Saturday, May 25, 2013

#Radioactive Leak at J-PARC: Staff Let 100 Billion Becquerels Escape Through Ventilation Fans

(For all posts about J-PARC radiation leak, click here.)

To add further disgrace to what's already there aplenty, the researchers at J-PARC, Japan Proton Accelerator Research Complex, were fully aware that turning on the ventilation fans without any filter would release radioactive materials outside the facility, but did it anyway.

I wondered aloud in the previous post on this accident: Why didn't these particle physicists (supposedly some of the brightest people in Japan) connect the dots and figure out "Radiation level was high, turned on the fans, radiation level dropped, radioactive materials went from inside the facility to outside"?

Well now I know they did know.

From Chunichi Shiinbun Medical Site (5/26/2013; part, link won't last long):


The staff, on learning the radiation level had risen to 4 microsievert/hour, 10 times the normal, operated the fans twice in order to lower the radiation level inside the facility. KEK [High Energy Accelerator Research Organization] explained, "The radiation level wasn't that high. We figured even if [radioactive materials] leaked into the atmosphere it wouldn't be of much inconvenience to anyone."


The fans are for ventilation, and there is no filter installed that would absorb radioactive materials. They didn't expect the malfunction of the equipment, and there was no accident manual. It was 26 hours after they operated the fans, at 6PM on May 24, that they finally confirmed the rise in radiation levels at the monitoring post.


According to KEK, some people who were at the facility suggested the incident be reported to authorities including the national government, but the senior management including Yujiro Ikeda, J-PARC president who came from JAEA, decided it was not the event that requires reporting, leading to the delay in reporting.

But wait, there's always more in Japan when it comes to anything radioactive...

To ignore the warning buzzer and restart the experiment without confirming safety, and to expel radioactive materials from inside the facility using unfiltered ventilation fan is exactly what the operation manual at the facility calls for, according to KEK.

Again, from Chunichi Shinbun Medical Site (5/26/2013; part):


According to High Energy Accelerator Research Organization [KEK] who was conducting the experiment at the nuclear and particle physics experiment facility to hit gold with proton beams to generate elementary particles, the safety mechanism detected the abnormality and sounded an alarm at 11:55AM on May 23. The equipment was stopped.


The researcher in charge, without knowing why the safety mechanism tripped, reset the alarm at 12:08PM and resumed the experiment. Later, when the radiation level rose inside the facility, the experiment was stopped again. At about 3:15PM, the experiment resumed as the radiation level dropped after operating the ventilation fans.


The person in charge at High Energy Accelerator Research Organization says, "It was the procedure following the manual."

This by-the-book release of radioactive material was 100 billion becquerels in the south-westerly direction, one-hundredths of the annual legal limit of radioactive material release, according to Mainichi Shinbun (5/26/2013) quoting JAEA.

Here's the image of the ventilation fans in question (from Chunichi Shinbun):

There are several Japanese nuclear and particle physicists that are widely followed on Twitter, and some of them were apparently scheduled to conduct their experiments using the facility at J-PARC. To a sheer puzzlement of people with some rational mind left, some of these researchers are being ridiculed and bad-mouthed by Twitter mob just because they are nuclear and particle physicists using J-PARC.


Anonymous said...

Aaah, always the same thing: alarm/safety mechanism trip ... cause unknown, so let's ignore and move on. Unusually high radiation thereafter ... cause unknown and, yes, let's do a quick fix by venting and then just move on. And of course, let's not mention it to anyone.
At least we don't have to get used to anything new - such as common sense, for example - when it comes to dealing with anything radioactive.

Scott said...

So the gist of all of this security and alarm businessin the nuclear business whether for testing or commericial is for show in this country and possibly others as well. They actually don't heed any warnings or think through any possible consequences when something goes outside of normal operation. The best scientific minds here guys... Just think a little about that. This sounds so amateurish I'd swear it was written by the Onion.

VyseLegendaire said...

If you've been following nuclear news, this kind of thing is apparently extremely common in nuclear plants, especially in the USA – places where its apparently much more obvious that there's a danger.

Anonymous said...

Indeed you just have to look at the NRC accident reports to realize how casually the nuclear boys handle radioactive material: stuff like loading nuclear instrumentation on an (open?) truck and dropping it on the road before arriving to destination. The instrument contained a radiation source and could not be found. Hopefully whoever picked up the instrument is not using its source as a decoration in his home.

The NRA commented that, aside from the Tokai mura fuel accident and Fukushima, incidents like the J-PARC one, whereby alarms are ignored and radioactive material is irresponsibly dispersed into the environment, are rare in Japan (NHK). Good to know but, *including* Tokai mura and Fukushima, they occour way too often, I think.

Maybe the researchers did not want to waste the time granted to them on some sophisticated and expensive equipment so they moved forward with the experiment even after the alarm went off. If this is the case, it is not acceptable.


Anonymous said...

P.S. Primavera-san, maybe the title of the post should be amended... the researchers did not let the radioactive material "escape" through the fans, it looks more like they just discharged it outside.

arevamirpal::laprimavera said...

This is the country where the workers carried uranium in stainless steel bucket as they smoke cigarettes (Tokai-mura recriticality accident of 1999), and that was exactly according to the manual. Not the official one that they would submit to the regulatory authority, but manual nonetheless (probably without the cigarette-smoking part).

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Sappa Tamang, you are not welcome to post spam comment here. I so hate new Google+ interface, which doesn't allow easy reporting of spams any more.

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Anonymous said...

If I recall correctly an incident similar to Tokai mura happened in the US many years earlier (in the 50's?); as a consequence the US issued stricter regulations around fuel handling.

Japan adopted the same regulations in a watered down form. The company manifacturing the fuel relaxed it further, the division where the accident occourred was even more lax and the workers themselves added their bit. We know how it ended.

It is always the same story: it seems the nuke folks handle their stuff as if it were contruction material -- stones, bricks, concrete -- but it is not.


This is a serious website said...

Himalaya wankers FUCK OFF

Anonymous said...

Seems you touched a nerve, and spammers were sent in to disrupt our conversation.

These type of systems- particle accelerators- operate in a vacuum. Since the neutron beam apparently vaporized the Gold target, the pumps would have 'sucked out' the vapors. Therefore, the vacuum pumps must be vented inside the building. Crappy design, since vacuum pump discharge can be readily monitored, and filtered, unless you don't want to know and deal with what comes out of the system.

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