Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Japan Earthquake: nuclear plants

  1. Mar 11, 2011 #1
    Does anyone have any reliable info on the nuclear plants - the reports on the news seem garbled to me.

    Edit by Borek:

    To All:

    Please stick to technical aspects and to things happening at the Fukushima Daiichi NPP.

    There are several other threads discussing different aspects of the disaster:

    Why is Fukushima nuclear crisis so threatening?

    Fukushima radiation detection and measurement

    The "more political thread" besides "Japan Earthquake: nuclear plants" scientific one

    Japan earthquake - contamination & consequences outside Fukushima NPP
    Last edited by a moderator: May 25, 2011
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 11, 2011 #2


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    Re: Japan Earthquake

    Unless one has direct contact from someone in the plant, the best one can do is the releases by TEPCO or METI, but METI is probably getting it second hand. I haven't seen any official releases from METI though.

    TEPCO press releases



    WNN - http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/RS_Massive_earthquake_hits_Japan_1103111.html

    IAEA - http://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/2011/tsunamiupdate.html

    WANO is behind the curve.

    I have not found any direct press release from METI, but
    Fukushima reactor pressure may have hit 2.1 times capacity: METI

    Woah - not good. That's a big NO-NO.

    Problems at a second unit

    TEPCO: loses control of pressure at 2nd nuclear plant

    If this is true, I can see a lot of managers getting sacked.

    And there is this AP article on Yahoo - http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Japan-quake-causes-apf-1121920057.html?x=0 [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  4. Mar 11, 2011 #3
    Re: Japan Earthquake

    Is there any real chance at a meltdown or is that just the typical media hype?
  5. Mar 11, 2011 #4


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    Re: Japan Earthquake

    At the moment, I don't see a 'real' chance of a meltdown. It is a worst case scenario, which is what licensing space is all about.

    Some of the worst case scenarios involve extraordinary, and not necessarily physical real situations. It's a bit like crash testing a car by dropping it out of an airplane at several thousand feet, knowing full well that such a car would never be able to achieve such a velocity on level ground since the engine could not achieve the speed or the tires would blow out well before the speed could be achieved.

    Some in the media will sensationalize the situation in order to grab the audience in order to sell commercials for useless stuff. But I digress. :rolleyes:

    I'd like to keep the discussion here on the technical aspects - as soon as we learn from reliable sources.

    We have the earthquake thread in P&WA.
  6. Mar 11, 2011 #5
    Re: Japan Earthquake

    Ok. This question is pretty 'elementary' but I do not know much about how a NPP works. I read an http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110311/pl_nm/us_japan_quake_nuclear_clinton" [Broken] that said that the US delivered coolant to Japan. Why does Japan need the coolant? I don't understand how an earthquake and a tsunami can make a NPP lose its coolant? Also, what specific purpose does the coolant serve in the plant (what exactly does it cool) and what would happen if Japan could not get more coolant?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  7. Mar 11, 2011 #6


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    Re: Japan Earthquake

    There was some miscommunication. I'm not sure who said what to whom, but apparently Sec of State Clinton mentioned coolant was being flown to Japan. That is incorrect.

    They might airlift some generators, but I have not heard any details.

    A light water reactor (LWR) uses water coolant under pressure to both moderate the neutrons and cool the nuclear fuel. The Fukushima units are boiling water reactors (BWRs), in which the water is boiled in the core at a pressure of ~1055 psia at Tsat ~ 286 C. The steam is sent directly to a high pressure turbine, and then the exhaust of the high pressure turbine feeds a set of low pressure turbines. The units are about 33% efficient, so about 67% of the heat is rejected through condensers to the environment, which at Fukushima is the sea.

    When the reactor shutdowns, there is still some heat being generated from the decaying fission products. "At the moment of reactor shutdown, decay heat will be about 7% of the previous core power if the reactor has had a long and steady power history. About 1 hour after shutdown, the decay heat will be about 1.5% of the previous core power. After a day, the decay heat falls to 0.4%, and after a week it will be only 0.2%." Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decay_heat#Power_reactors_in_shutdown

    So it is important to cool the reactor for several days following shutdown.

    The RCIC requires power from off-site or emergency diesel generators. Well the plant lost off-site power. The EDGs worked for about 1 hour then stopped. Now plant personnel are trying to get power from some other source. It's not clear why the EDGs quit, but they are supposed to work for days.

    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  8. Mar 11, 2011 #7
    Ok. Thank you for all of the information. Hopefully they can get the problems resolved soon.
  9. Mar 11, 2011 #8
    So the coolant system was knocked out, can't they scram the reactor?
  10. Mar 11, 2011 #9
    The reactor is off but keeps producing heat has radioactive isotopes decay. Basically when it is on it produces a heat and radioactive isotopes which decay to more stable isotopes and give off more heat in the process. You can't turn this second process off, it just keeps going. The amount of heat the second process gives off goes down over time. However that means you have to keep cooling it for a number of days otherwise it would melt into a pile of radioactive goo (and take your expensive reactor with it).
  11. Mar 12, 2011 #10
    So it's already off and wont explode? Cool, thanks.
  12. Mar 12, 2011 #11


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    It looks like the containment building has exploded. My educated guess is, what they feared might happen at TMI has happened here. The core melted down, releasing lots of hydrogen gas in the chemical reaction with the cladding, which then ignited.

    [PLAIN]http://img855.imageshack.us/img855/1472/20mai00383969.gif [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  13. Mar 12, 2011 #12


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Is it safe to assume the winds go towards the Pacific Ocean at the site? In case of an exposed meltdown?
  14. Mar 12, 2011 #13


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    At the time of the explosion, the wind was apparently moving toward the northeast, so any vapor would be carried out to sea.

    However, I understand that the building where the explosion has occurred is not associated with containment, but I have not been able to verify this.

    From World Nuclear News -
    So pressure in containment is about 8.4 atm rather the 4 atm, the nominal design pressure.

    and meanwhile at the plant next door, Fukushima Daiini (plant 2)
    The situation is serious. What has happened, shouldn't have happened.
  15. Mar 12, 2011 #14
    A TEPCO spokesperson made a statement on Japanese TV about 20 minutes ago. The explosion was supposedly from a buildup of hydrogen around the containment vessel. Apparently, they will flood the containment vessel with seawater (and boric acid?) Does that make sense? They also increased the evacuation zone to 20km. The reporters present didn't seem to like the contradiction of TEPCO's claim that everything was still safe and the expansion of the evacuation zone.

    Caveat: my Japanese is not so great, so I may have misunderstood some of it.

    EDIT: after checking online, looks like I got most of it right, but it was a government official, not a TEPCO spokesperson
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2011
  16. Mar 12, 2011 #15


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I have to say I don't understand how you can have a hydrogen explosion blowing apart the confinement building, and not the reactor vessel.

    I also don't understand how you can let any pressure build up in the confinement building at the risk of rupture if it is slowly. One should prefer steam releases (even contaminated) in order to ensure the integrity of the confinement building if ever the reactor vessel breaks, no ? Now we are not very far from a full release of the core in the environment.
  17. Mar 12, 2011 #16


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    I tried to consult the japanese dose rate surveillance site, but it appears they don't have information for the northern prefectures:
    http://www.bousai.ne.jp/eng/ [Broken]

    I don't know how they transmit their measurements, supposedly via internet. Did the internet break down completely in the northern part of japan?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  18. Mar 12, 2011 #17


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    I have read much the same in English. So far, I have heard conflicting claims - that the explosion was / was not the containment building. I'd have to find a map of the site to figure out if the explosion was near unit 1 or 4. Unit 1 has the most severe problem, while unit 4 was shutdown cold already. From the picture, it looked like the explosion was near unit 4.

    See this article - http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/news/20110312p2g00m0dm073000c.html [Broken]

    If the containment is breached with an uncooled reactor, that is very serious.

    I have heard that Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano mentioned cooling unit 1 with seawater, but I don't know where he is getting the information.

    Cooling directly with seawater would be a drastic step.

    The news from the area is rather sketchy.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  19. Mar 12, 2011 #18
    The articles are just popping up on Japanese pages. The latest may not be translated to English yet. Every Japanese channel has been showing explanations about the containment vessel and the seawater insertion, so I guess they are going to do it.
  20. Mar 12, 2011 #19
    More than like the explosion was within the Off-gas system external to the reactor building and below the off-gas vent towers you see. Primarily due to radiolytic hydrogen build-up. Radiation level increases would be due to premature release of radioactive noble gases (Ze, K, I whcih are normal held up for decay).
  21. Mar 12, 2011 #20
    The suppression chamber at 100 C appears to be within or at the limit of DBA parimeters. It is doing what it is supposed to do cool the water and provide cooling water to the LPCIS. The steam driven HPISs are probably out due to lack of vaible carry over steam in the system. If the diesel generators went south then the LPCIS will be failling.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook