The Fukushima nuclear power plant accident in Japan is a terrible tragedy for the people in Japan, and for the people in the path of the moving radioactive cloud.
The Fukushima nuclear power plant was gravely impacted by the earthquake, tsunami, and additional earthquakes and aftershocks. It has been unable to cool the reactor core, and has had an explosion that severely damaged the containment. At the very beginning and half-way through this video you will see an explosive wave that shows that the top of the containment has blown off. A second reactor is also having great difficulty cooling its reactor core.
The Fukushima nuke plant is almost identical to Vermont Yankee (VY). It has a Mark 1 (earliest) containment. The fuel pool is on the top floor, and after the explosion the fuel pool is open to the environment. Many years of spent fuel (the used fuel that is the most radioactive,) is not being cooled and is in direct contact with the air so it is beginning to release significant amounts of radiation.
As a result of this devastating accident, radioactive Cesium, which lasts in the environment for 300-years and is absorbed by muscles in the human body, especially infant hearts, has been detected in the environment around the plant. People near the plant are already receiving as much radiation in an hour as they normally receive in one year. The delayed response to the accident has put thousands of lives in jeopardy. Like Three Mile Island (TMI), significant amounts of radiation are already in the environment, and like TMI, the government in Japan has waited too long to evacuate people. See the truth about TMI here.
The Fukishima Nuclear Power Plant is a General Electric (GE) Boiling Water Reactor (BWR) with a Mark 1 containment. NRC said in 1972 that this containment should never have been built, and the design was ultimately changed, but not until at least 22 Mark 1’s were constructed in the US, and it is not clear how many throughout the world. Joseph Hendrie, inside the NRC, said, that the Mark 1 should never have been built, but he did not have the heart to shut them down (see end of post).
In response to the many emails and phone calls we have received, this post is an effort to provide sound analysis and information. Fairewinds Associates, Inc, the firm I founded, is a paralegal services and expert witness firm, and Arnie Gundersen is the chief engineer. We are not political pundits nor are we nuclear activists (pro or anti). Our work is expert testimony on nuclear engineering, reliability, and safety concerns, and we have clients throughout the US, Canada, and overseas.
What exactly happens in nuclear reaction? The Uranium in the reactor (in the fuel rods) get split. The splitting creates radioactivity called radioactive daughters. The plant scrams (has an emergency shut down) and stops the nuclear reaction, but the radioactive daughters continue to churn out heat and they must be cooled or they will cause a meltdown.
What blew off?
The above BBC footage appears to show a hydrogen explosion of a Mark 1 containment (like the containment at VY). Hydrogen is created when the zircalloy fuel clad gets too hot and chemically reacts by breaking water into hydrogen and oxygen.
Radioactive smoke after the explosion appears to be heading out to sea.
What type of protection do people need? Some photos from Reuters show police and other emergency personnel wearing gas masks. The gas masks will not protect against any radiation. The particles are atomic sized and nothing the emergency personnel are wearing can protect them. The people surrounding the plant and all emergency workers there are also enveloped in a cloud of gamma radiation.
In the US, in about a week, it is possible that a cloud of radiation might reach California, and in 10 days hit VT. Wash your food and take potassium iodide (not now, wait a week until the cloud is near). Potassium iodide fills your thyroid with iodine so that it will not absorb any iodine from the radioactive cloud.
What has happened is that the nuclear fuel cladding is cracking and releasing the radiation held within the nuclear fuel pellets. Fuel pellets are the size of the joint in your pinky and there are tens of thousands of them within every nuclear reactor. The volatile radiation in the form of xenon, krypton, iodine, cesium, and strontium is already being released as a gas through the relief valves in the reactor and out the leaky containment. If you have ever used a pressure cooker, you have seen the relief valve on the top of the pressure cooker, and the feature is similar to the open valve on the top of the reactor, and that valve is fully open right now.
Arnie has been conducting research on BWR containment leaks and containment venting because of his ongoing concerns regarding the risk of Net Positive Suction Head (NPSH) in Uprated BWR’s including VY. During his research he came across this AEC (Atomic Energy Commission) internal memo. Fairewinds is also conducting two studies on BWR’s and on industry-wide containment failures.
On September 25, 1972 (just about the time VY became operational), the AEC’s Joseph Hendrie, Deputy Director for Technical Review, wrote to the AEC’s Steven Hanauer who was a senior member of the Commission staff.
“I recommend that the AEC develop a policy of discouraging further use of pressure suppression containments.”
Previously, Hanauer had expressed concerns about the Mark 1 pressure suppression containment that GE was using at VY, Pilgrim, Millstone 1, Oyster Creek and other reactors.
The memo went on to say:
“Steve’s idea to ban pressure suppression containment schemes is an attractive one in some ways. Dry containments have the notable advantage of brute simplicity. …However the acceptance of pressure suppression containment by all elements of the nuclear field, including Regulatory and the ACRS, is firmly embedded in the conventional wisdom. Reversal of this hallowed policy, particularly at this time, could well be the end of nuclear power. It would throw into question the operation of licensed plants…. and would generally create more turmoil than I can stand.”
This quote is from Frank Von Hipple, Citizen Scientist, Simon & Schuster, p. 217, citing a Union of Concerned Scientists FOIA.