Fukushima Three Years Later

Yesterday was the third anniversary of the destruction of part of the Fukushima Daiichi reactor complex, so I guess that makes today the third anniversary of the Fukushima meltdown (or at least the start of it). Reader Neutron Flux sent over a piece from the nuclear operators’ perspective. I think it’s a bit rosy on Fukushima’s future, but the US response hasn’t been well reported:

In the United States, similar work is also in process and showing real progress. By the end of this year, two regional centers, each with five full sets of mobile backup emergency equipment, will be opened. This backs up equipment already bought by and stationed near the nuclear plants themselves; NEI informs us that 20 nuclear plants will complete their FLEX preparations by the third quarter of 2014 in the area of mobile electric power. Twenty plants will also have installed spent fuel pool water level monitoring equipment. Already completed are plant-specific seismic walkdowns and flooding walkdowns; actions resulting from these are all forthcoming. In all, over 1500 pieces of equipment (such as generator trucks and water pump trucks) have been purchased for this FLEX effort, or are on order. NEI reports that all FLEX modifications at all nuclear plants in the United States will be complete by 2016.

Though it looks like there have been no deaths attributable to radiation, the Japanese government says that 1,600 people evacuated from Fukushima died due to causes “related to the disaster”.  100,000 of the 270,000 evacuees are still in temporary housing

Overall, judging from these charts, there are still plenty of reactors planned or being built, mostly in Asia.

33 replies
  1. 1
    Neutron Flux says:

    For the record, I agree with Mistermix wrt to the optimistic outlook, but after all, they are a trade group.

  2. 2
    Joel says:

    I was in Xi’an a few years back and visited Hanyangling, which is located between the city and the airport. Not too far from that burial site is a coal-burning power plant. The smog is intense there; it resembles what happened to Beijing last year, but I imagine it’s always like that.

    The coal burners are being replaced/supplemented by nuclear. I don’t see how things can get all that much worse.

  3. 3
    c u n d gulag says:

    All of this is why I was an Anti-Nuke organizer in NY, NJ, and PA, back in the late 70’s and early 80’s!

    Too bad Reagan tore the solar panels off of The White House, and told people to take their sweaters off, and crank-up the furnaces!

    America has lost 30+ years on the alternative energy front – one that doesn’t include nuclear.

  4. 4
    Campionrules says:

    Any minute now, the West Coast of the US will be irradiated and people will start to suffer. Annnny minute now…..

    In all seriousness, the anti-nuke crowd is just as a bad as those pushing climate change denial. At least the deniers are upfront about using fossil fuels. The anti-nuke crowd is trying to ‘save us’ why causing untold more deaths due to pollution.

  5. 5
    c u n d gulag says:

    Just ask the people of Ukraine, and surrounding countries around the Chernobyl area, about the impact of that disaster.
    It’s almost 30 years later, and areas are still unlivable – or, should be.

  6. 6
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    @c u n d gulag:

    Chernobyl was a poorly designed, poorly maintained antique. How about we give up airline travel because a TWA Constellation crashed in Reading, PA in 1948?

  7. 7
    c u n d gulag says:

    @Higgs Boson’s Mate:
    Ok, good point.

    But the point still remains, where do we put, what do we do with, the spent fuel-rods?

  8. 8
    Campionrules says:

    @c u n d gulag: Got a nice empty mountain in the middle of nowhere. Just have to wait until Harry Reid is no longer the Senator from Nevada.

  9. 9
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @c u n d gulag: Deep geological burial, like Finland is starting to carry out. Shame they’re burying a lot of unspent fuel along with the few tonnes of actual waste they’ve accumulated over the past few decades but there are financial reasons for doing so as uranium is cheap and abundant.

    Where do we put, what do we do with the billions of tonnes of CO2 released annually from coal-burning power stations? Or the coal-mining sludge filling up West Virginia rivers? Or the coal ash ponds overflowing into waterways during floods?

  10. 10
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    @c u n d gulag:
    As I’m sure you know, there’s currently no 100% safe way to store store spent fuel rods for the thousands of years that it will take for them to decay to the level of background radiation. The Federal government took responsibility for finding a solution to the disposal problem back in 1983 and subsequently spent over $10Bn on the project concluding that the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project was the least-worst solution. The Obama administration cut off funding for Yucca Mountain in its 2009 budget proposal touting the de-funding as a cost saving measure.

    The way I see it, opponents of nuclear believe that the possible and potential risks of storing spent nuclear fuel outweigh the actual deaths and pollution caused by our use of fossil fuels. I can’t buy that argument because many of its proponents don’t seem to be clamoring for the same level of safety from fossil fuel use. To me. real deaths, real illness and real pollution outweigh the long shot negative consequences from storing spent nuclear fuel to the very best of our current abilities.

  11. 11
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:


    I admit though, that I may have been irreversibly brainwashed by the 1957 Disney TV show “Our Friend the Atom.” Yes, I am fucking old.

  12. 12

    1,600 people evacuated from Fukushima died due to causes “related to the disaster”.

    The disaster was a tsunami and a category 9 earthquake. The power plant is very, very small potatoes.

  13. 13
    The Other Chuck says:

    @Higgs Boson’s Mate:

    Chernobyl was a poorly designed, poorly maintained antique.

    And melted down under “test” conditions indistinguishable from systematic deliberate sabotage.

    I’m still not pro-nuclear since it appears the only really sustainable nuclear fuel cycle is the kind that produces weapons-grade material. That and Chernobyl still works as an indictment of the people who could be running the nuclear industry.

  14. 14
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @Higgs Boson’s Mate: Poorly designed, maybe… the RMBK-4 reactor itself like most power reactor designs actually worked quite well as a power-generating system. It was built cheaply with no containment structure but the way it blew up a containment structure wouldn’t actually have been much use as its peak power output during the destructive pulse was about 300 GW thermal, about a hundred times more energy than it produced under normal operations. Positive void coefficient is not your friend.

    As for them being antiques the Russians are still operating some RMBK-4s today and the last reactor at Chernobyl only shut down in 2000. Chernobyl-4, the reactor that blew up only operated for two years commercially before the disaster happened so it was actually quite new. It was chosen for the experimental operational tests in part because it was the newest RMBK-4 and had been the best-performing unit of its type up until then.

  15. 15
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @The Other Chuck: Actually light-water reactors don’t produce weapons-grade material. LWR spent fuel contains a mixture of Pu-239 (good for bombs) and Pu-240 (which isn’t at all good for bombs). The presence of the Pu-240 which can’t be separated out from the Pu-239 means mixed-isotope bombs don’t work well or at all for various reasons.

    Reactor designs like Magnox, CANDU and the RMBK-4 of Chernobyl fame (all carbon-moderated with separate fuel element channels) can be used to make purer forms of Pu-239 by running short operating cycles, depending on how crooked the operators are and if they could hide such shenanigans from IAEA inspectors.

  16. 16
    jenn says:

    Thanks mistermix and Neutron Flux, I appreciate the update!

  17. 17
    catclub says:

    @Higgs Boson’s Mate: I still think the safest disposal is in deep ocean trenches/sediments. The cement casks sink about 50m or more into the sediments. The problem is that it is a method that explicitly recognizes that it will fail. The fact that it will fail in a way that the radiation will be diluted over very long times and in LOTS of seawater, is apparently irrelevant.
    The geological (land) disposal locations are allowed to assert that they will never come into contact with water, due to said isolation. Of course if they did, it would be a small amount of water, so not so much dilution, but whatever.

    My understanding was that because of the mostly irrational ( but highly effective) reactions to poisoning Flipper, it was forbidden ( to many government scientists) to even bother discussing.

  18. 18
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    @Robert Sneddon:
    Thank you for enlightening me regarding the RMBK-4. Somewhere along the line, possibly as a result of the pervasive Reagan-era triumphalism, I’d managed to get the misimpression that Chernobyl was an obsolete design that had been run beyond its design life.

  19. 19
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:


    My understanding was that because of the mostly irrational ( but highly effective) reactions to poisoning Flipper…

    How do we know that, despite being an air breather, Flipper might not one day take a really deep breath and dive the seven miles to the bottom of the Marianas Trench? Ya’ know, to rescue someone’s bathyscaph or something? I’m sure that the 15,000 plus PSI pressure at that depth will not deter the plucky dolphin.

  20. 20
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @Higgs Boson’s Mate: the RMBK-4 was a bad idea and a poor design but it was actually a 1970s-era second-generation reactor in the same way the British AGRs were developed from the first-generation Magnox[0] power reactors. The RMBK-4 specifically allowed for short-cycle exposure of fuel to make pure weapons-grade plutonium (Pu-239) but by the time they were getting built the Soviets already had lots more nuclear weapons material than they would ever need thanks in part to President Nixon’s work on starting the SALT talks. Tricky Dicky may have been a bastard’s bastard but he gets one ice-cube a year in Hell for SALT if a compassionate God truly exists.

    Even fast reactors like the BN series aren’t positive-void coefficient thank Ghu. They have their own little peculiarities but not that kind of runaway physics.

    [0]Believe it or not Britain is still deriving about 500MW of generating capacity from a Magnox reactor, Wylfa 1 which started operation in 1971 since we have some unused fuel rods for it and 500MW of non-carbon generating capacity is not to be sniffed at. It’s not the oldest power reactor in the world still operating though.

  21. 21
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    @Robert Sneddon:

    You have informed my ignorance on an important subject. Thank you.

  22. 22
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @catclub: My own preferred version of that secenario would be ocean burial of highly-radioactive waste from reprocessing in a subduction zone several kilometres under the seabed using conventional deep-sea oil drilling technology. Over a period of a few million years geological processes would transport the waste down into the mantle slowly but surely thus removing it from the biosphere forever. One paradoxical objection to doing something like this is that the waste can’t be easily inspected after it is deposited there unlike most proposals for deep geological disposal on land which still permit access to the waste until the depository is permanently sealed when full.

  23. 23
    evolved beyond the fist mistermix says:

    @Frankensteinbeck: That excerpt is poorly worded but if you read the article, you’ll find that the 1,600 number is from evacuees due to the meltdown only, and those evacuees had a number of issues, including suicides.

  24. 24

    @evolved beyond the fist mistermix:
    One article calls them ‘Fukushima evacuees’. The other just calls them ‘area residents’. The evacuation is for the whole tsunami, not just for Fukushima. Neither article seems to make any effort to distinguish exactly which groups are which.

  25. 25
    Lee says:

    FYI American sailors aboard the USS Reagan are having all kinds of radiation related illnesses.


  26. 26
    Robert Sneddon says:

    The website is Russia Today, just in case anyone was wondering, the Newsmax of the ex-Soviet Union.

    Ummm, illnesses maybe, radiation related… the shopping list of medical problems described by the Reagan sailors bear little or no relationship, actually they bear absolutely no relationship to the effects of radiation exposure to human beings or mammals in general. It’s one of the things that has been thoroughly studied over the decades since the end of WWII, from Hiroshima and Nagasaki via a lot of human and animal tests involving atmospheric nuclear explosions, lab experiments etc. and what these people are claiming they are suffering from doesn’t remotely meet the sniff test for short-lived intense or prolonged low-level exposure to direct radiation or the ingestion or inhalation of radioactive substances.

    If nothing else the Japanese working at the reactor sites and involved in the inshore tsunami search and rescue efforts would have been exposed to thousands of times more radioactivity than the Reagan sailors and they would all be stone-cold dead years ago if what the sailors claim was actually caused by radioactivity. Makes a good story though, doesn’t it?

  27. 27
    Lee says:

    Sorry just grabbed the first link from The Google

    Here is a better one.

    Another one

    3rd times a charm

    Unless I get spam filtered….

  28. 28
    Robert Sneddon says:

    Your second link is Harvey “crazy-eyes” Wasserman, the Conspiracy Theorist’s Conspiracy Theorist when it comes to things nuclear. The others are basically recycling the original press reports of lawsuits ginned up by ambulance-chaser lawyers from the Orly Taitz school of “throw muck and hope enough of it sticks” who are supposedly fronting up this bunch of bullshit.

    I only glanced through some compilations of the assorted experiences reported by the Reagan sailors which are the core of these lawsuits when they first made the news a few weeks ago but the prompt effects one of them described sound like a bad outbreak of gastroenteritis more than anything to do with radiation. It’s notable that several cruiseliners have had similar food poisoning outbreaks reported in the past few years. Prompt radiation exposure serious enough to sicken people immediately knocks out bone marrow and destroys white blood cells allowing opportunistic infections to run riot. Hair loss, jaundice — if you’ve seen pictures of folks undergoing chemotherapy then serious radiation sickness looks a lot like that. It can be fatal within a couple of weeks unless hospitalisation and serious intensive-care steps are taken, infection control etc. and even then it doesn’t always work.

    The Reagan sailors in question are only coming forward with these stories months or years after the events of 3/11 and its aftermath with a whole range of symptoms which bear no resemblance to how radiation exposures actually affect the human body in the short and long term. Enough radiation to harm this many of them would have killed or crippled some who got higher-level dosages within a few days or weeks and this just didn’t happen. I really hope these folks aren’t burning through their own savings paying for their lawyer’s new BMW.

  29. 29
    Lee says:

    Crew members, many of whom are in their 20s, have been diagnosed with conditions including thyroid cancer, testicular cancer and leukemia.

    Yep that happens all the time on those vacation cruises.

  30. 30
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @Lee: I did say “prompt” effects. I recall one of the plaintiffs described how many of his crewmates were taken sick with diarrhea, vomiting and the like during the period when the carrier and its supporting ships were exposed to radioactivity from Fukushima. If those symptoms were due to radioactivity then most of the crew would have been dead within a few days or weeks as those are symptoms of an enormous radiation exposure in the 1-10 Sievert region. In the Tokaimura criticality incident in 1999 which killed three people, one of them almost instantaneously, they took doses of up to 17 Sieverts standing next to a tank of highly-enriched uranium solution that had gone critical i.e. it was for all intents and purposes an unshielded nuclear reactor they were standing next to.

    From what I understand the judge in the lawsuit has dismissed the case which is of course a coverup by the Powers that Be for their own nefarious reasons (see Orly Taitz for worked examples in the past). Might be their lawyers want a new BMW for their wives too so appeals are likely, until the money runs out.

  31. 31
    Lee says:

    They can’t sue the Navy and suing Tepco is iffy at best since it is a foreign country but that does mean they were not exposed.

    I’m guessing you did not actually read the articles:

    Mr Poneman: And this was – this was 30 times higher than what you would have expected? Mr Mueller: Yes sir.

    Keep telling yourself that there is nothing to it if it makes you feel better.

  32. 32
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @Lee: I have only so much time each day I assign to reading stupid crap and I used up all my interest in this nothingburger case a few days ago.

    I’ve got no idea what that line you quote means, who is responding to it, what was 30 times higher than what. Basically if enough radiation had landed on the USS Reagan to adversely effect some or all of the crew in the ways claimed in just a few hours the whole ship would still be a highly radioactive mess, uninhabitable and unusable to this day, much worse than the Fukushima site is right now where people have been working for months and years in places with significantly elevated radiation environments with no measurable adverse health effects.

  33. 33
    Lee says:

    I’ve got no idea what that line you quote means, who is responding to it, what was 30 times higher than what.

    Thanks for letting me know you didn’t read the articles.

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