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17 March 2011 @ 07:31 pm
More on Fukushima Daiichi  
Since I've been obsessing over the news (I'm still worried about you guys):

Between the sensationalism in the media (in both directions -- some sources have been full of "this triumph of engineering proves nuclear power is great!"[1], too), the best ongoing source of information I've found for following the disaster so far is the MIT Nuclear and Science Engineering blog here, which seems to have been fairly measured in its analysis of the news, and helpful with explanations of various related issues.

Anyway, the short of it is they seem to be hanging on by the skin of their teeth. Time is on their side -- if they can just hold on long enough. It does seem like something worse than Three Mile Island at this point (which, hysteria aside, turned out to be a pretty minor accident -- the plant is actually still operational today), but no chance of it even being within orders of magnitude of Chernobyl, which was a genuine catastrophe of fairly, well, epic proportions.

So, even though it's been touch-and-go, it still doesn't seem like Tokyo is in any real danger, although I'm a bit more worried about Fukushima near the plant. I think a lot of thanks should go to the volunteers that have been risking their lives to keep it from being a lot worse than it's been. And plenty of criticism to engineers who under-prepared for the tsunami.

Anyway. Hope everyone stays safe over there, it sounds like it's going to be a shitty few weeks or months yet at best.


[1] Um, yeah, not so much. How about we store the waste in your back yard, okay?[2] If anything, the rolling blackouts have proved that nuclear power in Japan (or any seismically active area) is not so great, not directly because of safety so much, but indirectly -- compared to other sources of power, it takes a long time to get SCRAMed nuclear power plants inspected and back online even under the best of conditions. Certainly there are reasons Japan has gone nuclear (fossil fuels have their own issues in Japan, both due to pollution and local fuel scarcity), but. And let's just not talk about the incompatible eastern and western power grids which prevent surplus power in one half of the country from being usable by the other.

[2] Not that waste is an insolvable problem, just a really, really expensive one.
 
 
 
asakiyumeasakiyume on March 18th, 2011 02:23 am (UTC)
I wish I could get confirmation that the power line really was successfully in place and they had restarted the pumps, but after the article I posted on Facebook, I haven't seen any others or any follow-ups. Have you?

Douglas Triggs: aspendoubt72 on March 18th, 2011 02:33 am (UTC)
I've only heard that it's in place; I haven't heard that it's made any difference yet.
nojaynojay on March 18th, 2011 11:17 am (UTC)
Nuclear waste is not really a problem. The levels of radioactivity from fuel rods goes down quite rapidly since the dangerous stuff is the fast-decaying isotopes and, after reprocessing to remove it from the unburnt fuel in the fuel rods there isn't that much waste in terms of total mass and volume. Compare that to coal power stations with ash lagoons each containing millions of tonnes of toxic sludge left out in the open and only held back from rivers and such by walls made from dirt (concrete is too expensive). They're given a pass by the nuclear panic-meisters because they're only slightly radioactive and they've always been there, grandfathered into the public consciousness.

As for the "two-grid" problem in Japan there are a couple of bridge connectors on the border SW of Tokyo that link the grids together and perform frequency conversion so they can exchange energy as required. Right now there isn't enough generating capacity for the Japanese to run the country 100% in part because the Fukushima reactors are down and also because a bundle of HV electrical power connections were knocked out by the earthquake and tsunami. There was also a hydroelectric dam failure in Tohoku that flooded out the valley below it and killed at least eight people, but that's not nuclear so the deaths due to this renewable energy source haven't been given any sort of prominence in the news.
Douglas Triggs: snowbird sanddoubt72 on March 18th, 2011 02:18 pm (UTC)
Well, to be fair, a large part of the problem with nuclear waste is political, in the sense that not only does it have to be disposed of safely, it has to be disposed of in a way that makes people feel safe. The second part is the real problem.

Also, I'd heard otherwise about the grids in a number of places, although nothing as solid as the analysis of the plant situation -- but are a couple bridges really enough? What kind of capacities and efficiencies do they have, anyway? I'd be surprised if they were designed to do much more than smooth out spikes and otherwise stabilize the grid. Drawing significant sustained power is something altogether different. I could be wrong, of course, but I'd like to see a bit more solid information there.

As for the dam that failed, I know about it (I don't actually get much of my news from, well, the news), but I wasn't aware it was hydroelectric, I'd heard it described as an irrigation dam. So, I don't think it has any impact on things (well, beyond the large number of houses washed away, which was bad -- I doubt the total death toll will be limited to eight people, ultimately). Although I understand a number of conventional power plants did go down as well and I'm not sure what their current status might be.
Douglas Triggs: sakuradoubt72 on March 18th, 2011 02:24 pm (UTC)
Ah, did find some more information -- the bridges are limited to about 1GW, which is pretty insignificant compared to the 10GW shortfall in Tokyo alone.
Kyaa the Catlord: himekyaathecatlord on March 18th, 2011 03:08 pm (UTC)
Great avatar btw.

Asatte no Houkou, right?