Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Where Do We Stand Today on Japan Nuclear Accident?

Just where do we really stand today on Japan's nuclear Accident? Depending on what you read, we are either on the precipice of disaster or the media is way over-blowing the story.

Regular readers of this blog know where I stand; it's the same place I always stand when the media starts screaming "death and disaster": Eyes wide open and a skeptical smirk on my face.

I get the Casey Research Daily Newsletter. I highly recommend it for folks who need level headed, rational approaches to the economy and how it shapes our world. Their catch copy is "Intensely Curious, Focused on Facts." You can subscribe for free to the Daily Newsletter here.

The most recent Casey Report deals with the Fukushima Nuclear reactors and the economic ramifications of this situation. Their summation of the situation is clear and factual; it is not filled with conjecture and "what ifs."

18 Days Later... 

By The Casey Energy Team
Twelve days ago, uranium equities were in free fall. Five days after Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, the leader of the uranium sector, Cameco (T.CCO), had lost 19% and would continue to drop all day to close almost 24% below its pre-Fukushima level. The price of uranium had fallen 27%. The world was suddenly full of nuclear physicists saying the reactors will blow, they won’t blow, it isn’t dangerous, but it could be deadly. Energy analysts were equally divergent: many proclaimed the end of the nuclear era, while others predicted a serious but short impact on the world’s view of nuclear power.
Moving ahead another six days, it seems like little has changed. On deeper inspection, though, things are quite different. Most importantly, the potential for a major catastrophe has decreased significantly. The Japanese are sparing no effort in their battle against overheating nuclear fuel and are oh-so-slowly being rewarded: one by one, the reactors are being cooled and contained. Fukushima is far from stable but, compared to that first week, there is now some confidence that we have averted a calamitous meltdown.
As most of us now know, there are six nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Three of those reactors – No. 4, 5 and 6 – were shut down when the earthquake hit, but the other three were in full operation. Reactors 1, 2 and 3 all turned themselves off when the ground started to shake, but then the tsunami wiped out the plant’s back-up diesel generators, leaving all six reactors unable to circulate the vital cooling water.
The six reactors then took turns grabbing headlines. In the first few days, one spectacular hydrogen explosion after another blew apart the buildings housing reactors 1, 2 and 3. A fire broke out in the spent fuel pool of reactor 4. Insufficient water left the fuel rods in the first three reactors exposed for various periods. Then the spent fuel pools at 5 and 6 started to heat up. Observers keep seeing white smoke emerge from the buildings. Workers keep being pulled back from their tasks because of radiation spikes. No one really knows whether any of the all-important containment vessels that seal each reactor off from the world are damaged.
From the available information, here is how things stand right now.
Reactor 1: The best-off of the three reactors that were operational when the quake hit. The core of the reactor is damaged (there has been some core meltdown), but it appears the containment vessel is intact. Controlling the temperature and pressure has been difficult, but the reactor is now considered relatively stable.
Reactor 2: TEPCO believes the containment vessel around reactor 2 was breached in the hydrogen explosion that blew the building apart. The breach cannot be a large gash, however, because the vessel still maintains high pressures. The core is also damaged. Water carrying high-level radiation is leaking from the reactor, the radiation either coming from the breach or from damaged vents and valves on the reactor.
Reactor 3: Currently the most concerning reactor at the plant, as water with high levels of radiation has flooded the turbine building. As with reactor 2, the radiation is either coming from a breach in the containment vessel or from broken valves and vents. If there is a breach, it must be small as the containment vessel is still holding pressure. Reactor 3 is also the only reactor at the plant that feeds on a combination of plutonium and uranium, a fuel known as MOX, which is considered more dangerous because plutonium accumulates more easily in the body.
Reactors 4-6: All considered stable. The only concern is the spent fuel pool at reactor 4, which is very full and might be damaged. At present it is stable and cooling slowly, but the threat there has not yet passed.
TEPCO workers are now working between a rock and a hard place. They have to keep pumping water into the reactors to keep the fuel rods covered, but they also need to pump out and safely contain the contaminated water that is seeping out of reactors 2 and 3. On Monday, that radioactive water had found its way into deep trenches that run around reactors 1, 2 and 3 carrying pipes and wiring. To complicate things, the condenser and storage tanks that are usually used for contaminated water are almost full.
They have restored power to much of the facility, though not all of the cooling circuits have been restarted because of damage or inaccessibility. From here, TEPCO faces a protracted battle to dry out the plant, restore power completely, and cool the whole thing down. That final step will take time – spent fuel rods take years to cool.
Some 70,000 people have been evacuated from a 20 km radius, while another 130,000 living within the next 10 km have been encouraged to leave because the region will not return to normalcy anytime soon. Authorities in Fukushima prefecture have screened almost 90,000 people for radiation exposure; of those, 98 tested above safety limits, but all were cleared once they removed their clothes and washed. Elevated levels of radiation have turned up in raw milk and 11 types of vegetables, while seven locations are under drinking water restrictions (six only concern infants).
More generally, the earthquake and tsunami have left 660,000 households without water and 209,000 without power. A quarter of a million people are displaced or homeless. The death toll has now climbed above 10,000, with more than 17,400 still missing.
This is excellent, factual reporting that is a huge breath of fresh air over the rest of the main stream mass media. Here's some more sensationalist nonsense that appeared in the Guardian UK in Japan May Have Lost Race to Save Nuclear Reactor.
This article is already suspicious from the outset as it even has the words "May Have" in the title. "May Have" is conjecture. Conjecture is a transitive verb. It means to guess.
Conjecture: to arrive at or deduce by surmise or guesswork : guessconjecturing that a disease is caused by a defective gene>
A trained eye would have caught that immediately. It is a guess, it it not proven nor based upon fact.
The entire article goes on filled with this sort of guesswork: 

The radioactive core in a reactor at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant appears to have melted through the bottom of its containment vessel and on to a concrete floor, experts say, raising fears of a major release of radiation at the site.
Richard Lahey, who was head of safety research for boiling-water reactors at General Electric when the company installed the units at Fukushima, told the Guardian workers at the site appeared to have "lost the race" to save the reactor, but said there was no danger of a Chernobyl-style catastrophe.
At least part of the molten core, which includes melted fuel rods and zirconium alloy cladding, seemed to have sunk through the steel "lower head" of the pressure vessel around reactor two, Lahey said.
From "May Have" to "appears to" to "seemed to have" the article is filled with fiction and guess work. The only thing that is stated as fact is this line: " danger of a Chernobyl-style catastrophe."

Finally, we have suggestions, but no hard facts:
"The indications we have, from the reactor to radiation readings and the materials they are seeing, suggest that the core has melted through the bottom of the pressure vessel in unit two, and at least some of it is down on the floor of the drywell," Lahey said. "I hope I am wrong, but that is certainly what the evidence is pointing towards."
Then the article finishes with this guy saying, "I hope I am wrong." 

"I hope I am wrong?!" Are you kidding me?

So, what you want to say is that you just wasted my time reading an article filled with your guesswork that has little basis in fact and reality. Nearly everything was total and complete conjecture.

Folks, this might sound like an advertisement, but there is no comparison in the quality of writing and reporting between the Guardian UK and Casey's Daily Dispatch.
It's too bad that way too many people today don't get a good enough education to be able to differentiate between factual reporting and conjecture. 
Like I said, if you are interested in economics and how they relate to our world - with quality writing and reporting - then I highly recommend Casey's Daily Dispatch. 

There is also a great blog that I just discovered today that I highly recommend written by a foreigner living in Japan. His name is Marc Sheffner and he runs the Searching for Accurate Maps blog. Marc does a much better job of deconstructing this Guardian article than I ever could.

In a recent post entitled, "Why I don't read newspapers (2)" he wrote:

There has been a bigger-than-usual amount of scare-mongering and panic-fostering amongst the news media over the Japanese disasters recently. Here is an example from today. This is a good example of why I refuse to read newspapers.
First the headline: Fukushima workers exposed to illegal radiation levels. (this is a cached page: the Guardian has since changed its headline). Note the eye-catching, inflammatory headline.
Then it says, “Six workers at the Fukushima nuclear power plant have been exposed to radiation levels beyond the usual legal limit while carrying out emergency operations to make the complex safe.”
“beyond the usual limits” is not the same as “illegal”. Further down, it says, “The Kyodo news agency reported that Tepco said six staff members had been exposed to more than 100 millisieverts of radiation…” and in the next paragraph it reported, “The government earlier increased to 250 mSv the limit for those working in the emergency operation.”
Earlier. That means before the workers had been exposed to more than 100 millisieverts. In other words, it was not illegal, because the government had already raised the permitted dosage level.


Newspapers cannot be trusted. They lie, shamelessly. Their purpose is not to propagage true information, but to sell eyeballs to their advertisers. Hence headlines that will grab attention are chosen. If they are not actually true or factual or accurate, well, who cares! They can always change it later, or make some excuse.


Andy said...

Casey Research? Good God man. It's sad, "newspapers cannot be trusted" says you, neither can partisan think tanks that support the likes of racists and the-sky-is-falling pseudo-libertarians like Ron Paul.

mikeintokyorogers said...

Guilty as charged!

Anonymous said...

On the dangers of nuclear power...