Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Japan Syndrome


I am not a fan of nuclear power. I understand the need for it and I understand why it is necessary. But I also understand the risks of having to have to depend on nuclear energy. New York City and over 20,000,000 people sit 50 miles away from Indian Point, a nuclear plant that has had many problems.

One would also think the Japanese would understand the nightmare of an uncontrolled nuclear power release.


The 8.9 magnitude Sendai Earthquake of March 11 is the 5th strongest quake in recorded history. The stronger quakes are as follows:
  1. Chile - 5/22/1960   9.5 magnitude
  2. Alaska - 3/27/1964    9.2 magnitude
  3. Indonesia - 12/26/2004   9.1 magnitude
  4. Russia - 11/4/1952   9.0 magnitude
Japan is located in one of the most seismically active areas of the planet. The Great Tokyo quake of 1923 killed almost 150,000 people and leveled the city of Yokohama. In 1996, Kobe was the center of another power quake that killed 6,500. Neither of those quakes release energy to cause a major tsunami, and neither of those quakes caused an explosion at a nuclear power plant.

Japan is highly dependent on nuclear energy.  The Fukushima power plant sits on the Pacific Ocean, relatively close (in nuclear terms - any reactor is probably too close to earthquake faults) to the epicenter (which was 80 miles off the coast of Japan) of the Sendai quake.  The force of this quake cause the Fukushima plant to suffer severe damage and explode. The potential of a core meltdown at Fukushima is very real.  Core meltdowns are - to say the least - not good things.  They are not good on Star Trek, and they are definitely not good in the non-Gene Roddenberry real world.  25 years ago Europe woke up to the effects of a core meltdown - and it was devastating.

The worst nuclear disaster in history was the Chernobyl meltdown in Ukraine on April 26, 1986. The explosion at the #4 reactor released a toxic cloud that covered much of Eastern Europe. A zone around the plant in Ukraine has been rendered uninhabitable.  Food and livestock had to be destroyed.  Cancer deaths have increased. The US is not immune to a potential nuclear nightmare. Not as environmentally damaging, but perhaps equally as bad from a public relations angle was the Three Mile Island disaster in Pennsylvania on March 28, 1979. TMI released minimal radiation, and brought to the forefront a much needed discussion about nuclear safety. In a stroke of marketing luck - the film The China Syndrome opened 12 days prior to the accident at TMI. In the film, a physicist says that the China Syndrome (which refers to a core meltdown) would render "an area the size of Pennsylvania" permanently uninhabitable.

The term 'China Syndrome' was coined by Dr. Richard Lapp in 1971.  It refers to the most severe meltdown a nuclear reactor could achieve. A reactor would reach its highest level of 'supercriticality' for a sustained period of time, resulting in the melting of its support inginfrastructure. The core (consisting of uranium) could then reach temperatures in excess of 2000°C. These temperatures would melt all materials around it, and theoretically the reactor would sink due to gravity, effectively boring a hole through the reactor compartment's floor - heading straight for China. (of course there is no way the molten core would ever get to China or Japan).

One would think that between the Gulf of Mexico disaster, the political turmoil in the Middle East and now the potential of another meltdown at the Fukushima plant the world would really get serious about alternative energy - no matter the cost.  Then again this is the human race - controlled by the likes of Exxon and the Koch brothers who are much more concerned about profits that preservation.

I guess the Koch boys do live in a Gene Roddenberry world and have their escape pods all ready to shoot them to Romulus or Klingon.

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4 Comments:

  • Don't fall for the media hype. Chernobyl did NOT have any kind of containment, it was just a pile of (flammable) graphite with nuclear fuel in it. The reactors in Japan are in containment vessels inside containment buildings and are water cooled and designed to "safe fail" (which isn't the same as the unrealistic "fail safe"). They are currently pouring seawater into at least one of the at-risk reactors to cool it. That will make the reactor unusable but also will allow it to be safely cleaned up.

    I'd rather have my pollution (i.e. radioactive waste) contained than vented (mercury and yes, radioactive byproducts of burning coal).

    By Anonymous Jack, at 6:36 PM  

  • i would rather have no radiation or the potential of radiation

    nuclear plants near faults or in seismic zones is not the way to go.. to say the least

    By Blogger Distributorcap, at 7:42 PM  

  • With the vast size of the Tsunami damage, it was inevitable that some folks to the Lib/Left/Prog side of the spectrum would relieve their "disaster overload" by surgically extracting only the nuclear issues, a comforting tactic, where they can rehash old arguments, and feel in charge again. With several thousand square miles filled with the muddy, stinking junk that used to be Japan (and the Japanese people), however,... this dodge is immoral to say the least. Perhaps we ought to be talking about building 100 foot high parapets out of reinforced concrete along the entire Japan coastline. Maybe we ought to plan the permanent clearing of all human habitation up to 10 kilometers inland. Maybe all houses should be reinforced concrete on 30 foot stilt legs, with hermetically sealed safe rooms. Perhaps someone should compute all the toxic chemicals released from all those crushed (and very large) tanks we see in the videos. Maybe we should be talking about pre-placed strategic food reserves, left upland for tsunami use. But we don't. We just go right back to the science fiction side, and talk about nuclear. If one or two of those plants suffers meltdown, so what? Some iodine fumes would blanket what? A sea of mnud & dead corpses? There's no civilization left. A little nuke gas wafted over the deadfield will have nothing to kill, that is not already dead.

    In the meantime, all those civilized comforts provided by the non-polluting nuke electric plants for 40 years are not to be forgotten. Think of Tokyo's lights at night.The nuke plants will be flooded with seawater & abandoned.The real task will be to dig out, rebuild, and start up the other nukes, to power the effort.Forget the nukes. They are too small a worry.

    By Blogger 22a-rbZD.007, at 5:36 AM  

  • I read this three times looking for some rational point -- but perhaps some of your fuel rods were exposed?

    By Blogger Capt. Fogg, at 10:58 AM  

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