After being gone for a few weeks, here is take on what is going on at Fukushima, and it doesn’t seem very positive.
It is now confirmed that the fuel melted inside the reactor vessels of Units 1, 2, & 3; and has breached and melted through the thick steel walls. This alone makes this “accident” the most serious technological failure in history. The sea water that is being pumped in to cool the fuel is leaking right back out and flooding the drywell and basement. This water is very radioactive, and prevents anyone getting in there to “seal” the leaks, which will be very difficult to do. The first order is to do something with the 25+million gallons of water that can’t just be released back into the ocean. Areva, from France, has installed a water treatment facility, but it isn’t working. Seems the water is more radioactive than first thought, and it clogged the filters in a very short period of time. Once the system is hopefully up and running, it will clean the water so it can be recycled back into the reactors for cooling, picking up more radioactivity in the process, until the leaks are sealed. This may take years to accomplish. It is estimated that the filters will produce 2-3000 cubic meters of highly radioactive sludge, which must be contained and stored. In the US, sludge was put into tanks at Hanford which eventually leaked and are still being dealt with after years and hundred of millions of dollars. The plan in Japan is to store the sludge in about 2000 canisters which will then be stored someplace until some kind of repository or new technology can deal with them. Pretty expensive! Let the kids deal with it!
It will be years before the three reactors are stabilized, and they probably will never be fully decommissioned. Estimates are $100+ billion…probably more than the net worth of the entire Japanese nuclear industry.
It’s all about water:
Here in the US, flooding threatens several nukes in the Midwest. Although shut down, Fort Calhoun is now on backup emergency power to keep everything cool and working. Acts of God, acts or terrorism, acts of human stupidity…all our nukes are vulnerable. But for now, everything is fine!
Another major issue that will be addressed soon is the relicensing of old power plants. Original licenses were for 40 years, which translates to 30 years of operation, since refueling and maintenance requires long down times. Since most of our plants were built in the 60’s and 70’s, they are rapidly coming due for closure. Since building new ones is very expensive, and decommissioning will cost way more than their original construction, the industry wants to keep running the old ones, since most of them are already paid for; and they generate cheap electricity, since the utilities don’t have to contend with future costs of decommissioning and waste storage, insurance, etc. The NRC has pretty much rubber stamped the relicensing process without any serious reflection on the consequences. All this will be called to question in the near future.
Sort of like running a 1972 Ford Fairlane with 250,000 miles on it.
As for the continuing debate on the storage of High Level Wastes, more politics comes into the mix. This month, the Blue Ribbon Panel appointed by Obama will issue it’s report. Both sides will have a field day…science vs. politics…sort of like the whole climate change issue.
On last quip…a very interesting article on renewables by the military.
In spite of it’s political PR on building 26 nuclear reactors by 2025, reality and intelligence pervades even the super rich!
It’s sunny today…supposed to rain tomorrow!