Saturday, March 12, 2011
In an interview with Mark Hibbs, a Berlin-based senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a nonprofit think tank, Newsmax magazine asks – what happens next at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. The answer according to the nuclear expert, is that as Fukushima is now well on its way to a full core-melt nuclear accident, a worst case scenario could possibly lead to the same results last seen in 1986 Chernobyl.
Below we present a brief overview of the Fukushima plant from Wikipedia:
The Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant (Fukushima I NPP, 1F), often referred to as Fukushima Dai-ichi, is a nuclear power plant located in the town of Okuma in the Futaba District of Fukushima Prefecture. With six separate units located on site with a combined power of 4.7 GW, Fukushima I is one of the 25 largest nuclear power stations in the world. Fukushima I is the first nuclear plant to be constructed and run entirely by The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO).
Fukushima II Nuclear Power Plant, 11.5 kilometres (7.1 mi) to the south, is also run by TEPCO.
Unit Type First Criticality Electric Power Fukushima I – 1 BWR March 26, 1971 460 MW Fukushima I – 2 BWR July 18, 1974 784 MW Fukushima I – 3 BWR March 27, 1976 784 MW Fukushima I – 4 BWR October 12, 1978 784 MW Fukushima I – 5 BWR April 18, 1978 784 MW Fukushima I – 6 BWR October 24, 1979 1,100 MW Fukushima I – 7 (planned) ABWR October, 2013 1,380 MW Fukushima I – 8 (planned) ABWR October, 2014 1,380 MW
“What happened in Japan is very alarming because it would appear . . . that about 2:30 this afternoon Japan time, when the earthquake struck . . . three of the reactors that were operating were disenabled because of a loss of offsite power that was caused by the earthquake.”
The Japanese situation appears to be roughly analogous to the Three Mile Island incident in the United States, where authorities struggled for days to contain an improperly cooled reactor core but were able to avert a widespread release of nuclear material.
“We were in a situation as I recall then very similar to where we are now, where we were told by news media in 1979 that there was a core melt accident unfolding, we didn’t know how serious it would become, and what would happen,” Hibbs tells Newsmax.
At least one of the reactors in Japan, and perhaps more, “ are on the path of a core-melt accident. It’s called a loss of coolant accident. . . . And it’s up to the Japanese authorities, together with the industries in that country, to find a way to stem this problem,” he said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed that the United States is trying to help alleviate the situation. “We just had our Air Force assets in Japan transport some really important coolant to one of the nuclear plants,” Clinton said, according to the Associated Press.
The Japanese reactors are designed to drop neutron-blocking control rods into the core as soon as the plants detect a seismic disturbance. These controls apparently functioned normally. But even after the procedure, scientists say a base level of heat continues to flow, and coolant is needed to constrain those temperatures.
Asked how long Japanese scientists have to correct the problem to avoid a core meltdown, Hibbs tells Newsmax that it depends on system design, adding, “it could be a day, plus or minus 10 hours.”
“After a while, with the heat building up in there, and lack of coolant, you’re going to see damage in your fuel, the cladding, the metal container around the nuclear material, begins to buckle or balloon or break, and after a little while you’ll get a situation where the fuel falls apart, melts, and falls into the core, and then you’ve got a classical core melt accident like you had in Three Mile Island that you had in the United States in ’79.”
Hibbs spoke with Japanese government officials who told him the force of the tsunami was so severe that the water may have flooded the reactors, power generators, and cooling mechanisms, disabling the equipment. “Which means they have to resort to basically a military-type exercise, to rush in to the devastated site equipment that they can quickly hook up to the reactor to get power in there and start this emergency equipment, to get cooling water into that core and prevent that fuel from overheating.
“And if they can’t do that,” he told Newsmax, “then you’re going to have this meltdown.”
They have 24 hours or so to avoid a core meltdown, he says. But if one occurs, two scenarios could follow: The good outcome would mirror what happened at Three Mile Island, while the bad one could involve what he called a “Chernobyl scenario, where the damage to the reactor was such that the integrity of the structures were damaged.
“There was an explosion and other things happened in there, that opened up the reactor so the inventory of radioactive material . . . went into the atmosphere and generated this deadly plume that we know happened in Chernobyl.
“So that is the ultimate worst-case scenario. Nobody is saying that’s going to happen. Nobody is even saying we’re going to have a core meltdown. But we have a window of time now. We don’t know how much is left — but the Japanese authorities and the government and all the agencies that they can muster are working overtime to get cooling systems on that site powered and working.”
The April 1986 Chernobyl disaster cost an estimated 4,000 lives. More than 330,000 Russians had to be relocated because of contamination.
But Hibbs says, “A lot of worst-case things would have to happen for us to get that far.”
Hibbs said the Japanese right now are fighting the clock to contain the heating.
This article was posted: Saturday, March 12, 2011 at 7:50 am