having said all that I think neither are great solutions and we should really be investing more money in alternatives.

      • by rahvin112 (446269) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @02:18PM (#36110632)

        The problem wasn't the technology or the construction. The only flaw I saw in the entire setup was that the system SCRAM'd without backup power to run the cooling system. What this failure points out is a critical failure in site planning and design for site specific conditions. This reactors was built at sea level on the side of the island hit more times than any other by Tsunami's where there are 600 year old (600!) markers saying don't build below this point because a Tsunami destroyed everything below the marker and it appear that although they took into account earthquake engineering they didn't even account for a Tsunami hitting the plant.

        Had they taken the Tsunami incident into account they could have either built the plant with sea walls and significant concrete protection for the generators and backup systems or they could have built the plant above the markers. They did neither, so the reactors began building up latent heat from the reactions when the backup cooling system and generators were destroyed by the Tsunami. The key thing here though is that the safety systems and containment vessels prevented a full blown disaster. Sure there was radiation released that will wash into the ocean and dissipate entirely within a year. Sure the reactors have been poisoned and ruined and many people have been displaced but outside the plant operators there will likely not be a single death from radiation. That's an amazing achievement given the glaring site and design problem.

        The point of this disaster and what people need to learn isn't that nuclear is bad, it's that site specific conditions need to be taken into account when designing the plant. You need to design for the 100 year storms and disasters to be fully avoided and make preparations and planning probably out to the 500-1000 year events. (for those that aren't aware thats the re-occurrence interval. It doesn't mean it happens every 500 years, it means there is a 1/500 chance of it happening that year). What needs to happen in Japan is an inquiry into why this plant was built at this site (in particular given those 600 year old monuments up the hill from the plant), why it wasn't designed to survive a Tsunami and Earthquake of this magnitude and what happened to make all this possible. Then they need to evaluate every other plant and it's site and make sure they are all designed to survive natural disasters. It's easy for the press to focus on the scary of the nuclear aspect while ignoring the site and engineering failures that made this accident possible.

        You can't simply take a "safe" design and slap it down at any location without taking into account local and regional disasters and site specific conditions that could compromise the safety systems. This is basic engineering and how this plant was built at this location without accommodations for a Tsunami is astounding to me.

      • by LordLimecat (1103839) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @02:43PM (#36111100)

        You fine them into oblivion so that it no longer makes economic sense to skip that maintenance plan. You plan the fines and fees so that doing regular maintenance, building a smart, safe plant, etc is incentivized. You make darn sure that maintenance is being run with independent audits.

        You DONT say "[entire power generation sector] is unfeasible because management problems are hard".

        I mean, why shouldnt I say "I like the idea of Hydroelectric dams, I just dont trust a for-profit company not to flood a valley and cost thousands of lives?"

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 12, 2011 @01:56PM (#36110330)

      Because failure of management or engineering at a nuclear power plant is still a failure of nuclear power. It's the nuclear power that causes the problem, not the management. If management or engineering fails at a wind plant, it doesn't require the evacuation of entire cities, potentially for decades.

      And because we know that management and engineering DO fail.

    • safety costs money, people don't purchase energy on the basis of safety, management and engineers have to make compromises to deliver product at a price that doesn't include a safety premium.

    • because management and engineering failures are always going to happen

      the absurdity is not in condemning the entire concept of nuclear power, the absurdity is believing nuclear power can ever be handled with foolproof management and engineering in human society

      in other words, other people skip right by condemning only management and engineering failures, and go right on to condemn the entire concept of nuclear power. and this is logical and correct, since management and engineering failures are ubiquitous a

    • Because nuclear power doesn't exist independently of management or engineering.

      Incidentally, I tend to favor nuclear energy, but it doesn't operate in a vacuum. Your question actually does a pretty good job of framing the broad points of the debate--in theory, nuclear power is clean, safe and efficient. In practice, it's run by complex human organizations. Any complex human organization has the potential for failure at some point along its chain of obligations, and in the case of a nuclear reactor, the
  • by gstrickler (920733) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @02:03PM (#36110426)
    NHK [nhk.or.jp] article.
  • Geeks for Nukes (Score:3, Insightful)

    by WheezyJoe (1168567) <fegg AT excite DOT com> on Thursday May 12, 2011 @02:08PM (#36110486)
    Listen Slashdotters: there is no reason why we humans cannot have a safe, viable nuclear power program. Yes, nuclear energy is dangerous, but we have the science and the engineering know-how to build and manage safe, reliable power plants using nuclear energy.

    Well, when I say, “we”, I mean some people. Okay, a very few, highly educated people, and yes, people who might require salaries higher than an electricity utility would pay. And even if they did get the salaries they deserve, these people might find the day-to-day management of a power plant to become supremely boring in the long run, and yearn for something more challenging than what’s available in the outskirts of the country where most nuclear power plants reside.

    So, does that leave us with a very big reason why people cannot have a safe, viable nuclear power program? Because there are not that many people talented enough to design and safely operate nuclear power plants, because these same rare and talented people would rather get paid to do something else, and because utility companies would rather pay less educated people less money to operate the machinery they don’t completely understand? (picture: the taxi driver with the check-engine light on: “yeah, it’s been like that”)

    This could be sad. Really sad. Realizing the limits of society’s capabilities as being the limits of most people rather than the limits of the few mutants among us who qualify as nuclear engineers. Scott Adams notes in The Dilbert Principle that we are nearly all the idiot beneficiaries of a few mutant smart people who make gadgets that are easy for the rest of us to use. But nuclear power plants can’t be made as safe and disposable as a car, an iPad, or even a table-saw. In a nuclear power plant, little things like a lit check-engine light really matter and have devastating consequences.

    In the short term, the problems of safe nuclear power can certainly be solved. The right people with the right talents can be hired and put to work. That’s not the problem. The problem is, can the right people be maintained months and years after routines get boring, cost-cutters start cutting, and discipline erodes as the most talented move on to newer and more exciting things?

    Put short, is it inevitable that nuclear power plants will have accidents because it simply isn’t practical to maintain sufficient interest (including money and talent) in them to keep them running safely?
  • by ruiner13 (527499) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @02:18PM (#36110640) Homepage
    If 5 ft. out of the 13 ft. rods were melted down, wouldn't that be 38.5%? So wouldn't that be less than the 55% they thought was damaged? So this is good news then? Did subby fail at math? I'm confused...
  • by slyborg (524607) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @02:25PM (#36110760)

    So it seems clear at this point that all three of the damaged reactors are leaking water, meaning, logically, that the containments are breached in all of them. Building 4's spent fuel pool also is suspected to be leaking. Where are the tons of water they are pumping in every day going? The turbine building basements so not have infinite capacity, and that much water won't evaporate at any speed from inside underground spaces...

  • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @02:56PM (#36111272)

    Among other things engineers certainly did not enter the containment vessel and see the condition of the nuclear rods.

    The Japan Times seems to have been a little more careful to get things correct.

    http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20110513a1.html [japantimes.co.jp]

  • by theshibboleth (968645) on Thursday May 12, 2011 @03:20PM (#36111630)
    Reading over Slashdot comments since the Fukushima disaster started, I've been struck by the large number of comments that either say nuclear energy is actually less dangerous than coal, etc. even in the face of possible nuclear meltdown or that blame "anti-nuclear luddites" for the disaster. It's hard for me to understand how anyone, especially since this disaster has released radiation that will likely cause cancer and birth defects, could not at least acknowledge the tragedy that has happened even if they remain committed in the long run to nuclear power. It makes me wonder exactly what the motives are of these people. Personally it's made me realize that nuclear power is much more complicated than I had once thought; like many other industries it would seem to be rife with the profit motives of large corporations overriding responsible regulation. So even if nuclear power is hypothetically safe if regulated properly, it would seem that it's actual implementation is not in the context of the huge corporate influence on the political system. Also, some have said the problem was merely that the plant was not decommissioned on time or not upgraded to be in line with current safety measures, but were not the same safety risks present during the near 40 years leading up to this disaster? And how can anyone trust that the nuclear industry's current safety measures are really safe when the same was probably said 40 years ago?
    • by khallow (566160)

      Reading over Slashdot comments since the Fukushima disaster started, I've been struck by the large number of comments that either say nuclear energy is actually less dangerous than coal, etc. even in the face of possible nuclear meltdown or that blame "anti-nuclear luddites" for the disaster.

      There's good evidence for both assertions so why shouldn't they say that?

      It's hard for me to understand how anyone, especially since this disaster has released radiation that will likely cause cancer and birth defects, could not at least acknowledge the tragedy that has happened

      What tragedy? I doubt even in a few decades we will be able to prove that there is an elevated level of cancer or birth defects traceable to this accident. Even for Chernobyl, the effect has been swamped by observation bias (seeing more cases merely because you now look for and classify these cases). Nor has anyone died directly due to radiation exposure from the accident (but there apparently has been one or more fatalities from more

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