Boiling Water Reactors (BWR) like Fukushima are an obsolete technology from the late 1960s. BWRs, like any other nuclear reactor that relies on a supply of pumped coolants to prevent overheating, are inherently dangerous. Recent events illustrate this. Fukushima has backup generators to provide power to the cooling supply in the event of a grid failure, but…what happens if the backup generators are also damaged? That is the question no one asks during planning. It is the equivalent of “What happens if the Russkies build a bigger bomb?” The answer is always “Well, then I guess we’re fucked.” Someone translate that into Japanese, please.
Fukushima is better designed than Chernobyl (which was the RMBK-type reactor that was so dangerous Brezhnev couldn’t even give them away to Third World countries) in that its defense-in-depth is stronger. What they share in common is two alarming design flaws. First, control rods have to be inserted mechanically from the bottom, which is not possible when power fails. Were they lowered in from above, gravity could do the work even in the absence of power. Second, the reactor continues to produce an incredible amount of heat after it has shut down. The reactors in Fukushima were long ago shut down, yet they continue to require extensive cooling to keep them subcritical. Modern nuclear technology does not replicate these flaws and thus, in my opinion, is a viable alternative to fossil fuel power. However, 99% of the operational reactors were built in the 1970s and feature the inherent limitations of that outdated technology.
The last step in any catastrophe is almost always human error. In Fukushima – again, this is my moderately informed opinion rather than fact – the people in charge attempted to save the economic value of the reactors rather than immediately recognizing the magnitude of the crisis and initiating their last-ditch safety measure: flooding the reactors with boron carbide and seawater, which would cool but also destroy them for good. They attempted less extreme measures – running the normal cooling systems on battery power, etc. – so that the reactors could be used to produce power again in the future. Accordingly, by the time they initiated the last resort plan involving seawater the reactors were already too hot, partially melted (as evidenced by airborne cesium), and beyond the point at which they could be cooled without adverse consequences if at all. It was, in a word, shocking to hear that 24 hours after the quake the Japanese authorities had yet to flood the reactors; the consequences are now apparent and will be increasingly so in the coming days.
Aside from the immediate tragedy – workers and residents exposed to radiation, thousands of gallons of radioactive liquid waste produced, etc. – the saddest thing about this is that it takes nuclear power off the table for a few decades much as Three Mile Island and Chernobyl did in the 1980s. It can be safe, but not with archaic 1960s technology that is fail-deadly and full of design flaws. Reactors operate here in the U.S. and around the world with very small margins of error. They are dangerous, and their “safe” operation depends on the assumption that nothing will happen to the reactor beyond what it is engineered to withstand. The more problems emerge from old Generation II designs, the lower the odds that advanced, passively safe, low-waste Gen IV reactors will ever go on line.
Whenever that James O’Keefe guy puts out another heavily edited video against some liberal bogeyman, both the White House and the Washington/New York media quickly fire everyone involved — because the only rational way to deal with claims made by partisan pranksters is to simply punish anyone targeted. That’s why Shirley Sherrod was immediately fired by the White House while the Lame Stream Media nodded approvingly and only Wonkette bothered to look at the allegedly damning video closely enough to see that Breitbart’s crew had carefully edited it to make Sherrod sound like a raving racist. Likewise, the firing of NPR executive Ron Schiller and his CEO boss was cheered by the liberal media and got solemn nods from Democrats in Washington. Only Glenn Beck’s reporters at his website, The Blaze, bothered to watch the unedited footage and note that the various bombshells in the video were taken out of context (the opinions of others made to look like the opinions of Schiller, for example) and that Schiller’s pro-Republican statements were (obviously) all cut out of the video released by O’Keefe.
Here’s the unedited section with Ron Schiller discussing the opinions of a senior Republican lawmaker and a major GOP donor. While Schiller seems to agree with the characterization of the Tea Party people at the end of this anecdote, it’s obvious he is quoting Republicans uneasy with the teabaggers here.
Go read it, even if it kills me that the Blaze did actual journalism.
How is Balboa able to charge such inflated premiums and get away with it?
It’s all very simple.
First, when you call in to customer service, for say, GMAC, you’re not actually speaking to a GMAC employee. You’re actually speaking to a Bank of America associate working for Balboa Insurance who is required by their business to business contract with GMAC to state that they are, in fact, an employee of GMAC. The reasoning is that if you do not realize you’re speaking to a Bank of America/Balboa Insurance employee, you have no reason to question the validity of the information you are receiving from them. If you call your insurance agent and ask them for the lienholder information for your GMAC/Wells Fargo/etc lien (home or auto) you will be provided with their name, but the mailing address will be a PO Box at one of Balboa’s 3 main tracking locations (Moon Township/Coreaopolis, PA, Dallas/Ft Worth, TX, or Phoenix/Chandler, AZ)
WASHINGTON — As the scale of Japan’s nuclear crisis begins to come to light, experts in Japan and the United States say the country is now facing a cascade of accumulating problems that suggest that radioactive releases of steam from the crippled plants could go on for weeks or even months.
The emergency flooding of two stricken reactors with seawater and the resulting steam releases are a desperate step intended to avoid a much bigger problem: a full meltdown of the nuclear cores in two reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. So far, Japanese officials have said the melting of the nuclear cores in the two plants is assumed to be “partial,” and the amount of radioactivity measured outside the plants, though twice the level Japan considers safe, has been relatively modest.
But Pentagon officials reported Sunday that helicopters flying 60 miles from the plant picked up small amounts of radioactive particulates — still being analyzed, but presumed to include Cesium-137 and Iodine-121 — suggesting widening environmental contamination. In a country where memories of a nuclear horror of a different sort in the last days of World War II weigh heavily on the national psyche and national politics, the impact of continued venting of long-lasting radioactivity from the plants is hard to overstate.
We reported earlier about the situation at Fukushima Dai-Ichi reactor Unit 1. The nuclear crisis in Japan took a turn for the worse as serious problems developed in reactor Unit 3.
Officials from Tokyo Electric reported that after multiple cooling system failures, the water level in the Unit 3 reactor vessel dropped 3 meters (nearly 10 feet), uncovering approximately 90 percent of the fuel in the reactor core. Authorities were able to inject cooling water with a fire pump after reducing the containment pressure by a controlled venting of radioactive gas. As they did with Unit 1, they began pumping sea water into Unit 3, which is highly corrosive and may preclude any future use of the reactor even if a crisis is averted.
However, Tokyo Electric has reported that the water level in the Unit 3 reactor still remains more than 2 meters (6 feet) below the top of the fuel, exposing about half the fuel to air, and they believe that water may be leaking from the reactor vessel. When the fuel is exposed to air it eventually overheats and suffers damage. It is likely that the fuel has experienced significant damage at this point, and the authorities have said they are proceeding on this assumption.
One particular concern with Unit 3 is the presence of mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel in the core. MOX is a mixture of plutonium and uranium oxides. In September 2010, 32 fuel assemblies containing MOX fuel were loaded into this reactor. This is about 6% of the core.
I have done considerable analysis on the safety risks associated with using MOX fuel in light-water reactors. The use of MOX generally increases the consequences of severe accidents in which large amounts of radioactive gas and aerosol are released compared to the same accident in a reactor using non-MOX fuel, because MOX fuel contains greater amounts of plutonium and other actinides, such as americium and curium, which have high radio-toxicities.
Because of this, the number of latent cancer fatalities resulting from an accident could increase by as much as a factor of five for a full core of MOX fuel compared to the same accident with no MOX. Fortunately, as noted above, the fraction of the fuel in this reactor that is MOX is small. Even so, I would estimate this could cause a roughly 10% increase in latent cancer fatalities if there were a severe accident with core melt and containment breach, which has not happened at this point and hopefully will not.
While the authorities continue playing down the possibility of a breach of the primary containment at these reactors, I remain concerned. Fukushima Dai-Ichi reactor Units 1, 2, and 3 are boiling water reactors with Mark I containments. The Mark I is unusually vulnerable to containment failure in the event of a core-melt accident. A recent study by Sandia National Laboratories shows that the likelihood of containment failure in this case is nearly 42% (see Table 4-7 on page 97). The most likely failure scenario involves the molten fuel burning through the reactor vessel, spilling onto the containment floor, and spreading until it contacts and breeches the steel containment-vessel wall. The Sandia report characterizes these probabilities as “quite high.” It’s not straightforward to interpret these results in the context of the very complicated and uncertain situation at Fukushima. But they are a clear indication of a worrisome vulnerability of the Mark I containment should the core completely melt and escape the reactor vessel.