This blog provides commentary on interesting geological events occurring around the world in the context of my own work. This work is, broadly, geological fluid dynamics. The events that I highlight here are those that resonate with my professional life and ideas, and my goal is to interpret them in the context of ideas I've developed in my research. The blog does not represent any particular research agenda. It is written on a personal basis and does not seek to represent the University of Illinois, where I am a professor of geology and physics. Enjoy Geology in Motion! I would be glad to be alerted to geologic events of interest to post here! I hope that this blog can provide current event materials that will make geology come alive.

Banner image is by Ludie Cochrane..

Susan Kieffer can be contacted at s1kieffer at gmail.com

Monday, March 14, 2011

Summary of the problems at three reactors at Fukushima Dalichi

The three nuclear reactors at Fukushima Dalichi.
#1, damaged with the roof blown off is on the left.
#3 is the white block toward the right.
#2 is in between.
Photo by Masaru Nishimoto/AP, from here.
Note: 3/16, 6:00 p.m. CDT--It has never been my intention to have this be an up-to-date news site, and in view of the very rapidly developing, and uncertain, situation with the reactors, I will no longer update news about the reactors.

Note: 3/16, 1:00 p.m. CDT--It is very difficult to know what statements are accurate regarding the nuclear power plants. Today the NYTimes is reporting that the containment vessels of both the #2 and #3 reactors have cracked.  The fuel rods in the water pool of #4 reactor are still apparently overheating.  U.S. Energy Secretary Chu has said (according to the Times) "We think there is a partial meltdown" at the plant, but is also quoted as saying that he would not want to speculate about what is happening. The Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency is going to make a 1-day trip to Japan, "as soon as possible, hopefully tomorrow (Thursday)" to get the latest on the situation and see how the IAEA can help.  The US has said that the military will send an unmanned Global Hawk high-altitude reconnaissance plane to take photos and infrared images of the power plant with hopes that the images could help workers figure out what is going on.

Note: 3/15, 10:00 CDT--It is important to emphasize that although there are reactor problems, the situation with the Fukushima Dalichi reactors is in no way comparable to Chernoybl. It is being highly monitored, efficiently and well managed by the government with the evacuations and distribution of pills to prevent thyroid damage, and information is being distributed as rapidly and freely as possible. Our prayers and thoughts are with the people of Japan as this situation continues, with hopes that it will soon resolve and that recovery can begin.

Note: 3/14, 8:40 a.m. CDT--I have added more videos to the blog a couple of days ago where I'm storing the video links.  The last one on the page (labelled 'opening seconds of this one') is incredible. It brings home the fact that life can change irreversibly in seconds.

Update 3/15: 3:30 a.m. #4 reactor has had a fire.  It was not in operation when the tsunami struck, but had spent fuel.  It is reported to have released hydrogen with radioactive materials.  People within 20 km radius were ordered to evacuate, and people between 20-30 km were warned to stay outdoors. At this time, the radiation is reported to be down. The spent fuel rods were removed from the reactors and probably in a pool of water to keep them cool (the situation at many nuclear plants worldwide because of a lack of permanent disposal sites).  It is speculated that the water in the pools was drained, allowing the rods to overheat.  At the moment, winds are blowing the releases out over the Pacific. The situation at the #2 reactor appears to still be dangerous.

Posts prior to 3/15:

Although this is a fluid dynamics blog, the nuclear reactor problem associated with the earthquake and tsunami is so important that I thought I'd summarize the setting here. A map of all of the nuclear reactors in Japan is on a previous post.

There are four reactor sites on the northeast coast of Honshu. From north to south, they are Onagawa, Fukushima Dalichi, Fukashima Dain, and Tokai.  Onagawa has three reactors (1,2,3); Fukushima Dalichi has six (1,2,3,4,5,6), Fukushima Daini has four (1,2,3,4), and Tokai has two active (1,2) and one decommissioned.

Reports yesterday (March 13) that there were increased levels of radiation at Onagawa were false and the reactors there are functioning properly.

The main problems have been at Fukushima Dalichi. The cooling systems number 1 and 3 reactors were damaged by the earthquake. An explosion on Saturday (3/12) blew the roof off of the No. 1 reactor here, and it has now been flooded with seawater to keep the fuel rods cool. The flooding means that they decided that the reactor cannot be salvaged for future use. On Sunday, the officials announced that the cooling system at #3 had failed, forcing them to release radioactive vapor, including hydrogen.  An explosion has now been reported in #3, but this may not be an accurate report.

Update: as of 11:15 CDT, there has been an explosion at reactor #3. Video here.

It now appears that water levels inside #2 may be gone, with the risk of a meltdown.

The Washington Post is using terminology Fukushima I and II, and says that "pressure has built up in seven of the plants' 10 reactor containment vessels". I can't correlate this with the more common terminology unless they are referring to Fukushima Dalichi and Fukushima Daini which, together, do have 10 reactors.

Excellent interactive tutorial from the New York Times is here.

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