Exactly a year ago, I visited Japan with my family to learn about the culture of the Japanese: my wife focusing on the ceramic arts, my daughters on the ways, and fashions, of teens, and I explored the theology and sacred places of Shintoism. It was a wonderful, unforgettable experience.
Last Fall, I visited the Vermont Yankee with students, and was given an excellent, no BS, tour of the mock reactor they use to train (and retrain) employees. It was very impressive, not the least because we got to experience (how the operators deal with) a meltdown.
(Spend a minute watching Bill Schultz, an honorable VT Yankee engineer, showing us how a meltdown is arrested in the control room: VT Yankee red alert)
For these reasons, I’ve been very affected by what is happening. From what I (and my students) learned, Fukushima reactor #2 is headed towards a complete meltdown:
**A reactor containment vessel in the plant’s unit 2 is believed to have ruptured on Tuesday….Tuesday’s blast at unit 2 was not outwardly visible, but was potentially more dangerous than some of the earlier explosions, because it may have created an escape route for radioactive material bottled up inside the thick steel-and-concrete reactor vessel….Crews noted a drop in pressure after the blast inside the unit 2 reactor and within a doughnut-shaped structure below, called a suppression pool. The simultaneous loss of pressure in those two places indicates serious damage, nuclear experts said.**
The doughnut-shaped structure is the torus, as seen in this pic:
The torus holds about a million gallons of water that is used to spray inside the containment chamber, to cool the rods. A crack in it means that lethally radioactive water is leaking into the concrete-walled space beneath the torus. It also means that water must be constantly sprayed into the containment chamber to keep the rods from melting. Sadly, there is no way to do that.
The engineers that gave us the tour told us that if the torus mechanism was to fail, or a crack in the primary containment chamber was to occur, there was no possible engineering solution except continual remote-control spraying of water b/c the ambient radioactivity would prevent workers from getting near the area. Radioactive steam would escape due to the cracks in the containment. It would take an undetermined amount of time for the rods to cool. We didn’t discuss it but the spraying might go on and on and on: plutonium, created by the fission of uranium has a half-life of 24,000 years.
The retreat of the workers deployed to manually water into the reactors at Fukushima coincided with a quick rise in lethal radioactivity; plutonium certainly escaped b/c the fuel rods are composed of a new uranium/plutonium composite. Sadly, that radioactivity is not going to lessen; it’s going to increase as reactor #2 continues melting, and the other 5 follow (b/c nobody is there to continue cooling them).
That our mainstream media is not telling us this is understandable. The total loss of control over the nuke does not fit into the narrative schemes of technocratic optimism, or Obama’s plans to build 30 new reactors, or what GE bought MSNBC for. So, we’ll wait for Japan’s Prime Minister to get the Tokyo Electric public relations team to make the announcement. This might take longer than is wise; but the delay is rationalized by technological optimism/hubris, the fear that global stock exchanges will plummet, and that the Japanese people will panic.
Tokyo Electric is trying to electricity to the plant. If it can, it might be possible to turn on the remote cooling systems that aren’t broken. Lots of steam will produced, perhaps for a very time.
- How the Valley Works @ Vermont Yankee
- Fukushima, technological determinism & exitless dead-ends
- Whatever we do to nature, we do to ourselves
- Bill Clinton’s latest bad idea: Goldman Sachs trading “carbon credits” on Wall St.
- the mental equivalent of wilderness: wild words (& why we should speak them)