Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Article on Fukushima in today's (8/17/11) issue of The Independent with my comments in red font

The explosive truth behind Fukushima's meltdown

Japan insists its nuclear crisis was caused by an unforeseeable combination of tsunami and earthquake. This is a true statement. But new evidence suggests its reactors were doomed to fail An emotive statement which one assumes the basis of which is described below – let us see. (My comments continue in red font below)
By David McNeill in Tokyo and Jake Adelstein
Wednesday, 17 August 2011

It is one of the mysteries of Japan's ongoing nuclear crisis: How much damage did the 11 March earthquake inflict on the Fukushima Daiichi reactors before the tsunami hit? A great deal – you only needed to watch the TV and look at the photographs issued on March 11 – you don’t need any engineering or radiological knowledge to work that out, just at least one functional eye and a TV or the Internet or newspaper the following day to work that out.
The stakes are high: if the earthquake structurally compromised the plant and the safety of its nuclear fuel, then every similar reactor in Japan may have to be shut down. With almost all of Japan's 54 reactors either offline (in the case of 35) or scheduled for shutdown by next April, the issue of structural safety looms over any discussion about restarting them. Absolutely – who is denying this?  Do you really think that this has, is and will continue not to be the focus of discussion with all nuclear regulators, operators, stakeholders, communities, etc. etc,?
Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) and Japan's government are hardly reliable adjudicators in this controversy. Please advise why this should be a shock? This is why we have regulators such as the NII in the UK, the NRC in the US, and organizations such as INPO and the IAEA who get involved with these situations and set themselves to work immediately to help and minimize the risks in the future, with lessons learned, etc. What about INPO, the IAEA and numerous other smaller organizations that have extensive experience, credentials, and more importantly extremely biased views on assuring safety and quality in designing, building, operating and decommissioning nuclear facilities much to the cost of the utilities yet the utilities welcome such with open arms?  Yes, things were done wrong in the past, standards were not as high as they are now, is there room for improvement, of course, that is why there are never ending peer reviews, audits, inspections, and enforcements issued to assure Safety at nuclear facilities prior to, during and post operation.  "There has been no meltdown," government spokesman Yukio Edano repeated in the days after 11 March. Who the hell believes anybody in Government, that’s why they are in Government because they are full of bull and can BS themselves through lies, unsupportable promises and self preservation, they are ‘politicians’ it’s their job. How many other quotes can you find that show that this individual and who he represents, i.e. the Government, is obviously wrong, ignorant, ill informed and not plausible but he is supporting politicians and will state what he is told to state – he wants to keep his job. "It was an unforeseeable disaster," Tepco's then president Masataka Shimizu famously and improbably said later. Five months since the disaster, we now know that meltdown was already occurring as Mr Edano spoke. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but people like you, journalists, want statements and statements right now despite the fact that you always hold peoples feet to the fire for those statements before they have the chance to ensure what they are saying is correct when they are found later to be incorrect.  You, by the very way you do business want ‘good’ TV, posts on the internet, etc. love disasters such as this as it puts more food on your table. You can never be wrong because you don’t do anything apart from quote other people and put them in the spotlight. You have no real responsibility because if your reporting is right and on some globally interesting topic you get some BS reporting award, if it is wrong you blame your source – win win! And far from being unforeseeable, the disaster had been repeatedly forewarned by industry critics.
Throughout the months of lies and misinformation, one story has stuck: it was the earthquake that knocked out the plant's electric power, halting cooling to its six reactors. This is factual. The tsunami then washed out the plant's back-up generators 40 minutes later, shutting down all cooling and starting the chain of events that would cause the world's first triple meltdown. This is factual. You state ‘one story’ stuck, so I assume there are others – would you cite them to balance your report?
But what if recirculation pipes and cooling pipes burst after the earthquake – before the tidal wave reached the facilities; before the electricity went out? This would surprise few people familiar with the 40-year-old reactor one, the grandfather of the nuclear reactors still operating in Japan. The earthquake was in excess of the ‘design basis’ so the Tsunami’s impact is secondary.  The plants failure was to be expected with just the Earthquake so no surprise! As stated though this is 40 year old design and one can be assured that the design basis of more modern plant is more robust and conservative.
Problems with the fractured, deteriorating, poorly repaired pipes and the cooling system had been pointed out for years. In September 2002, Tepco admitted covering up data about cracks in critical circulation pipes. In their analysis of the cover-up, The Citizen's Nuclear Information Centre writes: "The records that were covered up had to do with cracks in parts of the reactor known as recirculation pipes. These pipes are there to siphon off heat from the reactor. If these pipes were to fracture, it would result in a serious accident in which coolant leaks out." I agree that this is unacceptable behavior and assurances should be given that such cover ups, etc. cannot occur again BUT the plant did not fail until it was subjected to a ‘beyond design basis’ situation.  The question that needs to be answered here is how do we assure ourselves that future ‘design basis’ considerations are bounding and cannot in no manner be exceed and how are they to be applied to existing plants as well as the proposed ones.
On 2 March, nine days before the meltdown, government watchdog the Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) warned Tepco on its failure to inspect critical pieces of equipment at the plant, including recirculation pumps. Tepco was ordered to make the inspections, perform repairs if needed and report to NISA on 2 June. It does not appear, as of now, that the report has been filed. The fact that NISA did this is good although one might beg the question why was this request not made earlier but without the facts this is difficult to judge.  Notwithstanding this what report are you expecting to be filed, have things not changed maybe a little, what would be the benefit of such a report now even if one could be drafted, what is your point?
The Independent has spoken to several workers at the plant who recite the same story: serious damage, to piping and at least one of the reactors, occurred before the tsunami hit. All have requested anonymity because they are still working at or connected with the stricken plant. Worker A, a maintenance engineer who was at the Fukushima complex on the day of the disaster, recalls hissing, leaking pipes. Again no surprises, “beyond design basis accident”.  The plant piping behaved exactly as you would expect.
"I personally saw pipes that had come apart and I assume that there were many more that had been broken throughout the plant. There's no doubt that the earthquake did a lot of damage inside the plant... I also saw that part of the wall of the turbine building for reactor one had come away. That crack might have affected the reactor. Note the link here that reports such observations on March 17th!
The reactor walls are quite fragile, he notes: "If the walls are too rigid, they can crack under the slightest pressure from inside so they have to be breakable because if the pressure is kept inside... it can damage the equipment inside so it needs to be allowed to escape. So they are designed to fail in certain circumstance, so why the surprise? It's designed to give during a crisis, if not it could be worse – that might be shocking to others, but to us it's common sense." Worker B, a technician in his late 30s who was also on site at the time of the earthquake, recalls: "It felt like the earthquake hit in two waves, the first impact was so intense you could see the building shaking, the pipes buckling, and within minutes I saw pipes bursting. Some fell off the wall... Again to be expected.
"Someone yelled that we all needed to evacuate. But I was severely alarmed because as I was leaving I was told and I could see that several pipes had cracked open, including what I believe were cold water supply pipes. That would mean that coolant couldn't get to the reactor core. If you can't sufficiently get the coolant to the core, it melts down. And that is exactly what happened. You don't have to have to be a nuclear scientist to figure that out." As he was heading to his car, he could see that the walls of the reactor one building had started to collapse. "There were holes in them. In the first few minutes, no one was thinking about a tsunami. We were thinking about survival."
The suspicion that the earthquake caused severe damage to the reactors is strengthened by reports that radiation leaked from the plant minutes later. The Bloomberg news agency has reported that a radiation alarm went off about a mile from the plant at 3.29pm, before the tsunami hit. Why would there be suspicion, it is obvious that the earthquake did major and significant damage that would lead to the potential for meltdown.
The reason for official reluctance to admit that the earthquake did direct structural damage to reactor one is obvious. Katsunobu Onda, author of Tepco: The Dark Empire, explains it this way: A government or industry admission "raises suspicions about the safety of every reactor they run. They are using a number of antiquated reactors that have the same systematic problems, the same wear and tear on the piping." Earthquakes, of course, are commonplace in Japan. This is based on hypothesis that, in this instance, became fact BUT when this plant was designed an Earthquake of this magnitude was never predicted.  We now know better and must react appropriately in the future but do not lose sight of the fact, as I have stated earlier, the ‘design bases’ for newer plants are more conservative, the design, build and inspection codes and operational requirements become more and more onerous each and every passing year based on operational experiences, R&D, and environmental facets, etc.  The ever growing development of QA and QC to assure compliance with codes, procedures and regulations is an industry in itself which further supports and builds confidence that such issues as this extremely unfortunate one in Japan will not and cannot happen again with the latest generation plants.  I agree that we have old, lower standard plant, but that is a legacy that has to be dealt with and scaremongering articles painting a picture that the industry is out of control and no new build should occur is inappropriate and extremely short sighted.
Mitsuhiko Tanaka, a former nuclear plant designer, describes what occurred on 11 March as a loss-of-coolant accident. "The data that Tepco has made public shows a huge loss of coolant within the first few hours of the earthquake. It can't be accounted for by the loss of electrical power. There was already so much damage to the cooling system that a meltdown was inevitable long before the tsunami came." This point is fully understood and those who have only a modicum of knowledge know that the Tsunami was a ‘post event’ issue and that the inevitability of meltdown was known because of the magnitude of the Earthquake.
He says the released data shows that at 2.52pm, just after the quake, the emergency circulation equipment of both the A and B systems automatically started up. "This only happens when there is a loss of coolant." This is an interesting statement. It is understood that the reactors ‘SCRAMmed’ successfully after the earthquake hence the starting of diverse, independent, segregated and separated cooling systems is normal independent of the primary system’s status. Between 3.04 and 3.11pm, the water sprayer inside the containment vessel was turned on. Mr Tanaka says that it is an emergency measure only done when other cooling systems have failed. This, one assumes, is due to the pipe damage hence once again ‘operational  protocol’ was observed quickly and appropriately implemented. By the time the tsunami arrived and knocked out all the electrical systems, at about 3.37pm, the plant was already on its way to melting down. Understood.
Kei Sugaoka, who conducted on-site inspections at the plant and was the first to blow the whistle on Tepco's data tampering, says he was not surprised by what happened. In a letter to the Japanese government, dated 28 June 2000, he warned that Tepco continued to operate a severely damaged steam dryer in the plant 10 years after he pointed out the problem. The government sat on the warning for two years. This is despicable and needs to be addressed specifically and generically. People such as Sugaoka need to be commended with more of them needed but the issue here is how do we ensure such observations, etc. are followed up in a timely manner as this type of behavior is morally and culturally unacceptable in such an industry that can have such horrendous consequences if things go wrong? But, what was the impact of a ‘severely’ damaged steam dryer?  I would propose none and that this was a commercial and availability issues not a nuclear one but I have no knowledge base. I wonder why the observation was not forwarded to the NISA and if it was so significant why did the ‘reporter’ not follow up?
"I always thought it was just a matter of time," he says of the disaster. "This is one of those times in my life when I'm not happy I was right." Interesting.
During his research, Mr Onda spoke with several engineers who worked at the Tepco plants. One told him that often piping would not match up to the blueprints. In that case, the only solution was to use heavy machinery to pull the pipes close enough together to weld them shut. This seems, on first read, to be an amazing statement BUT was this part of the engineering pre-stressing required to ensure that the piping was installed in the correct manner to withstand thermal cycling and design basis earthquake?  Again, on the face of it a ‘frightening’ statement but I think a little more detail is required before ‘doom and gloom’ conclusions are drawn. Inspection of piping was often cursory and the backs of the pipes, which were hard to reach, were often ignored. Repair jobs were rushed; no one wanted to be exposed to nuclear radiation longer than necessary. Evidence, that supports such statements, needs to be brought out and shared with the appropriate authorities or such statements withdrawn.  The practice of ALARA (As Low As Reasonably Achievable) and ALARP (As Low As Reasonably Practicable) apply hence the latter part of this statement is correct and accurate but the basis is nothing to do with “no one wanted to be exposed to nuclear radiation longer than necessary” statement. Highly skilled and trained, independent staff are employed to enforce ALARA/ALARP principles and practices. My personal experience has shown that 99% of all nuclear workers consider that ALARA/ALARP practices are too rigidly applied, are to restrictive and far to ‘over protective’.  This is a very good thing so again statements cited above must be taken in context and expanded upon so that the reader can form an opinion on facts not just emotional snippets of information.
Mr Onda adds: "When I first visited the Fukushima Power Plant it was a web of pipes. Pipes on the wall, on the ceiling, on the ground. You'd have to walk over them, duck under them – sometimes you'd bump your head on them. The pipes, which regulate the heat of the reactor and carry coolant are the veins and arteries of a nuclear power plant; the core is the heart. If the pipes burst, vital components don't reach the heart and thus you have a heart attack, in nuclear terms: meltdown. In simpler terms, you can't cool a reactor core if the pipes carrying the coolant and regulating the heat rupture – it doesn't get to the core." More rhetoric – what does this add to the article apart from firing up emotions?
Tooru Hasuike, a Tepco employee from 1977 until 2009 and former general safety manager of the Fukushima plant, says: "The emergency plans for a nuclear disaster at the Fukushima plant had no mention of using seawater to cool the core. To pump seawater into the core is to destroy the reactor. The only reason you'd do that is no other water or coolant was available." Mr. Hasuike seems to have been very poor at his job, based on this article, and considering that he was at this plant for 32 years he should be severely embarrassed if only 10% of what is stated in this article is true especially being the General Safety Manager. 
Before dawn on 12 March, the water levels at the reactor began to plummet and the radiation began rising. The Tepco press release published just past 4am that day states: "The pressure within the containment vessel is high but stable." There was one note buried in the release that many people missed: "The emergency water circulation system was cooling the steam within the core; it has ceased to function." “Buried in the release, many people missed” interesting – let’s keep promoting the fact that Tepco did say what was happening or didn’t they?
At 9.51pm, under the chief executive's orders, the inside of the reactor building was declared a no-entry zone. At around 11pm, radiation levels for the inside of the turbine building, which was next door to reactor reached levels of 0.5 to 1.2 mSv per hour. In other words, the meltdown was already underway. At those levels, if you spent 20 minutes exposed to those radiation levels you would exceed the five-year limit for a nuclear reactor worker in Japan. Hence why the area was made an exclusion zone – more emotional rhetoric – would you have preferred the ‘no-entry’ zone to be declared at 10pm, 11pm 1am, what is you point?
Sometime between 4 and 6am, on 12 March, Masao Yoshida, the plant manager decided it was time to pump seawater into the reactor core and notified Tepco. Seawater was not pumped in until hours after a hydrogen explosion occurred, at roughly 8pm. By then, it was probably already too late. “Too late” too late for what?
Later that month, Tepco went some way toward admitting at least some of these claims in a report called "Reactor Core Status of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station Unit One". The report said there was pre-tsunami damage to key facilities, including pipes. Why is this only ‘some way’ toward admitting? It states pipes and pipes it is?
"This means that assurances from the industry in Japan and overseas that the reactors were robust is now blown apart," said Shaun Burnie, an independent nuclear waste consultant who works with Greenpeace. "It raises fundamental questions on all reactors in high seismic risk areas." Yes it does and has since years before 3/11/11 and continues to be the case. Go onto the NRC ( and NII ( web-sites and search under ‘seismic’ and read the facts.
As Mr Burnie points out, Tepco also admitted massive fuel melt 16 hours after loss of coolant, and seven or eight hours before the explosion in Unit One. "Since they must have known all this, their decision to flood with massive water volumes would guarantee massive additional contamination – including leaks to the ocean."
No one knows how much damage was done to the plant by the earthquake, or if this damage alone would account for the meltdown. But certainly Tepco's data and eyewitness testimony indicates that the damage was significant.
As Mr Hasuike says: "Tepco and the government of Japan have provided many explanations. They don't make sense. The one thing they haven't provided is the truth. It's time they did." I agree with this and in the future open and honest information must be issued in a timely manner BUT the collection of information can be a long, slow and arduous process and the consequences of reporting information that is incorrect has significant consequences as is supported by the basis of this article.
It is amazing how many people had concerns, where the issues where, knew this was going to happen and why AFTER the event.
I am all for independent reporting but we have to take a little of the ‘emotion’ and ‘subjectivity’ out of such articles and support statements that are made with cited references and stop ‘cherry picking’ the facts to paint an abstract picture.
Generally a good article – keep up the good work and I hope you take my points herein as productive criticism.

No comments: