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dpadam450

Japan Nuclear Reactor

83 posts in this topic

I was reading up on how some nuclear reactors work etc, but does anyone know/understand why the thing is still hot after 5 days? I mean wouldn't it auto shut off so that the fuel stops reacting or is the problem that they couldn't shut it off? If its not being fueled to burn, I dont see how it could still be burning for this long even after pouring water and whatever else they have done.
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You can't just stop the thing from reacting, it's not like a machine that you can unplug or a fire you can just douse. The fission chain reaction will continue, so heat will continue to be produced. You can dump water in, but the chain reaction will still continue, plus you'll have radioactive water. I'm not 100% clear on the Japan situation, but I believe that the #2 reactor's fuel rods are completely exposed, meaning that the carbon rods aren't there to soak up the radiation. They can't necessarily just stick them back in; they tried that at Chernobyl, if the reactor's hot enough the rods will just catch fire.
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I didn't really know anything either until I did some wikipedia'ing on the weekend ([i]must've slept through nuclear physics in school -- I had The Simpsons' vision of a mushroom cloud in my mind[/i])

From what I've read, the chain-reactions that generate heat during operation were shut down almost immediately by inserting neutron-absorbing control rods into the reactors.

The heat that's being generated now seems be from the regular [url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decay_heat#Power_reactors_in_shutdown"]decay[/url] of unstable elements, and the cooling down of the incredibly hot was-just-undergoing-nuclear-reactions fuel rots. This is normal, but it's usually cooled fast enough to not be a problem.

The danger is that it could melt the container, making a clean-up operation impossible, which would mean they'd have to permanently seal off the containment building like 3 mile island in the US.

Even if the reactor does melt(down), the public should be safe as long as the containment building remains intact.

If normal cooling had occurred, then the reactors could've been cleaned up and repaired, and put back into operation. Now that they've pumped them full of impure sea-water, they're going to have to write-off the reactors completely now. The only question is whether the broken reactors can be removed from the site (and new ones installed), or if the site will become a tomb.
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[quote name='Hodgman' timestamp='1300159713' post='4785897']
the public should be safe as long as the containment building remains intact.
[/quote]

You mean this containment building?

[img]http://www.joe.ie/uploads/story/10448/nuclearexplosion.jpg[/img]
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[quote name='karwosts' timestamp='1300160076' post='4785899']
[quote name='Hodgman' timestamp='1300159713' post='4785897']
the public should be safe as long as the containment building remains intact.
[/quote]You mean this containment building?[/quote]Yes, that's the thin flimsy outer wall of the building that was blown apart by the hydrogen explosion. The inner concrete bunker is still intact, and the actual reactor itself (inside the concrete bunker) is also still intact.

At Chernobyl, the actual reactor itself was breached, which started an air/graphite fire. Also, Chernobyl did not house the reactors inside concrete containment buildings, which meant the smoke went straight into the atmosphere. Even if this happens in Japan, the concrete bunker should contain the pollutants.
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Ohh, I was under the impression that the cube was the concrete bunker, and that the core vessel was the only thing left holding in the radiation. That's more optimistic if there's another layer still inside the building.
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Yea I just read how the neutron reaction is controlled and timed on/off when running, so I wasnt sure if or why they couldnt just stop it as it seems they do in timely increments under normal operation. I guess it was just too late and the reaction couldn't stop then. Why cant they continually fly over and drop ocean water on top of it from helicopters though? I guess I just dont see why they only tried putting water into the thing for what seemed like an hour until their water pumps ran out of fuel. Japans a tech country, they should build a giant one of these: [url="http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16835103055"]http://www.newegg.co...N82E16835103055[/url] and drop it in w/ some thermal paste.
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At Chernobyl, they were operating the reactor outside of it's designed safety margins (they had created extremely unstable conditions, with multiple warning indicators being ignored), and when they finally decided to shut it off by fully inserting all of the control rods, the reactor started to break apart, and the rods got stuck after only having been 1/3rd inserted.
In Japan the shut-down procedures went to plan - the reactions were stopped. The problem was the failure of the 4 independent (and internally multiply redundant) backup cooling systems per reactor, which meant the decay heat had nowhere to go...

They can't drop water on it because it's inside a building to protect the environment from radiation ;)
I did read though that they're considering setting up 'spraying' equipment inside the building to shower the outside of the reactor in water. I'm guessing this would make the building pretty uninhabitable though.

Pumping in sea-water seemed to be a last-resort for the operator, because it means they'd have to write-off the reactors afterwards. If they'd managed to cool it using their normal methods, they'd be able to continue operation after everything's repaired. Delaying the use of sea-water could be seen by a cynic to be profit motivated due to this... but the use of sea-water has also been described as "[i]completely not by the book[/i]" (I think it was an IAEA rep who said that), so it does really seem to be a last resort after all other cooling options failed.
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[quote name='dpadam450' timestamp='1300160686' post='4785905']
Yea I just read how the neutron reaction is controlled and timed on/off when running, so I wasnt sure if or why they couldnt just stop it as it seems they do in timely increments under normal operation. I guess it was just too late and the reaction couldn't stop then. Why cant they continually fly over and drop ocean water on top of it from helicopters though? I guess I just dont see why they only tried putting water into the thing for what seemed like an hour until their water pumps ran out of fuel. Japans a tech country, they should build a giant one of these: [url="http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16835103055"]http://www.newegg.co...N82E16835103055[/url] and drop it in w/ some thermal paste.
[/quote]
Well, you can't just "turn it off" anyway. Like it was mentioned above, the reaction will continue. You can only reduce the speed that it takes place at because it is a self-sustaining ramp up. The more neutrons are floating around, the more fissions take place. The uranium will always release neutrons as it decays at a constant rate. But, since we pack all the fuel in together, we are increasing the density of the neutron flux, resulting in more flux up till the point that we moderate the reaction to. Now, the other thing to keep in mind is that neutrons collide with everything. Control rods adsorb more neutrons than they reflect. Reflectors reflect more than they adsorb, and materials like water slow neutrons down to "thermal" speeds, or "moderate" them. Some isotopes are easier to hit with slower neutrons, others are harder to hit (based on the wave functions of the particles involved). So, in a regular water cooled reactor, the water is slowing the reaction by taking neutrons out of their thermal range and converting that energy into more heat in the water. Let that water boil away, and boom, you have a Chernobyl incident as the reaction almost instantly speeds up to meltdown temperatures. Thus, they are trying to keep as much water on there as possible to help everything stay cool. But it is always going to try to get hot until the fuel is gone (dozens or more years), or the reactor is taken apart.

We use the fact that these reactions constantly produce heat to power long term space satellite too. From Voyager to Cassini we've powered these ships plutonium base Radio Thermal Generators that will stay at temp for dozens of years.

Other random fact of the day... Unlike a "fast fission reactor", some fuels work in the "thermal reactor" range, where the water slowed neutrons actually have a better chance of hitting the isotopes. A non-water cooled reactor in the thermal range could actually melt down if placed in water, as the water would result in additional neutrons being at the right speed to react.
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A simplified explanation about what is going on can be found [url=http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/03/13/fukushima-simple-explanation/]here[/url]. The site has an obvious pro-nuclear bias, but given the catastrophising in the general media it may provide a bit of balance.
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[quote name='benryves' timestamp='1300163644' post='4785918']
A simplified explanation about what is going on can be found [url="http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/03/13/fukushima-simple-explanation/"]here[/url]. The site has an obvious pro-nuclear bias, but given the catastrophising in the general media it may provide a bit of balance.
[/quote]

[quote]The problem of hydrogen-oxygen formation is one of the biggies when you design a power plant (if you are not Soviet, that is)[/quote]
BURN

edit: that article is a good read. Definitely makes you feel a lot more secure about nuclear power in general.
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It is worth noticing that, if memory serves, satellite-grade nuclear:
- is solid state, based on Stirling or Peltier cells working in inverse.
- According to WP:en, the Cassini reactor is 300 We. The affected reactors are rated at 760-1067 MWe depending on unit.
So it's actually a very different beast we're talking about.

Pumping water in nuclear plants is not a new idea. It has been done in the past and essentially means "[url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windscale_fire#The_use_of_water"]we have nothing else to lose[/url]". So much for multiple redundancy and all...
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[quote name='way2lazy2care' timestamp='1300194520' post='4786009']
[quote name='benryves' timestamp='1300163644' post='4785918']
A simplified explanation about what is going on can be found [url="http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/03/13/fukushima-simple-explanation/"]here[/url]. The site has an obvious pro-nuclear bias, but given the catastrophising in the general media it may provide a bit of balance.
[/quote]

[quote]The problem of hydrogen-oxygen formation is one of the biggies when you design a power plant (if you are not Soviet, that is)[/quote]
BURN

edit: that article is a good read. Definitely makes you feel a lot more secure about nuclear power in general.
[/quote]

Not to me. 3 units went byebye (one of which has increased the amount of radioactivity it's releasing to the atmosphere) . The damages weren't caused by the earthquake but because of lack of cooling for the fuel. All the earthquake caused was shutting down the plant.

What I got from this article is that if the plant goes down and the generators fail => radioactivity IN YOUR FACE!
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[quote name='owl' timestamp='1300196734' post='4786018']
Not to me. 3 units went byebye (one of which has increased the amount of radioactivity it's releasing to the atmosphere) . The damages weren't caused by the earthquake but because of lack of cooling for the fuel. All the earthquake caused was shutting down the plant.

What I got from this article is that if the plant goes down and the generators fail => radioactivity IN YOUR FACE!
[/quote]
Did we read the same article? The damages were almost entirely caused by the earthquake. The lack of power for the first cooling system, and the washing away of the generators by the tsunami. The explosion to the housing building, which serves no purpose to the safety of the reactor, was caused by venting steam inside the building rather than outside, but caused no damage to the reactor.

The steam being released gives you less radioactivity than an international flight, and the plant could literally have a meltdown and be completely contained.

And this is with the plant going down, the entire grid going down, the generators being hit by a tsunami, the batteries running for 8 hours without getting backup generators, and being hit by an earth quake 7 times more powerful than the plant is designed to take in the first place. This is quite literally a worst case scenario, and the worst that is going to happen is everybody will feel like they stood in front of a microwave for a while. That's pretty good for a worst case scenario. Compare that to the worst case scenario for an oil refinery where you have an explosion larger than the largest bombs in most military arsenals.
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Pour water on the sun and see what happens.

NOTHING! [img]http://public.gamedev.net/public/style_emoticons/default/ohmy.gif[/img]
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[url="http://news.yahoo.com/s/yblog_thelookout/20110315/ts_yblog_thelookout/japanese-nuclear-plant-workers-emerging-as-heroic-figures-in-tragedy"]50 employees stay behind to stave off disaster.[/url]

This is going to be a movie or an anime. 100% guaranteed. Here's hoping that all 50 make it out alive with very little if any side-effects.
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[quote name='Alpha_ProgDes' timestamp='1300231481' post='4786258']

This is going to be a movie or an anime.[/quote]
[url="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9w8z7CQNbuc"]Here's one[/url]. It's close enough. Has an emo kid, mecha and (literally) runaway reactor.
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[quote name='Hodgman' timestamp='1300159713' post='4785897']
the public should be safe as long as the containment building remains intact.[/quote]Ok... I spoke too soon.[quote]http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/15/world/asia/15nuclear.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1
Tokyo Electric Power said Tuesday that after the explosion at the No. 2 reactor, pressure had dropped in the “suppression pool” — a section at the bottom of the reactor that converts steam to water and is part of the critical function of keeping the nuclear fuel protected. After that occurred, radiation levels outside No. 2 were reported to have risen sharply.

“We can assume that the containment vessel at Reactor No. 2 is already breached. If there is heavy melting inside the reactor, large amounts of radiation will most definitely be released.”[/quote]Starting to look like a containment failure.[quote]http://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/tsunamiupdate01.html
Japanese authorities also today informed the IAEA at 04:50 CET that the spent fuel storage pond at the Unit 4 reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is on fire and radioactivity is being released directly into the atmosphere.[/quote]The used up fuel isn't contained in the same area as the reactor (it's up in the roof of the containment building IIRC). One of the exposions seems to have exposed this pond, which evaporated, or something... Anyway, I'm guessing that burning fuel rods without containment is very, very bad.
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[quote name='Hodgman' timestamp='1300237409' post='4786293']The used up fuel isn't contained in the same area as the reactor (it's up in the roof of the containment building IIRC). One of the exposions seems to have exposed this pond, which evaporated, or something... Anyway, I'm guessing that burning fuel rods without containment is very, very bad.[/quote]One definitely doesn't want radioactive stuff to burn into the air.

As for actual effects, they are really difficult to predict in any meaningful way at this point.

Direct exposure doesn't happen from this type of contamination. The concentrations are too small, the isotopes of incorrect kind. People don't just burn up or stuff. Very few people have ever been affected in this way.

There are two major factors - inhalation and ingestion. The immediate problem is Iodine. Body stores Iodine in thyroid. If radioactive version enters body it accumulates there and stays in body, irradiating from inside. The counter to this is Iodine pills which saturate the thyroid so it doesn't absorb any more. Due to quick decay, Iodine stops being a problem in a few days.

Bigger problem is Caesium with half life of ~37 or so years. After being blasted into atmosphere it falls on earth where it's absorbed by plants. Plants are then eaten either by animals or people and they enter body this way. With adequate infrastructure, this can be contained by destroying affected plants and animals. The affected area in this case is considerably smaller even in worst case, in case of Chernobyl it was basically entire Europe. There are some other isotopes, but they typically aren't important.

The contaminated area however cannot be left alone. Just like TMI, a large surface area must be cleaned, mostly to prevent accumulation of these contaminants (water, erosion). And picking up and packing several square meters of land is big task. This is also the reason why US fleet retreated - there is no point in contaminating entire carrier. Even if minimal, regulation classifies that as radioactive material and must be disposed. Would be a shame to throw away a perfectly good carrier.

This [url="http://www.reddit.com/r/energy/comments/g4mf9/supposedly_a_geigercounter_in_western_tokyo/"]is supposedly from[/url] Tokyo, 200km away. Geigers are not calibrated, but 20 is often normal background. Another chart I've seen is from KEK facilities some 100km S and they correlate with this. The peak is 10 times background and it settles at some 3 times. So far, both of these are perfectly in accordance with what has been reported about explosions.

Simple fact is, stuff is leaking into air and being near the fires is bad. But overall, the scale here is much lower than anything Chernobyl related. Back then, 3 days later, the geiger was 50-80 (vs. 20) at 4000km away for a week or until major rain. It was just bordering on where one could still keep up counting. The difference is that back then, the reactor core blew up in the air and rest of it melted in graphite fire. Here, even if breached or overheating, is still in one piece and at least mostly contained. The other positive is that there is mostly water around, so most of the fallout will end up in the ocean where it dillutes.

So far, the reports that were given are quite accurate. Similar to in nature to TMI, just bigger, but not of global scale that Chernobyl was.
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[quote name='Alpha_ProgDes' timestamp='1300231481' post='4786258']
[url="http://news.yahoo.com/s/yblog_thelookout/20110315/ts_yblog_thelookout/japanese-nuclear-plant-workers-emerging-as-heroic-figures-in-tragedy"]50 employees stay behind to stave off disaster.[/url]

This is going to be a movie or an anime. 100% guaranteed. [b]Here's hoping that all 50 make it out alive with very little if any side-effects.[/b]
[/quote]

Nope...just think about it. They evacuated people within a 12 mile radius of the plant. Those workers are right at the center of it.

Their death is pretty much certain...which was confirmed by a nuclear engineer on a news report I saw earlier.
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Yea I agree about the workers being F'd. I mean we (US) had a helicopter miles out days ago and we were scrubbing our people down and brought them back to a carrier even further away.
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[quote name='Antheus' timestamp='1300200948' post='4786047']
[quote]What I got from this article is that if the plant goes down and the generators fail => radioactivity IN YOUR FACE![/quote]
True, but again, scale.

This reactor generates ~3,000,000,000 Watts (3GW) of thermal power under normal operation, about a third of which is converted into electricity by a steam engine. No matter how you look at it, this is huge. And when hit by earthquake and tsunami combined, there will some side effects.

Meanwhile, the refinery is still burning => benzen in your lungs. Of course, nobody bothers to report that.
[/quote]

Lets scale backwards. What if Japan [b]only[/b] operated on nuclear plants? Could Japan have contained all the plants that could have get broken? How much damage the radiation from all those plants could have caused to the Japanese?
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[quote name='owl' timestamp='1300250643' post='4786350']
Lets scale backwards. What if Japan [b]only[/b] operated on nuclear plants? Could Japan have contained all the plants that could have get broken? How much damage the radiation from all those plants could have caused to the Japanese?[/quote]Pre earthquake, they got 28.9% of their power from 55 plants. If that was 100%, they'd need 190 plants (55/.289). One in 55 is now FUBAR, so if they had've had 190, that would be ~3 FUBAR plants.
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