Saturday, April 30, 2011

#Fukushima I Nuke Plant: Ishikawa of JNTI Talks about Reactor Core Conditions

More on 77-year-old Michio Ishikawa of the Japan Nuclear Technology Institute on the situation at Fukushima I Nuke Plant, as he appeared on Asahi TV on April 29.

As I watched the video, I started to like Mr. Ishikawa, who continues to believe in the safety of nuclear power generation. He didn't mince his words, and said what they are doing at Fukushima I Nuke Plant is not working. That surprised some, including the host of the show, as Ishikawa is known as a strong proponent for the nuclear power generation and the nuclear industry.

I watched the segment (video No.2 out of 11) where he discussed the situation at Fukushima I Nuke Plant, particularly about the condition of the reactor core.

Here's what I'd add to the snippets on my previous post. (My summary translation of what Mr. Ishikawa said, not literal; my comment in square bracket):

About TEPCO's "roadmap:

"I believe what they are trying to achieve after 9 months is to cool the reactor cores and solidify them so that no radioactive materials can escape. But they are just doing peripheral tricks like water entombment and nitrogen gas injection. Nitrogen gas, it's dangerous, by the way.

"What they must do is to cool the reactor cores, and there's no way around it. It has to be done somehow."

About the condition of the reactor cores:

"I believe the fuel rods are completely melted. They may already have escaped the pressure vessel. Yes, they say 55% or 30%, but I believe they are all melted down. When the fuel rods melt, they melt from the middle part on down.

(Showing the diagram) "I think the temperature inside the melted core is 2000 degrees to 2000 and several hundred degrees Celsius. A crust has formed on the surface where the water hits. Decay heat is 2000 to 3000 kilowatts, and through the cracks on the crust the radioactive materials (mostly noble gas and iodine) are escaping into the air.

"Volatile gas has almost all escaped from the reactor by now.

"The water [inside the pressure vessel] is highly contaminated with uranium, plutonium, cesium, cobalt, in the concentration we've never seen before.

"My old colleague contacted me and shared his calculation with me. At the decay heat of 2000 kilowatt... There's a substance called cobalt 60. Highly radioactive, needs 1 to 1.5 meter thick shields. It kills people at 1000 curies. He calculated that there are 10 million curies of cobalt-60 in the reactor core. If 10% of cobalt-60 in the core dissolve into water, it's 1 million curies."

[He's an old-timer so he's used to curie instead of becquerel as a unit. 1 curie equals 3.7 x 10^10 becquerels (37,000,000,000 becquerels or 37 gigabecquerels).
10 million curies equals 370,000 terabecquerels, and 1 million curies equals 37,000 terabecquerels. I used this conversion table. Tell me I'm wrong! Cobalt-60 alone would make a Level 7 disaster...]

"They (TEPCO) want to circulate this highly contaminated water to cool the reactor core. Even if they are able to set up the circulation system, it will be a very difficult task to shield the radiation. It will be a very difficult work to build the system, but it has to be done.

"It is imperative to know the current condition of the reactor cores. It is my assumption [that the cores have melted], but wait one day, and we have water more contaminated with radioactive materials. This is a war, and we need to build a "bridgehead" at the reactor itself instead of fooling around with the turbine buildings or transporting contaminated water."

[As Ishikawa explains, a notable opponent of nuclear power, Tetsunari Iida (executive director of the Institute of Sustainable Energy Policy and Kyoto University graduate majoring in nuclear science) nods in deep agreement.]

About "war" at Fukushima I Nuke Plant:

"Take the debris clean-up job for example. They are picking up the debris and putting them in containers, as if this is the peacetime normal operation. This is a war. They should dig a hole somewhere and bury the radioactive debris and clean up later. What's important is to clear the site, using the emergency measures. Build a bridgehead to the reactor.

"The line of command is not clear, whether it is the government, TEPCO, or Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

"Look squarely at the reactors and find out the true situation. [Trying to do something with] the turbine buildings is nothing but a caricature [a joke, a manga, a diversion]."

The show's host says "But wait a minute, Mr. Ishikawa, you are a proponent of nuclear power and we expected to hear from you that everything is going well at Fukushima..."

Mr. Ishikawa answers, "Well, if I'm allowed to tell a lie..."

Now, Mr. Tetsunari Iida speaks, agreeing to Mr. Ishikawa's "war" analogy:

"I totally agree with Mr. Ishikawa's assessment of the plant, and that this is a war. The government simply orders TEPCO to "do it". But it is like the Imperial General Headquarters (大本営) on the eve of the Sea of Japan Naval Battle during the Russo-Japanese War [in 1905] ordering merchant ship TEPCO to attack [the imperial Russian navy].

"The government should appoint a commander. TEPCO has a limit as a private business. No one knows what to do. We have to seek the advice from the best and the brightest in the world."

Mr. Hasegawa of Chunichi Shinbun jumps in, and says "We took the numbers from the government like 30% core melt as true, and went from there. But then Mr. Ishikawa says it's a total melt."

Then, Kohei Otsuka, the Vice Minister of Health and Welfare and politician from the ruling party (DPJ), sitting right next to Mr. Ishikawa, butts in, and warns everyone:

"Since none of us knows for sure the condition of the reactor cores, we shouldn't speculate on a national TV."

Mr. Hasegawa overrides the politician, and says "The real problem is that what no one knows is presented to us every day as if it is a fact, like 30% core melt in the chart."


I wish Mr. Ishikawa had punched the light-weight politician in the face. At least he should have laughed at him.

Again, the video (2 of 11) for those of you who understand Japanese:


Anonymous said...

Robbie001 sez:

Is Kan going to call this another "misunderstanding"? This guy is just about as damning as Toshiso Kosako's remarks. I hope Mr. Ishikawa's remarks get as wide a coverage as Mr. Kosako's have. This has to be a nightmare for the crisis minimizers. It is comical that some government stooge is admonishing people not to speculate on official "speculation" in a public forum. Now if everybody was towing the party line I'm sure Mr. Kohei Otsuka wouldn't have had a care in the world but if people disagree then he'd like them to keep their opinions to themselves. If anybody should keep quiet it is Mr. Otsuka from what I can see he isn't the least qualified to speak on nuclear issues. It would have been nice if someone told him that.

We can only hope that a few people close to the situation keep talking common sense in the future to counteract all the BS TPTB are trying to spew. This disaster is nearly 2 months old and TEPCO is just getting around to drawing up a fantasy roadmap and shifting contaminated water around. Even Ishikawa is willing to admit TEPCO's lil' blueboxes are a waste of time for dealing with radioactive debris on the scale they have.

On a side note I read TEPCO is trying to sell some parkland they own to raise compensation money but since it can't be developed the only entity that would be interested is the government. Unfortunately people have pointed out that the taxpayer shouldn't be buying land from TEPCO. After all this parkland is supposed to offset TEPCO's environmental impact and the taxpayer is already getting soaked for compensation.

You can bet the true cost of Fukushima won't ever make it into any ledger books. The cost evaluation will be so convoluted it will be impossible to accurately gauge what was spent and by who. The only thing that is sure is taxpayer is going to pay the lions share when it is all said and done.

If anything comes out of this I think it is clear the international nuclear club is going to have to pool their financial resources to deal with these "rare" "who could have known" moments that will happen in the future. They should all have to pay into an IAEA controlled insurance pool for disasters that reach INES levels 6 and 7. This would encourage nations to submit timely information to the IAEA if that was a requirement for compensation consideration. Compensation could also be tied to proper evacuation and evaluation of the exposed population. It would also make for more realistic responses in poorer nuclear countries like India, Pakistan, Croatia or Albania.

BTW, I remember back in the cold war days there was talk of "salting" atomic bombs with cobalt and other materials to increase the radiation fallout hazard.

Anonymous said...

I am heartened to know that the Japanese people are at least getting alternative viewpoints on this disaster. Ishikawa is right, this is a war, and the analogy of Mr. Iida is quite apt.

An electric utility is not a 'navy', its not even, to use the Gulf oil spill situation, a BP.
BP was a vertically integrated oil giant with engineers and capabilities reaching from drilling and exploration all the way to the gasoline pump. The US government could let BP handle the containment of the oil well as there was no one with greater resources or know how than BP and the problem and solution was both known and technologically feasible.

Fukushima is a horse of different color. Neither the extent of the problem nor the solution is yet known. To again use Mr. Iida's naval metaphor, this is an 'all hands on deck' emergency where the entirety of the atomic scientific, industrial and military communities must be brought to bear. Someone of greater stature than TEPCO's sorry executives needs to be put in charge. No crying, no checking into hospital, no hiding allowed!

netudiant said...

Poor Mr Kan,

What Ishikawa is asking for is a revolution, in a country where black or white decisions are anathema.
Setting up a clear command structure would force the government to take responsibility, rather than being able to blame TEPCO. That takes courage and conviction, scarce qualities even when there is a clear path forward.
Here there is an ongoing disaster, with no obviously workable plan even on paper to solve it. The most successful outcome would be a contained disaster. There is no gain beyond that, but there is a strong possibility of a much worse outcome, scarring Japan forever. So taking responsibility has tremendous downside and no upside. Who is sufficiently patriotic to take on that task?

Anonymous said...

Robbie001 sez:

Hey look sewage treatment plants are concentrating radioactive materials what are they going to do with the waste? It looks like some of it may have ended up in building materials.

High-Level Radiation Detected in Fukushima Sewage Sludge

Fukushima, May 1 (Jiji Press)--High levels of radioactive cesium have been found in sewage sludge in Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan, the prefectural government said Sunday.
The sludge at a treatment center in Koriyama had 26,400 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram. Slag made by reducing the volume of sewage sludge had 334,000 becquerels per kilogram.
Massive amounts of radioactive substances released by the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant may have flowed into sewage when rain fell, prefectural officials said.
The treatment center produces 80 tons of sludge per day, of which 10 tons are transported to a cement company outside the prefecture for recycling. The prefecture suspended sludge recycling Sunday.

An estimated 500 tons of sludge have been provided to the cement company since the nuclear plant was stricken by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, the officials said. Whether they were actually recycled remain to be seen, they said.

Pieter Kuiper said...

Thank you very much for the translation!

Anonymous said...

Robbie001 sez:

Here's an article that outlines the woefully inadequate insurance the international nuclear industry has managed to foster on mankind.

Insurance cost vs. nuclear power risk:

"China, which is under international pressure to lower its use of coal and cut its carbon emissions, is betting on nuclear power to feed its rising energy demand.

It has an industry insurance pool covering damages only up to 300 million yuan ($46 million), and the government has another 800 million yuan ready to compensate victims, too little to cover damages in any meaningful way".

In Switzerland, the obligatory insurance is being raised from 1 to 1.8 billion Swiss francs ($2 billion), but a government agency estimates that a Chernobyl-style disaster might cost more than 4 trillion francs -- or about eight times the country's annual economic output.

France, a country dotted with 58 reactors, only requires an insurance of $134 million from plant operators, with the government guaranteeing liabilities up to $338 million. The figures were similar for Britain, Russia and the Czech Republic"

netudiant said...

It is easy to agree with Mr Ishikawa that the information about this disaster has been poorly managed, resulting in damaged credibility to all involved. It is also true that the lines of responsibility for dealing with this disaster are overlapping. However, it is less certain that a single authority would help greatly, especially as the situation is still poorly understood so bad decisions may be massively damaging.
A single authority can make mistakes that a more multi stranded management might see and avoid. This situation needs a general staff to discern a solution before engaging a commander to pursue it.

War is a poor metaphor for the handling of this disaster. It is merely a rationale for sacrificing human lives with muddled thinking. What good is it to 'build a bridgehead to the reactor'? No one has thus far been able to suggest the additional logical next steps needed after that to bring the reactor under control.
Until someone can develop such a plan, building that bridgehead only exposes the workers to serious harm from radiation uselessly.

It is true that the TEPCO approach of gradually draining the plant and slowly cooling the reactors will leave the site steaming off large amounts of radioactivity until next year. A large part of Honshu may be permanently poisoned. Perhaps Japan is ready to risk peoples lives to avoid this outcome.
Thus far, however, the information that would allow a consensus to develop on this possibility has not been provided. Worse, the loss of credibility discussed in the interview above will make any consensus more difficult to reach.

jimhardy said...

Your Mr Ishikawa sounds like a practical and honest man.
I'd presume he was born in 1934 so his formative years were around end of WW2 through 1950's. No wonder he sounds so "no nonsense". He probably remembers General MacArthur and the occupation.

Re your question on Co60
ten million curies by my back of an envelope calculation would be around twenty pounds, which is about the cobalt content of a hundred tons of low cobalt reactor grade stainless steel. Of course it's non-radioactive cobalt 59 when the steel is made.

For the twenty pounds of cobalt to be all isotope 60 seems unlikely, but 10% sure sounds in range after many years of reactor peration. Was your translation quite literal there?
Not that it matters, the point he was making was one of leadership and management science not of nuclear science.

and yes you're right - a curie is 3.7E10 Bq.

Anonymous said...

Here's a nuclear meltdown survival guide:

arevamirpal::laprimavera said...

@jimhardy, thank you for your info about cobalt. My translation there was very literal. Since the number sounded so outrageous (10 million curies), I listened multiple times and made sure I got his words down.

M. Simon said...


I think the only route forward for the nuke club (I'm pretty much a charter member) is to design reactors that are Intrinsically Safe. Which is to say they can survive intact indefinitely a total loss of electrical power.

M. Simon said...


Sacrificing human lives is exactly what is required to get out of this mess. You want to minimize the sacrifice. That has to start out with the mentality "people will die". Any other way of thinking maximizes the mess.

What ever you can say about the Russians is that they are used to giving orders and people dying. It comes in handy from time to time. The Japanese have an exquisite system for making very good decisions. But it is not fast.

arevamirpal::laprimavera said...

@netudiant @Simon, I sensed watching the video of Ishikawa that he was actually excited. This accident is probably the biggest challenge that he or any nuclear scientists and engineers have ever had in their whole career, and he wants to tackle the challenge head-on. I'm sure there are so many others in the world like him, who are more than eager to just do whatever it takes, pro-nuke or anti-nuke.

@Simon, intrinsically safe? from human errors and regulatory errors also?

Anonymous said...

Robie001 sez:

@ Simon

Safer reactors are a great idea but we have a butt load of old reactors that are going to be running for decades past their original design life they need adequate insurance now.

IMO designing a proven "intrinsically safe" reactor and replacing all the wolds reactors isn't going to happen in any kind of timely fashion. Not to mention it wouldn't fix the SFP problem and the US has that problem in spades. How is it stored in poor nuclear nations?

The reactors we have now were supposed to be intrinsically safe because of the defense in depth band-aids they have been adding to reactors over the years. Do I need to remind everybody these "tired old reactors" were just given a 10 year license extension. The international community is going to need an immediate financial solution for the next major international nuclear disaster. Nature may not wait for intrinsically safe reactors to come on line.

Please don't quote future "safe" reactors that will burn-up all the waste they have been trying that for 60 years with little success.

"The report notes that "fast breeder" reactors already have been the focus of more than $50 billion in development spending, including more than $10 billion each by the U.S., Japan and Russia. Yet, the report further notes, none of these efforts has produced a reactor that is anywhere near economically competitive with light-water reactors ... After six decades and the expenditure of the equivalent of tens of billions of dollars, the promise of breeder reactors remains largely unfulfilled and efforts to commercialize them have been steadily cut back in most countries. The reactors have been plagued by high costs, often multi-year downtime for repairs, multiple safety problems, and unresolved proliferation risks. "

As for China and India closing the Thorium cycle and making it economical good luck it has happened yet.

The used construction supplier said...

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