Mar 122011

The Fukushima reactor facility has suffered a substantial explosion:

[youtube kjx-JlwYtyE]

The claim is that it’s a “hydrogen explosion,” rather than one of the reactor vessels themselves going “pop” like at Chernobyl. Even so, this is Not Good.

Anybody know why there’d be a large quantity of hydrogen on-hand at a nuclear reactor? One possibility is that water coolant was heated so much that it disassociated into hydrogen and oxygen, or the uranium in the reactor burning and tearing the water molecules apart to bond with the oxygen, leaving hydrogen. Neither one of these is a cheering possibility. If there is some more mundane reason for hydrogen to be on-hand in sizable quantites, I’d like to hear it. 

So, history has taught us two important lessons about nuclear powerplant safety:

1: Don’t let it be designed, administered, regulated and operated by socialists.

2: Don’t build it on a  friggen’ major earthquake zone, on the coast next to a tsunami zone.

What’s the lesson that is *likely* to be taught? The luddites and fearmongers will use this incident to further stymie efforts to restore the nuclear power program in the US. The reactor here is a forty year old design that got whacked with the seventh biggest earthquake since recording such things began, and took a thirty-foot tsunami. And since that original earthquake, it’s been kicked in the ass by *hundreds* of aftershocks, many of which would be substantial and newsworthy earthquakes in their own right.

And by the way: here’s an aerial tour of Minamisome, a coastal city of 71,000 that seems to have been completely washed away. Possibility exists that the ground subsided and the town actually *sank* into the sea. What’s especially spooky in the video is that the camera zooms in on a  number of still-standing buildings… and there ain’t nobody on the roofs.

[youtube MgZlUhuKMHo]

And entire city being washed away, killing potentially 71,000 people, will have a far greater deathtoll than any possible nuclear reactor disaster. But guess which one will get the headlines.

 Posted by at 7:56 am
  • Pat Flannery

    Don’t worry, it poses no threat to anyone, the Japanese nuclear power authority assures us.
    It’s just someone on the repair team farting after one too many pickled eggs and doesn’t affect the reactor itself…and if there was a meltdown, it only involved a single fuel rod.
    Look on the bright side; the dangerous pressure in the reactor vessel dropped right after the explosion.
    It was a draw.

    When you can see the shockwave coming off the top of the explosion, you know you’ve got a problem.
    In this article, they try to claim that the walls just blew off the building for some odd reason:
    I like this little part:

    “TV channels warned nearby residents to stay indoors, turn off air-conditioners and not to drink tap water. People going outside were also told to avoid exposing their skin and to cover their faces with masks and wet towels.”

    Yeah, nothing to see here…don’t move along.

  • Huron

    RT should never be used as a source.

  • Trimegistus

    Great. No new nuke plants for another couple of generations. No new oil drilling, closing down the coal mines, and solar and wind can’t make up the balance. Time to start stockpiling cow pats because that’s about the only power source we’ve got left.

  • Jim

    Hydrogen is purposefully used for generator cooling. H2 ‘may’ be a by-product of the fission process but that’s only speculation on my part.

    I sense that the news media and certain other elements of society are almost wishing for a major reactor event. Sickening.

  • s

    Hydrogen was produced in quantities large enough for worry during the Three Mile Island accident, by steam reacting with the zirconium fuel cladding. Something similar probably occurred here.

    But unlike my thoughts late last night, it looks like the core containment remained intact. If this is so, it speaks volumes for the robustness of the design. Not that anyone will listen.

  • Michael Scott

    Likely the hydrogen was produced by a catalytic reaction of zirconium (which his used as a cladding around fuel rods) and water that can occur at high temperature (around 2000F if memory serves). It disassociates water into H2 and 02 and the gases would accumulate in the containment building (in a stochastic ratio no less). This happened in Chernobyl as well at some point (though Chernobyl lacked a sealed containment building).

    I think they are right it was a hydrogen explosion. There is a characteristic pale orange-yellow flash to a hydrogen explosion and I think I see it in the video. It’s somewhat subtle and easy to miss.

    So, Fukushima no. 1 now lacks an outer containment building but it sounds like the reactor itself is “mostly” still intact, at least for the moment. Though the fact that they have measured radioactive cesium in the vicinity points to the likelihood that fuel rods have come uncovered from the cooling water and that fuel rods have been damaged. This is a very dicey situation. If they can’t regain control over the temperature they no longer have the outer containment building to fall back on.

  • Pat Flannery

    The release of the cesium indicates that the fuel rods themselves were damaged when the primary water loop lost circulation and left part of the upper core exposed above water level so that it superheated, and was damaged.
    This could lead to the hot uranium fuel in the rods coming into direct contact with the water of the primary steam loop of the reactor.
    When that happens, the uranium oxidizes, raising its temperature and liberating the hydrogen from the water (similar to what happens when sodium is brought into contact with the water*).
    The explosion occurred right after they vented steam from the reactor vessel itself. This makes me suspect that a lot of hydrogen gas under fairly high pressure was released from the reactor into the containment structure, where it mixed with air and formed an explosive mixture with the air in the structure that detonated with a great deal of force, either badly damaging or completely destroying the containment structure (which accounts for the gray color of the explosion cloud, it’s pulverized concrete and insulation from the containment structure.)
    You can see that’s left of the containment building in this video capture image:
    This would leave the reactor vessel itself exposed.
    Considering the violence of the explosion, it’s hard to imagine much of the plumbing or its electrical system being intact.
    What happens next depends on whether the uranium and graphite of the core is itself on fire like in the case in Chernobyl.
    If that’s the case, putting it into contact with seawater (as the Japanese say they are doing at the moment) could lead to yet more oxygen and hydrogen being liberated from the water as it breaks down on contact with the uranium, and the fire continuing rather than being extinguished.
    The explosion shows that this event has already passed Three Mile Island in severity, as although a hydrogen bubble was generated in the case of that reactor failure, it never got to the point of detonation.
    One thing I want to know at the moment is what’s happening to the seawater after it’s being sent through the reactor, because when it comes out, it’s going to be pretty contaminated if there are damaged fuel rods in the reactor.

    * Scott also pointed out that trying to put out a titanium fire with water was a bad idea for the same reason.

  • sferrin

    This is one of the more interesting videos I’ve seen yet. Check out the cranes there at the beginning, and the pier they’re on. Then take a look later when the water has risen.

  • admin

    > This is one of the more interesting videos I’ve seen yet.

    Ye gods. Note that the plumes of “smoke” that drift through the view are not smoke… but dust clouds created when sizable buildings just flat-out *collapse* when hit by the water.

  • Pat Flannery

    Good photo of the reactor building that blew its top off:
    I finally found the Fukushima complex on Google Earth; it’s at
    37 deg 25’12 N, 141 deg 01’59 E.
    The building that blew its top is 106′ long on its east/west axis. and 145′ long on its north/south axis.

  • Michael Scott

    Apparently, they did loose not their containment building. Reports are saying that there was a metal framed building over the concrete containment building. It took some time for the media to publish pictures of the facility after the explosion but they have now and they do clearly show a metal framed building with the top walls and roof blown off, exposing the skeletal metal framing. This is clearly not *the* containment building which would be constructed of thick reinforced concrete. So, it sounds like they must have vented or leaked hydrogen into this “overbuilding” which was ignited and exploded. If correct, this is very good news, as having an intact containment building means the difference between a Chernobyl and something much less severe.

    On the other hand, the news that they are using seawater to cool the reactor means that the situation is very bad. Using seawater likely means that the problems are so severe that they have written off this reactor, which the Japanese would not do lightly.