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Thread: Japan Earthquake

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  1. #1
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    Japan Earthquake

    The world watched breathless the news of the earthquake that hit Japan last Friday and the almost on-line coverage of both the quake and the tsunami that followed. I guess those videos showed clearly, how nature can annihilate even the best-designed, best build and best thought-off human constructions. They also showed us how Japanese differ from a lot of other nations, I am sure that such a quake would have a lot more casualties had it occurred in other areas of this planet.

    Thankfully for Japan, its continuous exposure to earth shakes has created stronger buildings, better infrastructures and more prepared citizens, which all contributed in keeping the number of casualties low. No, I do not believe that we have heard the total number of casualties so far, I do not believe there will be less than 10,000 casualties as some reporters say, I am sure they'll be much more, and that's is sad, but on the other hand, if you consider that a 5.9 Richter-scale quake, which hit Athens some years ago had 150 casualties, I would have expected this one to have a much higher death toll.

    No matter how devastating the consequences of the earthquake and the tsunami were however, there is another much more severe issue that should really concern us much more. That of the problems faced in some of Japan's nuclear power plants following the quake and the tsunami.

    According to the latest reports, there were two similar explosions in the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, in two different reactors. While I am not a nuclear scientist, I dare say I have a good understanding of how a nuclear power plant works, having researched the subject some 35 years ago, for an article I wrote for a Greek newspaper, when the Greek government was considering building such a nuclear plant in Greece. Based on that experience and on what we hear from the Japanese government, I am afraid that these problems at the nuclear power plants may have much more severe consequences than those caused by the natural phenomena.

    From what we learn, it is clear that the cooling circuit in those reactors, have been severely damaged. That means that the cores of the reactors, even though they have been automatically shut down (meaning that the nuclear reaction has stopped) after the quake stroke the area, are still generating heat (massive amounts of heat, actually) which can not be removed from the reactor vessel. The heat generated increases the temperature inside the reactor to surreal levels. That is a very serious condition, which can possibly lead to a core melt-down. If this happens, then the radioactive material from the core can leak to the ground under the reactor, or if the pressure inside the shield reactor vessel raises enough, it can blow the reactor vessel apart, with massive amounts of radiation leaking to the atmosphere.

    I sincerely hope that Japanese engineers manage to keep the reactors temperature under control, and tame the beast. If not, then I am afraid Japan will face again the devastating results of an atomic "explosion".

    So please join me in praying for the Japanese people. Humanity doesn't need to witness such a tragedy again.
    John Caradimas SV1CEC
    The M1911 Pistols Organization
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  2. #2
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    Exclamation Amen..........................

    John, I feel you are right in your thoughts............This event will affect all of us before it is over...........My prayers go up with yours for all the people of Japan........Tom
    Last edited by Tennessee Tom; 14th March 2011 at 05:42.


  3. #3
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    It's rather unfortunate that my bad feelings for Japan nuclear plants have been proven correct.

    This morning we learned that, not only there was a third explosion in Reactor #2 of the Fukushima Daiichi plant (again, according to the Japanese authorities due to hydrogen accumulation), but also in a fourth reactor building, the spend fuel rods ignited (again, possibly to poor cooling) and spread radiation in the atmosphere.

    According to the Japanese government "radiation levels which are harmful for health" has been observed in the area of the Daiichi factory and residents of the area have been instructed to remain in their homes (most of which are now ruins), while the safety zone around the plant has been enlarged to 30 Km.

    Again, I am afraid we haven't heard the last of this nightmare.

    While it appears that the Reactors #1, 2 and 3 are in "cold shutdown", I find it rather difficult to believe that after such explosions, which broke up the buildings in which the reactors are housed, didn't caused any damage to the steel vessel around the reactor. Even if this is the case (which I find exteremely unlikely) if the temperature of the reactors can't be kept under control, the fuel rods are in danger of melting. If a full melt-down occurs, the steel vessel around the reactors is not going to withstand the tremendous temperatures and will probably melt like icecream under the sun. If that happens, then massive radiation will escape to the environment and the radiation levels measured today in that area will be nothing compared to those that they'll measure then.

    Let's all keep our fingers crossed and pray for the Japanese people and the entire planet.

    P.S.:

    One thing I forgot to mention above, is the fact that all those reactors, or at least reactors #1, 2 and 3, are probably gone, for ever. Using sea water to cool the core is a sure way to permanently damage the reactor. So at least these four units have to be counted out for electricity production in the future.

    Another thing that makes me scratch my head is this: Japan is a well-known seismic country. It is also quite well known that large quakes, like those usually happening in Japan, lead to large tsunamis. How prudent was it to build that huge nuclear powerplant right on the seashore?

    Finally, while it is understandable that the Japanese operators of the power plants are amidst a really tough situation, I wonder how did they manage to allow the spend fuel rods of the 4th reactor to ignite? I understand that their main concerns were to avoid catastrophic incidents at reactors #1, 2 and 3, while the reactor #4 was in "cool and stable shutdown" (so considered less of a danger), but aren't there separate crews handling each reactor? It appears that so far, the largest radiation dose, which has escaped to the atmosphere, came from that cold and safely-shutdown reactor #4. Should Japanese people start worrying about the other "safely shutdown" reactors too?
    John Caradimas SV1CEC
    The M1911 Pistols Organization
    http://www.m1911.org
    Last edited by John; 15th March 2011 at 07:28.


  4. #4
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    Introducing sea water to the reactor was difficult, because the reactor vessel is pressurized to begin with. If the piping bringing water in the reactor core is destroyed, I can see how re-introducing water is a problem.

    As for the reactors being built on the sea shore... they were built there about 4 decades ago it seems, perhaps before the dangers of tsunamis were understood. That they just extended their use for another 10 years, is another story...

    What I don't get, is this: I've seen some documentaries, showing some really impressive tests made in the 50s, where concrete blocks, used to protect nuclear installations, were being tested. Among other things, whole F-4 Phantom aircraft were crashed against these barriers, using special rails that accelerated the fighters to near-sonic speeds. So, if moving these installations inland is difficult, why not just built a 10 meter high, 10 meter thick concrete barrier around it? Sure, it would have been expensive, but it would have been much simpler than what American installations had to begin with, 60 years earlier!
    Too many people miss the silver lining because they're expecting gold.
    M. Setter

  5. #5
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    Spyro, the reactor vessel was for sure pressurized due to a partial melt of the core rods. However, there are ways to pump water in it, that's for sure.

    I have to disagree about the tsunamis though, Hawaii has been hit by tsunamis with devastating results since the 50s, at least that's one of the incidents mentioned to us during our visit there in 2001. So it's not as if people were unaware of the tsunami devastating effects.

    As for your concrete barrier, the reactor vessel is enclosed in a concrete container, which however is not hermetically sealed, otherwise there would be no access to the core. Also, while concrete is capable of withstanding pressure, it is the extreme temperatures that develop inside the core, in the event of a melt-down that you have to worry about. If the rods melt into one, united solid (rather liquid) mass, at the bottom of the reactor vessel, neither its steel case, nor the cement is going to stop it. Hence the imaginary "China Syndrome" effect, which was introduced and discussed a lot, during (and after) the Three-Mile Island incident, in the 70s.
    John Caradimas SV1CEC
    The M1911 Pistols Organization
    http://www.m1911.org

  6. #6
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    I should have been more clear. I wasn't suggesting a concrete barrier to contain the reactor or protect it from bombers (like the Americans did), only a concrete wall to protect the whole nuclear installation from a tsunami. If I understand correctly, the reactor itself didn't suffer from the tsunami. The problem was with all the ancilliary installations around the reactor, like the diesel generators that failed to start up, and the pumps that were supposed to circulate water in the reactor.

    Slightly off-topic - if someone wants to see what happens when a Phantom crashes on a concrete barrier doing 500mph, try this:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AB4IEa7jTJw

    How on earth can an aluminium wing slice through concrete like that?
    Too many people miss the silver lining because they're expecting gold.
    M. Setter

  7. #7
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    I don't think a concrete wall would stop the 10m high tsunami, unless it was taller than 10m and extremely thick at its base, like a dam. Water can carry some significant energy.
    John Caradimas SV1CEC
    The M1911 Pistols Organization
    http://www.m1911.org

  8. #8
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    The wall shown in the Phantom video, is intended to simulate the kind of reinforced concrete barrier used to protect a nuclear installation (civilian or military, I'm not sure). Such barriers weren't all that unusual in cold war-era installations. The Japanese reactors were built back in those days.

    More recently, the Japanese had the foresight to build tsunami barriers in many locations, to protect sea-side towns from the waves - these barriers were not 10m high, so on this occasion they didn't work. So my point is this: if a town warrants a 5-6 meter-high tsunami barrier, doesn't the site of a potential nuclear disaster warrant a barrier that is a little more... robust?

    Of course it is very easy to say all this after the fact.
    Too many people miss the silver lining because they're expecting gold.
    M. Setter

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