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Japan Technology

How To Monitor Leaky Radioactive Water Tanks 111

freaklabs writes "The radioactive water leaks are getting worse at Fukushima Dai-Ichi. In a recent New York Times article, it was mentioned that TEPCO didn't have a reliable way to monitor the water storage tanks for leaks. I decided to write a tutorial on how to wirelessly monitor water levels in storage tanks."
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How To Monitor Leaky Radioactive Water Tanks

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  • Slashdotted yourself, looks like
    • Hardening (Score:5, Interesting)

      by pjt33 ( 739471 ) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @01:28PM (#44664739)

      So now we'll never know whether they remembered to take into account radiation hardening.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I got to the site. Nope, no consideration at all that there's enough ionizing radiation to saturate all the transistors. And here I was foolishly thinking that a nice analog electromechanical system was described...

    • Re: (Score:1, Redundant)

      Maybe he should have written an article on how to host an article to survive rapid bursts in page views.
      • "Maybe he should have written an article on how to host an article to survive rapid bursts in page views."

        Or a wireless prickness-detector for managers, they stay safely out of the radiation zone, so the transistors will be safe.

  • slashdotted (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 24, 2013 @01:24PM (#44664707)

    I guarantee that there is frustrated engineer with a workable solution who spends half of all
    his days trying to argue for the installation of monitoring equipment, but the organization

          - doesn't really want to monitor the tanks
          - is too incompetent to execute anything
          - has a turf war over who is supposed to be monitoring the tanks
          - is hung up on acquisition/budget issues
          - is hung up on safety protocols

    • by emt377 ( 610337 )

      - Doesn't meet the 'reliable' standard as adopted by the nuclear industry

      • by drolli ( 522659 )

        Yea. Doesnt even fit the standards for a normal industrial solution.

        BTW: The arrogant idiot
        -misunderstood the problem. If i want to monitor fpr leaks by measuring the height, i also have to measure the added fluid (which may be the bigger problem).

        -is unaware that its easy to buy ready made, tested devices for his purpose. Look for any automation hardware manufacturers and for harsh environments. you will find the necessary building blocks, including certifications easily (yea. ~1000 times more expensive th

    • Is more water still being added? How much? Do they know? If the level is supposed to stay constant, don't mess with opening a radioactive tank to install a sonar unit, just mount a fluid level sensor on the exterior of the tank. http://pewa.panasonic.com/assets/acsd/sunx/sensors/discontinued/UA-11.pdf [panasonic.com]
    • by stooo ( 2202012 )

      Yes. Monitoring leaks is not in the interest of tepcos at all.
      Leaks improve their "storage" capacity situation.... Sadly. And we eat the fish.

  • radioactive water (Score:3, Interesting)

    by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @01:29PM (#44664741) Homepage Journal

    So this is fine when it concerns non-radioactive water, but this solution wasn't tested in an environment where the radioactive levels are higher than usual, there was no test case in the story for that. Will the electronics live long enough? Also what about humidity, how long before this stops working because of higher humidity levels?

    • Re:radioactive water (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Half-pint HAL ( 718102 ) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @01:36PM (#44664789)
      Heck, I'm wondering whether you can do anything wirelessly in a radioactive environment -- ionising radiation most bugger up the charge in an antenna something chronic....
      • Honestly, I'd be inclined to do it the 'keep it really, really, simple, TEPCO' way:

        Float style liquid level meters are extremely simple devices. Small lighter-than-water float on the bottom, a rod(ideally with stripes or distance markings, like scale bars), and a sleeve in the lid of the tank that keeps the apparatus upright and allows the rod to move up and down freely.

        If you do have rad-hard electronics in place, an optical sensor for the stripes, or a hall effect sensor for a rod with magnets at in
        • If you do have rad-hard electronics in place, an optical sensor for the stripes, or a hall effect sensor for a rod with magnets at intervals, or similar, are easy to add. If not, the amount of protruding rod can be read from some hundreds of meters or more with a wholly unexciting pair of binoculars.

          A bit more high-tech, but which allows you to keep a goodly distance away would be a simple infrared sensor system POINTED at the tanks.

          Reasoning: Liquids tend to keep their temperature more stable than solids. Tanks tend to not be well insulated(if they are, get a more sensitive sensor). Temperatures vary through the day, but the liquid shouldn't change much. Ergo if you point a infrared sensor at a tank, you should be able to easily draw the water line. A little calibration for temperature of the liq

          • IR sensors are already very noise sensitive as it is... Introducing radiation won't do much good, even at a distance. It'd be worth a try but I don't see it working long either.
            • There's a reason I linked the MT site - it has lots of images of them using infrared technology to determine tank levels and more.

              Depending on the size of the tank, radiation isn't going to do much at all. Worst case you might have to replace the sensors more often, but remember that you're not 'testing' a narrow strip, you're taking an image of the whole tank.

            • IR sensors are already very noise sensitive as it is... Introducing radiation won't do much good, even at a distance. It'd be worth a try but I don't see it working long either.

              Perhaps, but an important difference between the IR radiation and the atomic radiation is that the IR comes from the outer surface of the tank and the atomic radiation from the contents. That means you can set up the camera to point at a corner of the tank at an angle such that there is very little water in the camera's line of "sight" (even though the water is out of sight in terms of visible and IR light, it can still be "seen" in the gamma spectrum or as particle decay).

              You could also use a prism to prot

              • That's not a bad idea actually, if you add sufficient lead padding that might just work quite well. The question is off-course how much of a temperature difference you'd be looking at. And you'd have to choose the prism and lens materials very well, else you could end up with x-rays slamming into your sensor at an above average frequency which would significantly increase the noise levels. So you'd have to average the data over a considerable time to be certain.
          • A bit more high-tech, but which allows you to keep a goodly distance away would be a simple infrared sensor system POINTED at the tanks.

            How about a solution halfway between; the tank has a prism on top and the tank level is measured via inspection by a remote laser system. The monitoring system is far away from the tanks so if radiation ever were to be an issue, it still wouldn't be.

            • I'd be worried about the prism; heavy radiation can do some weird things, it might rapidly 'age' the prism to the point it's no longer transparent enough.

              Also, you can get a level on the tanks without installing anything on them with the infrared camera idea. With the laser-prism idea you still need to install the prisms and align the lasers.

        • by dbIII ( 701233 )
          Why not? Something like that has worked with oil storage tanks for around a century and I'm sure other tanks a lot longer than that.
          We've seen a repeat of one of the mistakes of TMI - not having enough instrumentation to work out what the fuck is going on when things go bang and relying on sheer luck that it isn't going to get any worse. For some reason nuclear thinks it's special and doesn't need to take the care that other hazardous industries take (original TMI instrumentation mistake), then fails to l
          • The only potential issue that springs immediately to mind would be vapor escaping through the sleeve in the lid (though, at this point, is anybody even going to notice a little extra evaporation in the face of all the deliberate and ongoing-accidental water releases?), and the possibility of the measuring rod 'binding' if it somehow ends up tilted too far from vertical and placing excessive force on just a couple of contact points (which would quite possibly cause the slip sleeve to bite into the rod and ke
      • The antenna does not need to be in the tank or exposed to radiation. Not to mention that noise sensitivity is a problem on the receiving side, not the transmitting side.

      • by slick7 ( 1703596 )
        You would be better off using crooked, corrupt, too long in office, politicians. Maybe once in their lives they could do something positive for society. There's plenty to go around and I'm sure they won't be missed, except by their greedy lobbyists. And hey, there are all those greedy lobbyists too, for backup and replenishment.
    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiation_hardening [wikipedia.org]

      Maybe the submitter wrote about it, but the site is unavailable right now and his summary certainly does not reveal he knows a thing about the special considerations of electronics in radioactive environments. There is a reason we (in the East German army) had big tube-powered big bulky radios instead of smaller transistor-based ones.

      • Okay, so no one voted roman_mir down, his articles start with -1, Slashdot punishment for low score. Never knew that was possible. Good comment this time though, a step to ihttp://tech.slashdot.org/story/13/08/24/1645258/how-to-monitor-leaky-radioactive-water-tanks#mprove the /. score ;-)

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

        Sure, it's possible, but it would take some considerable time to develop such a system. You can't just buy an off-the-shelf radiation hardened Arduino. Someone is probably working on it, but the statement made by TEPCO that they have no way in the foreseeable future to monitor levels is probably true.

        As ever, no-one planned for this eventuality.

  • Solar Perhaps (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ShooterNeo ( 555040 )

    The only thing it's missing is a small solar panel to keep the battery charged. That way, no one has to climb those tanks of deadly radioactive water unless hardware has actually failed. Some of those Arduino boards already have battery chargers on them, but if not, a small regulated LiPo or NiCad battery charger is what you need. Then you just need a solar panel that is small and has the right output voltage. Sunelec.com seems to sell a 10 watt, 12 volt panel for $15. No big deal, and that's more than

    • How does solar power help inside a hermtically sealed containment tank...?
      • it's on top of it

      • How does solar power help inside a hermtically sealed containment tank...?

        Solar cells can respond to radiation as well. All that's needed is for energy to dislodge electrons in the cell. It's the same basic principle that pacemaker batteries use.

    • Re:Solar Perhaps (Score:5, Informative)

      by icebike ( 68054 ) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @01:42PM (#44664831)

      The radiation in these tanks is easily stopped by the tank wall. (Its almost solely Beta radiation). So climbing the tank is not particularly a problem.

      Water is always being pumped into and out of these tanks (they are used to circulate cooling water for shut down reactors and the separation plant where radioactive elements are separated). As such, water level in the tank is not static, there are surges as pumps start and stop, etc. Think of the tank as a buffer in a continuous flowing circuit. There are systems to make sure there is always sufficient water in the circuit, and water may be added at locations far removed from the actual tank. Its vitally important to make sure there is adequate cooling water, it can never be allowed to run dry.

      When you view it this way, missing a couple hundred gallons over the course of a month is not something you can count on detecting by monitoring water lever in a tank, because it fluctuates naturally, loss will be automatically compensated by new water additions.

      So thanks for playing along, but I believe this issue is best left to the big boys,(even the ones you might, in your make-believe environment, consider to be incompetent). The problem is much more complex than you know, and won't be solved with your cute little lash-up toys.

      • Hi. Actually these are storage tanks and are designed to hold water. Once they are filled, its unlikely water is pumped out unless there's a suitable place to dump it. That doesn't seem to be the case.
        • by khallow ( 566160 )

          Once they are filled, its unlikely water is pumped out unless there's a suitable place to dump it.

          There is - in the reactors or by evaporation. I gather this is part of their cooling system. In which case, they want to both circulate the water through the reactor and cool it off at some point.

        • by icebike ( 68054 )

          Hi. Actually these are storage tanks and are designed to hold water. Once they are filled, its unlikely water is pumped out unless there's a suitable place to dump it. That doesn't seem to be the case.

          No, the tanks levels are constantly changing, these tanks are in the cooling water refining circuit.

          See: The Register article [theregister.co.uk]

          Well, no. The situation is this. The melted-down cores at the damaged reactors (the site is not "crippled", two reactors were undamaged and will return to service) are still hot - though much less hot than they were two years ago - and need to be cooled. This is done by pumping water through their buildings, then sucking it out again and putting it into holding tanks before purifying it to remove the radiation it picks up from the cores. Then it gets used again.

    • No what this needs is a proper industrial solution fit for purpose, not some home made solar gear with an arduino strapped to it. We use wireless guided wave radars from Emerson at work and they last in excess of 10 years on a single battery charge.

  • slashvertisement (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tom ( 822 ) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @01:30PM (#44664757) Homepage Journal

    Because your website needs more hits and the experts in Japan certainly never thought of some of the most obvious ideas, yes?

    You may not be familiar with japanese culture. I am, at least a bit.

    In the US, this admition would translate to "we can't be arsed to give it some attention".
    In Japan, this is a major loss of face and could well mean the end of someone's career.

    This face thing is a major problem in many cases in Japan, because people won't admit to mistakes until they can't hide them anymore. Yes, even more so than in the West.

    It would be fantastic if someone from the japanese geeks involved in the whole thing would read /. and rip your blog-wiseassing to shreds. Unfortunately, that's unlikely and so your ego can feed on a false sense of superiority.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by freaklabs ( 1359341 )
      Hi. I live in Tokyo, am one of the founders of Tokyo Hackerspace, and would probably be considered one of the Japanese geeks.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    make that a very long stick

  • The electronics and piezo element in the ultrasonic sensor will fail fast in rad environement.

    And then somebody must go there, install and later replace the sensors..

  • Since you certainly have the Hubris part mastered.

  • by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @01:58PM (#44664919)

    I don't get it; If your water heater was leaky, you'd notice it right away. Same if your gas tank, radiator, or brake fluid reservoir on your car was. In fact, the main way people figure out something is leaking is because something is present where it shouldn't be, and a supposedly-contained source is nearby.

    You don't need complex wizz-bang devices to figure this out. You need the Mark I Human Eyeball. TEPCO knew, okay? They didn't want to know, so they ignored evidence that it was leaking. "Well, the tanks emptied out... but it must have just been normal evaporation", or "we expected a certain amount of leakage", or "we were understaffed," or "it was the contractor's fault," or any other rationalization you can think of. The problem here is not technology and it won't be solved by technology.

    The problem is management didn't want to know it had a problem, because plausible deniability means no responsibility. So they will go to incredible lengths to avoid noticing the problem. You can't slashvertise your way into a solution here... "wifi sensors! That'll fix it!" Okay... who's going to monitor the sensors? What are the sensors actually sensing? Mind you... sensors being improperly read is what led to the Three Mile Island disaster. Do you trust your $12 wizz-bang to do the job of a trained nuclear engineer? This is what it all comes down to: The tanks were leaking, and somebody noticed. I don't know who that somebody is, but somebody knew enough to look. Whether they did or not...

    TEPCO management needs to be dragged to Geneva and held for crimes against humanity. No, I'm dead-serious about this... Japan has a long an inglorious history of allowing epic amounts of corporate failure because it's not in their culture to admit wrongdoing. Trains fly off tracks and crash into apartment complexes and outside investigators conclude that a punitive and stress-inducing corporate culture was what primed the young train conductor to race around the bend too fast to stay on the tight schedule... and the corporation, faced with dozens of fatalities... says everything is fine and keeps the policy as-is: It was the conductor's fault. He couldn't handle our "high standards". This is a prime example of Japanese culture people. It's toxic and it needs international attention and condemnation.

    It does not need a wiz-bang sensor monitor. It needs a gun to the head and a "come with us, we're taking a long flight to your trial, asshole".

    • by Njovich ( 553857 )

      Good luck discovering if your radiator lost a couple of ml of water.

      These amounts may sound like a lot, but for individual leaks, they may be tiny compared to the amount of water they have.

      • These amounts may sound like a lot, but for individual leaks, they may be tiny compared to the amount of water they have.

        True, but it doesn't matter what the amount is if nobody's bothering to look.

      • by achbed ( 97139 )

        Rule #1 for radioactive substances: don't lose any. If you're going to build a system to contain radioactive material, it should include monitoring so that you know if any goes missing. Losing 200 tonnes of radioactive material is not a "cost of business" or "within acceptable error rates". The error rate on this stuff should be 0 for a reason.

    • by mikael ( 484 )

      There's always the Waterworld solution - take those TEPCO executives, tie them to a rope and lower them into those storage tanks along with some water-level lines on the side of the tank, and have them provide hourly readings:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMsa_CBZ3Os [youtube.com]

    • by celle ( 906675 )

      "They didn't want to know, so they ignored evidence that it was leaking."

      If you had tfa'd, you would have noticed that Akiba had the monitor readings submitted to the internet. That way the public knows immediately if something is going on and TEPCO is fucking them around. That's why TEPCO would 'never!!' implement such a system because they could be held accountable for their behavior which is something no business wants. Especially a company with real public responsibilities that's a

  • by JoeyRox ( 2711699 ) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @02:06PM (#44664971)
    The reality is TEPCO doesn't want the radiation monitored. For the same reasons the beef industry doesn't want cows tested for Mad Cow. The absence of testing allows for plausible deniability.
  • Contact TEPCO, Now! (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Wow, what an amazing totally thought out plan!

    I love how you thought about radiation causing random flipped bits, the need for adaquete power and shielding, etc.

    Amazing, I didn't know the Arudino was rad-hardened and certified for use in safety critical industrial applications. I will instruct everyone I know to use the Arduino for everything. Why pay hundreds of thousands when I can get all the rad-safety and life-safety cerified components for pennies on the dollar!

    • You put the sensor in the tank, the Arduino outside the tank. The radiation is mostly beta and won't make it through the tank wall anyway.

      Also, 'radiation hardened' ATmega chips are readily available to anyone, so a radiation hardened Arduino is as well. Just swap out the one that comes with it to the ones they make for these places. Before you lose your shit, you might want to get a clue about what is actually available.

      Certified? No of course not, but do you want no monitoring that will never work, or

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Note that an Arduino is a lot more than an ATmega. There's a USB interface chip (usually a smaller AVR, but it's SMT, so harder to replace than the socketed ATmega), there's a voltage regulator, there's a clock source of some sort, etc. How sure are you these elements will do fine in your supposedly "radiation hardened Arduino"?

        • Switch to the ATmega internal clock, and use the serial port directly rather than through the USB to Serial secondary ATmega.

          No, the voltage regulator isn't going to give a shit about the radiation in this case. Pretty much everything else are passive elements without worries.

          Lets be clear: There are systems to do this that are so cheap and certified that TEPCO could by them and NEVER notice the error on the books, but making an Arduino usable in this situation is trivial as well.

          The idea of actually using

  • Thx but no thx (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Sorry mate...

    I used to hack for a company that would do this for about $25 a month + installation fees and hardware costs. Although if someone had used the words "nuclear" we'd probably have consuled a lawyer and said hell no.

    Complete with certified electricians, low power, cellular, satellite, and 802.x plans, off site data storage, backups, recovery, control, and a pretty little website that could get you the data a dozen different ways including read into your ear over the phone. For the big boys some

  • I wonder if he considered the effects due to the radiation in the tank, on the PZT elements used in the ultrasonic transducers.
    • by whois ( 27479 )

      Of course he didn't, so let's ignore his solution and start talking about things that might work.

      My thoughts:
      Entirely mechanical in the tank and electrical outside. You could use two columns of liquid to measure pressure, one on the inside and one on the outside, then read the height of the column on the outside. It would need some way of keeping the radioactive water out of the columns but still allowing it to put pressure on it.

      Might not be feasible to build such a device now that the tank is full of ra

  • by Teun ( 17872 ) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @04:19PM (#44665565) Homepage
    Providing these are storage tanks whose content is waiting until it can be cleaned up I would suggest to freeze them.
    • That doesn't sound very plausible. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decay_heat [wikipedia.org]
      • by Teun ( 17872 )
        Read the article and you will understand this decay heat is not to be expected in the storage tanks of the article.
        • I can't find anything in the article that would support that. As far as I can tell this water has been in direct contact with spent fuel and contains amongst other things strontium-90, which is also used in RTG's.
          • by Teun ( 17872 )
            First off have a look at the time scale and compare it with the time since the accident.

            Secondly, this is not storage of fuel or fuel rods but 'just' contaminated water, hence my emphasise on storage.

  • I really like the idea of drilling additional holes in nuclear storage facilities!

    I guess it shouldn't be too difficult to detect water level changes from the outside of the container. The pulse response of the container will change with the water level. If I can do it by tapping on a bottle with a coin or something like that, a sensor could easily measure this as well.

  • My area

    The Hanford Tank Farms house 53 million gallons of high-level radioactive and chemical waste that is the byproduct of “reprocessing” spent nuclear fuel.* .
    http://www.hanfordchallenge.org/the-big-issues/tank-waste/ [hanfordchallenge.org]

    massive underground storage tanks ranging in capacity from 55,000 gallons to more than 1,000,000 gallons to hold the wastes. Scientists believed that the tanks would only be used temporarily until a permanent place to dispose of the waste was identified.
    http://www.hanford.gov/pag [hanford.gov]

  • "Tepco has built nearly 1,000 tanks at the sprawling complex to store as many as 335,000 tons of contaminated water, the product of coolant pumped into the reactors to keep their cores from overheating,"

    Old Plutonium reactors in this area used to pump cooling water through the reactors then into huge holding tanks too cool heat wise before being released back into the Columbia river. There were two holding tanks and switched when one was full. Fuel elements at that time were maybe 1.5 inches wide, 6 inches long;
    and they popped like popcorn I've heard it say -they were still learning how to do it.

    An Eastern Washington newspaper sampled a lot of areas for radiation, where the Columbia river turns after the

  • I wouldn't want to work for TEPCO in Fukushima right now, however there is at this stage nobody who knows as much about the plant as they do. Whatever they are trying to do is probably not optimal, but unfortunately showering them with unsolicited, half baked advice is not improving matters.

    As you know, adding more personnel and confusion to a project going badly can make things much worse. Where are we going to find competent, Japanese-speaking nuclear engineers that can actually make a positive contribut

  • Sonic level sensors are old hat. Battery life is going to be shit - you'll want to install cabling pretty damned quick, otherwise the cumulative radiation loading on the workers replacing batteries will rapidly exceed that from installing the cabling. These things are going to be in use for decades, so it's worthwhile doing it right, once.

    Wireless ... yeah, great, marvellous. With a lot of steel-framed buildings around ... some of which you're going to be demolishing during the lifetime of the project. Hav

Statistics are no substitute for judgement. -- Henry Clay