Friday, March 11, 2011

Japan Earthquake Atomic Emergency

This is Alex Smith of Radio Ecoshock with a blog and audio bulletin.

Japan has 24 hours to avoid a nuclear reactor melt-down.

There are reports of 5 nuclear reactors damaged either by the country's largest-ever Earthquake, but also by the tsunami that followed.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor first lost it's water cooling system, then a backup diesel generation scheme failed. Only insufficient cooling from limited-life batteries are working.

Even though rods to discourage atomic activity were allegedly automatically lowered in the Seismic shift, the core continues to heat up. The technical brakes were not enough to stop the car.

Inside one reactor, dangerous pressure is building, being 50 percent above normal on March 11th at 8:30 Pacific Time.

Japanese officials are scramlbing to try to deliver backup equipment, despite closed airports and damaged roads. Rumors sparked by Hilary Clinton, that the U.S. was delivering a special coolant, may prove untrue, as the reactor has so far used plain water.

In order to reduce the over-pressure, and some heat, top Japanese officials are openly discussing, or is it announcing? - that relief valves may be opened to vent radioactive gas into the atmophere. Early reports said 3,000 people were initially ordered to evacuate. Later reports said the government expanded that beyond 10,000 people.

After being hit by atomic weapons, the Japanese people are highly concerned about the release of radioactivity. A government announcement may signal the danger in the reactor core is very serious.

Newsmax has an interview by David Patten, with Mark Hibbs, a former editor with the nuclear insider publications "Nucleonics Week" and "Nuclear Fuel". He now applies his expertise with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the non-profit think-tank.

Hibbs finds the Japanese danger very similar to the Three Mile Island melt-down in the United States in 1979. Hibbs says that at least one Japanese reactor, and maybe more, are headed toward a core melt-down event.

Hibbs says the Japanese will find out within the next 24 hours whether they can prevent a runaway nuclear accident.

That could blow horrendous amounts of radioactive materials into the surrounding region, or even high into the atmosphere to raise background levels in the whole Northern Hemisphere.

Less blinkered than CNN or any American network, here is Al Jezeera, Friday night in Vancouver.

"And let's get more on what Japan is calling 'An Atomic Emergency.' Radiation levels at a nuclear plant damaged by the quake have been recorded at a thousand times above normal.

People living near the Fukushima plants 240 kilometers north of Tokyo have been evacuated.

The cooling systems in two reactors failed, when the quake caused a power outage. Steam is being released to relieve the pressure. The vapor is radioactive but safety officials say there is no immediate health hazard.

Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan says the nuclear facility is his most pressing concern.

[footage with translator for Prime Minister Naoto Kan]

'At the moment we have ordered a ten kilometer exclusion zone around the facility. I'm going there with experts from the industry, to talk with the people responsible on the ground. And to grasp how the situation is.

On this basis, we will make the necessary decisions.'

[Al Jezeera anchor]

OK, well let's talk now, Al Jezeera's Steve Chou joins us on the line from Tokyo. Clearly, one of the most pressing concerns at the moment is these nuclear leaks. Do you know what's being done about them?

[Steve Chou]

Well very much so Laura. As you mentioned, a State of Emergench has been declared for five different reactors at two different sites. And at this point there was a mad scramble to try to cool the nuclear cores in several of these facilities.

We understand that the U.S. Air Force which has many military bases in and around Japan, has shipped some coolant to one nuclear facility, but at this point it is a big concern.

One Senior scientist from the U.S., look at this situation says that Japan may face a disaster on the scale of Chernobyl if they are unable to cool these nuclear cores.

The concern right now is that the pressure building within these containment facilities might cause a melt-down in the next few hours, in the next few days. The concern right now, the race is to cool off those nuclear cores."

Back at Newsmax, nuclear expert Mark Hibbs says he has talked with Japanese nuclear officials who suggest the Tsunami waters may have flooded at least one reactor, disabling control mechanisms and backup systems. Whether anyone can install a new cooling system in time is unknown.

If not, Japan gets its first Three Mile Island event, or even a Chernobly event.

When I last checked, a list of 28 major Japanese nuclear power reactors, late on March 11th, only 9 were in normal operation. Eleven were automatically shut down during the Earth Quake. The rest were either not operating, or shutdown for a periodic inspection.

There is a big loss to Japanese electricity production cabability, because they are so dependent on nuclear power.

Some demand has fallen, because so much power is out in parts of the country, due to the quake and tsunami wrecking buildings, powerlines, and transmission stations.

Large power users like the Toyota factories have announced they are closed until further notice. It is possible there is not enough power to run the Japanese manufacturing and export economy, at least for a short period.

Japan does have backup power capacity with natural gas generators. These emit more greenhouse gases, and just the prospect of Japan ordering extra tankers of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) to make up for lost nucler capacity has already pushed up the price of LNG on the London international market.

However, as there has been a near-glut of gas following gas fracking discoveries in many countries, the Earth quake may not result in long term changes to LNG prices.

None of this touches on the stock market and banking disquiet of one of the world's largest economies, led by one of the most financialy over-extended governments (read super-debt), and Japanese big banks which may be bankrupt, like other in the Western-style system.

The government has already announced still more bond sales, and like the U.S. government, may buy back their own securities to finance a gigantic rebuilding effort. High unemployment in Japan may ease temporarily.

In an already fragile economic and ecological system, the double threat of nuclear failure, both immediate with radiation, and long-term in disinvestment in nuclear power as a whole, is predictable. We just didn't know an earthquake would create the next disaster. In a country which allegedly led the way in earthquake engineering and construction. If it failed in Japan, it will fail even more in California, Indonesia, and many parts of the world.

People in Japan have every reason to be very worried abou this new nuclear threat. The Japanese government has not been forthright about the nuclear material already leaking out, or the real long-term risk of the purposely vented "vapor."

If a major accident occurred, children around the Northern Hemisphere could acquire another dose toward their higher cancer risk.

Nuclear power is never safe.

Alex Smith host, Radio Ecoshock

No comments: