Did you know that Japan and America are different? Well, I forgot.

See the light bulb above my head?  Lesson Learned!

My first post on Fukushima is still the most widely read.  Alas. I’m a radiological control technician who wasn’t paranoid about a radiological situation. Never good.  Never acceptable.  So I’ve been “hotwashing” myself ever since.

Where did I go wrong? What was the first cause, the primary mistake?  I had to know in order to answer the most important question of all:

How do I never make that mistake again?

I turned a nifty phrase in “incalculable danger”, got generous links…then steam began venting and cores melting and hydrogen exploding and fuel pools leaking and spent fuel smoldering, all at once, with my brain sprinting like a hamster on a wheel and making about as much progress.

How did Fukushima have several quiet days after the event and only then have the Hellmouth open? 

No lesson learned.

Then a couple of days ago we learned the site went six days without electricity.  That monstrous tsunami took out the electrical backups, the backup-backups, and the backup-backup-backups in one fell swoop.

And I thought, “well, that explains most everything”. 

But still, no lesson learned.

It’s only now, right now, the realization: I wrote the post assuming that they had electrical power.

Not even an assumption, really.  It wasn’t even a consideration.  Of course they had power.  They couldn’t possibly not have power.

But they did not have power.

Lesson Learned: the Japanese are different from Americans.

I now know that if Diablo Canyon and San Onofre are hit by a earthquake/tsunami combo, events will not unfold here as they did there.  Never ever ever.

Because we’re different.

I love this country.  Not “warts and all”.  Nope, I’m a “despite the warts” guy.  And one of those warts is, we do a lot of whining.

A lot of whining.

The Soviets covered up Chernobyl as much as they could for as long as they could.  The Japanese weren’t covering up, so much.  They just didn’t share.

Well, Americans share.  You can’t shut us up, that’s how much we share.

In my NRC days I worked about a dozen nuke plants.  And I guarantee you, cross my heart and hope to die… if any of them lost power they would share that information.


We’d share.

That’s my lesson learned:  Peoples are different

Alas again.  It’s so basic and obvious and undeniable that I’ll probably forget it immediately.

About wormme

I've accepted that all of you are socially superior to me. But no pretending that any of you are rational.
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26 Responses to Did you know that Japan and America are different? Well, I forgot.

  1. Mountainbear says:

    And you’d have significant looting and violence in some areas. I remember that one quake that hit Cali some years back where shopkeepers, in the end, defended their shops and property with “evil assault weapons” ™ , and, IMO, rightfully so.

    Yep, peoples are different. Let’s be glad about it. Imagine everyone would be loudmouthed, arrogant, stuck-up Americans 😛 Or indecisive, whiney Euro-peons. Or… insert whatever comes to your mind here.

  2. Sparkey says:

    I understood that all the backups except the batteries failed. Then some diesel generators were brought in on Sunday. But these generators were intermittent. So I was under the impression they had power, just not reliable power. Even so, the Japanese should’ve been able to get emergency power lifted into the plant quicker.

    I think all the noise about burying the plants is a publicity stunt because burying them would be much cheaper than 4x TMI level clean ups.

    Sounds like there were some not wanting to lose “face” who have now lost a lot more.

    The thing is the pools, not the reactors have been the real threat. Like you said earlier, maybe Yucca mountain will finally be realized.

    • wormme says:

      Yes. I just don’t want to be political about this. I support nukes because they’re historically safe and can be made much safer. So I hope that the no-nukes crowd who aren’t political, few though they be, will support Yucca Mountain even if they oppose nuclear power.

  3. Leopold says:

    I know that I’d be screaming to the world and grabbing people by the lapels and maybe shoving hot samples down people’s shorts if necessary to get the information out, but I recall the amazingly passive, Russian-novel like sense of inevitability that *seemed* to surround the state and city response to hurricane Katrina in NO, and I wonder if we are still training/teaching/encouraging people to make the necessary stink in situations like this.

    • wormme says:

      I’m back to my old “city mice vs. country mice” model. It’s the attitude, not the specific geography. Mississippi got hit pretty hard, took care of themselves, and so got almost no attention. Remember the recent Nashville floods? Country mice attitude, and so little national attention. It’s the people who depend on government help that usually do the whining.

      But in the Fukushima scenario both the country mice and city mice would be shouting.

      A powerless nuke site (here, at least) would not be tolerated by personnel who know what’s at stake. Including some management. They’d play it close to the vest with the public, sure. But if they didn’t believe that heaven and earth were being moved to get power restored, whistles would be blown.

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  5. oldHP says:

    Here’s a timeline; anyone find anything better?


    Its confusing because we need separate timelines for each reactor.

    But I’m wondering if they failed to activate the SLCS (standby liquid control system — high pressure injection of borated water that is designed to kill the reactor under the worst case conditions, including a large size break). Did they use the dedicated batteries for its pumps for something else? Damaged?

    Note for future: pipe the SLCS to the spent fuel pool, too !


    Friday, 11 March
    14:46 A 9.0 magnitude earthquake strikes

    15:01 (approximate) [ABOUT 15 MINUTES]
    The tsunami unleashed by the earthquake strikes the Fukushima facility damaging the backup generators required to cool the reactors.

    Later, reports indicate that only the generator for unit number 6 remained working in full operational capacity.

    [UNITS 5 & 6 ARE SEPARATED FROM 1,2,3,4

    According to a report in the New York Times, “[A]t the start of the crisis Friday, immediately after the shattering earthquake, Fukushima plant officials focused their attention on a damaged storage pool for spent nuclear fuel at the No. 2 reactor at Fukushima I, said a nuclear executive who requested anonymity…. The damage prompted the plant’s management to divert much of the attention and pumping capacity to that pool, the executive added. The shutdown of the other reactors then proceeded badly, and problems began to cascade.”

    Saturday, 12 March
    02:44 [ABOUT 12 HOURS AFTER QUAKE BATTERIES EXHAUSTED] Emergency battery power for the High Pressure Core Flooder System for #3 ran out.

    Fuel rods in #3 are exposed.

    Monday, 14 March
    The outer building surrounding Unit 3 of Fukushima I explodes, presumably due to the ignition of built up hydrogen gas.

    Status of the Fukushima I station at 12:30 March 14
    fuel integrity “damaged”
    core cooling systems “not functional”
    pressure vessel water level “unknown”
    reactor & containment pressure “stable”
    seawater injection & containment venting “performed” ]

    Status of the Fukushima I station at 20:30 March 14

    [ TUESDAY ]
    Status of the Fukushima I station at 07:00 March 15

    Status of the Fukushima I station at 19:00 March 15
    Pressure vessel, water level “around half the fuel”

    Seawater injection into core “continuing”
    Seawater injection into containment building “to be decided”

    Containment venting “continuing”

    Status of the Fukushima I station at 08:00 March 16

    White smoke was seen rising from the vicinity of Fukushima I Unit 3. Damage to the containment vessel of the unit was suspected.[21] Later TEPCO reported that failing to cool the Spent Fuel Pool resulted in evaporation of pool water, which caused steam.

    10:01 (estimated)
    Reactor 3 at Fukushima I nuclear power plant begins emitting white smoke.

    TEPCO says the reactor 3 at Fukushima I nuclear power plant has been emitting white smoke for about 45 minutes.

    Radiation reading at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Station (NPS) border is 3391 µSv/hour

    The remaining 50 workers located in the Fukushima I nuclear power plant have evacuated after radiation levels there have surged.

    Chief cabinet secretary Edano announces that the white fumes emerging from the plant may constitute radioactive steam that has breached Fukushima I Unit 3’s containment.

    Status of the Fukushima I station at 12:30 March 16
    Spent fuel integrity has changed from “not data” to “High temperature suspected”

    12:35 (approximate)
    The 50 personnel that were evacuated at 1136 returned to the facility after radiation levels subsided.

    Radiation reading at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Station (NPS) border is 1937 µSv/hour.

    TEPCO says that work on cooling the Fukushima I reactors is suspended due to radiation risks for the second time.

    Radiation decreased to 1500 µSv/hour at Fukushima I site boundary (NHK TV).

    The Fukushima I Unit 3 Spent Fuel Pool level is low, with preparations for water injection.

    Status of Fukushima I at 19:00 March 16
    Integrity of fuel in Spent Fuel Pool (SFP) “SFP level low, Preparing water injection”

    Environmental effect (NPS border) 1937 µSv/hour at 14:30, March 16

    130 additional people are allowed in the plant as radiation levels fall.

    IAEA Web Site Reports that “Japanese authorities have reported concerns about the condition of the spent nuclear fuel pool at Fukushima I Unit 3 and Unit 4.

    Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa announced Wednesday that Special Defence Forces helicopters planned to drop water onto Unit 3,

    and officials are also preparing to spray water into Unit 4 from ground positions,

    and possibly later into Unit 3.

    Some debris on the ground from the 14 March explosion at Unit 3 may need to be removed before the spraying can begin.”

    Thursday, 17 March

    05:25 (approximately)
    The head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Gregory Jaczko, said that the fuel pool at unit 4 had run dry and as a result, radiation levels at the plant were “extremely high”. TEPCO denied that the pool had run dry and said “the condition is stable” at unit 4.

    Japan’s Self Defense Force used CH-47 helicopters to perform water spraying operations on reactor unit 3.

    JAIF reported that the helicopter had been specially modified with lead shielding to protect the personnel onboard.

    However, much of the water appeared to be dispersed in the wind before reaching its target.

    Helicopter based spraying operations were halted after 4 water drops were performed on unit 3.

    Japanese newscaster NHK indicated that spraying operations will continue from the ground and that personnel are monitoring the radiation levels around the base.

    JAIF reports that the radiation levels at the main gate are 10 millisieverts per hour.

    The Japanese nuclear safety agency says external power to the plant should partially resume later in the day.

    Radiation reading at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Station (NPS) border is 646 µSv/hour.

    Cabinet Secretary Edano says Unit 3 is the top priority for cooling efforts

    The Japan Times reports that radiation levels at the main gate drop to 1.5 millisieverts per hour.

    Additionally, after hours of conflicting reports on the cause of the white smoke emitting from unit 3, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano corrects an earlier statement and now believes that the smoke is being released from the storage pool at unit 3, and not the containment vessel.

    Status of Fukushima I at 16:00 March 17
    Containment integrity Damage suspected, but considered to be unlikely.

    Rewiring unit 2 to the Japanese power grid was completed at 08:30 UTC and IAEA indicates that Power will be turned on once the spraying of unit 3 is completed.

    Workers begin spraying water from “special pumper trucks” similar to those used for aircraft fires onto unit 3.

    Status of Fukushima I at 22:00 March 17
    SFP level low, Starting water injection

    Environmental effect (NPS border) 646.2 µSv/hour at 11:10, March 17

    Workers finish successfully spraying 30 tons of water from pumper trucks onto Unit 3, and TEPCO is now evaluating the effectiveness of the operation.

    IAEA indicates that the spraying of water on the Unit 3 reactor building was temporarily stopped.

    Reuters reports that work has started to connect outside power lines to the Fukishima I nuclear power plant. Unit 2 will be the first to receive electricity. The earliest this could happen is Friday.

    Friday, 18 March

    Engineers have begun laying power grid cabling to unit 2. Power to unit 2 will be reconnected once the spraying of water on the unit 3 reactor building ceases.

    Water dousing resumes on unit 3 by the Japan Self-Defense Forces (SDF), rotating with the Tokyo Fire Department (TFD), which is also managing unit 1.

    Status of Fukushima I at 16:00 March 18
    Containment integrity “might not be damaged”
    SFP level low, Water injection “continue”

    Environmental effect (NPS border) 646.2 µSv/hour at 11:10 March 17

    IAEA raises INES level from 4 to 5. Radiation reading 1km from reactor #2 – 292.2 µSv/hour

    • wormme says:

      Very informative, thanks! I’m too fried to study the whole thing, though.

      I remember the borated water system as being a tiny volume compared to the systems meant for cooling. So if–say due to power loss–you had a mostly exposed core before you ever pumped the boron? Once you got power, you might do the boron first while you had the chance.

      ANd if you pumped it on a “dry” core without hammering in some serious coolant first? I see a lot of it as flashing to steam and being driven away. Sure, some boron would stick. But how much?

      That’s once possible contributor to why they had to import boron.

      • oldHP says:

        The amount of boron is something above 100 lbs and whatever volume of water is needed to get it into the core. It has a dedicated pump and dedicated battery to operate the pump.

        I don’t recall where it enters the core; the one diagram I find online shows a line entering the bottom of the vessel but I don’t know if that is accurate.

        Did they wait “too long” before activating it? Does the boron, as you say, “stick” to the metal surfaces even if the water flashes? Funny how many details I never before wondered about.

  6. oldHP says:

    Note the “seawater injection” in relation to the timeline. That time is about 44 hours after the quake if I’m counting correctly.

    Isn’t the reactor hotter than what it should be at this time? Especially if the SLCS had been used ?

    What were they using to power the “seawater injection” pumps? The last ditch fire pumps, using a fire hose from the pond? Were they able to truck in equipment from offsite?

    Why didn’t they pump clean water from the condensate tank or the torus? Depends on what they have for a power source & the state of the plant electrical system.

    Friday, 11 March
    14:46 A 9.0 magnitude earthquake strikes

    Saturday, 12 March
    02:44 [ABOUT 12 HOURS AFTER QUAKE BATTERIES EXHAUSTED] Emergency battery power for the High Pressure Core Flooder System for #3 ran out.

    Fuel rods in #3 are exposed.

    Monday, 14 March
    The outer building surrounding Unit 3 of Fukushima I explodes, presumably due to the ignition of built up hydrogen gas.

    Status of the Fukushima I station at 12:30 March 14
    seawater injection & containment venting “performed” ]

  7. oldHP says:

    One thing I’ve never thought about is exactly where they plan on connecting that fire hose?

  8. Ronny says:

    I have seen mention in several places that there is special concern for the fuel in the pool for unit 4. It supposedly contains the entirety of reactor 4’s fuel core, and TEPCO has stated that “The possibility of recriticality is not zero.”

    I understand on a crude level criticality and that special conditions are needed to achieve (e.g., arrangement, density, and shape of fissile material, neutron speed, presence or absence of neutron absorbers, etc.). I also know that water is needed for the kind of reactor at Fukushima to achieve criticality (since it slows down the neutrons enough for them to be captured by the uranium).

    I don’t understand, though, how *losing* water in unit 4’s pool would run the risk of recriticality for the fuel core in it. Without water, I can understand how heat damage could occur–but fission? Wouldn’t the fuel core still need water to make it possible for a self-sustaining reaction to take place–and if the water has boiled off due to heat, criticality cannot take place? Can you explain what conditions would need to be in place for the risk of recriticality to occur in a spent fuel pool? Even granting for extreme disaster conditions, would there ever be a scenario if standard operating procedures were being followed prior to the emergency in which fuel rods stored in a spent fuel pool in the US could achieve recriticality?

    Here is the link that got me thinking about this issue: http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/shortsharpscience/2011/03/nuclear-crisis-radioactive-fue.html

    • wormme says:

      Having water around a given proximate configuration should always increase fissioning, I’d think. So, if someone says losing water will increase criticality, I would normally assume a configuration change.

      Water loss, rods soften and bend or actually melt, U-235 is brought closer together, etc.

      But that’s a 4 A.M. guess.

      • Ronny says:

        Why isn’t this a concern for the other pools, though? Would it be because the uranium content of the rods in pool 4 is higher because the fuel had been removed only temporarily? Also, why store the rods in the first place in a configuration that, in the event of coolant loss and subsequent fuel melt resulting in a larger mass of uranium-infused sludge, criticality could occur in the first place?

  9. Jerry says:

    My opinion of working in nuclear power is this: Imagine a Venn Diagram; the surface of a picnic table will suffice here.

    To solve a particular problem: one small corner of the table is all of the stuff that is dangerous, stupid, or flat out illegal. About the size of a dinner plate. In the opposite corner is all that is allowed by procedure. Ditto. The nuke people have to live in the tiny procedural corner to accomplish their work, and for the most part do it very well. But they generally cannot think out of the box.

    Take a nuke out of the nuke plant and put him anywhere in the rest of the utility and ask him to do something–the first words out of his mouth will be “where’s the procedure?” These folks are mentally crippled procedure monkeys. It’s fun to watch, kind of like zapping flies in the microwave.

    Outside of the nukes, other than the dangerous, stupid and illegal corner–the rest of the table is fair game. It’s much easier to solve a problem when there’s a lot more ON THE TABLE. If I wanted to fix a problem the last people I would ask how to do it would be the nuke people. I’d get some guys from a substation or a coal plant and brainstorm them. By the time I got done the word jumble, the crossword puzzle and the sudoku and drank my McDonalds coffee (6 sugars, 6 creams) the PROBLEM. WOULD. BE. FIXED.

    I was hoping the Japanese would be better at this. The outcome might not have changed, but we–WE could have at least tried to help. Some leadership would have worked wonders here. What the US utility execs must be thinking about is what a miserable black eye this is going to give nuclear power. Whyinthehell didn’t they get together with the Japanese and fix this before it got to this point?

    BTW–Navy Nuc, 9 yrs, Plant Operator, 2.5 yrs, Protective Relay Tech 28 yrs. And when I was at the plant I certified as SRO.

    • Mountainbear says:

      Why didn’t they get together? I can tell you. Now, I’m speaking as Austrian (don’t call me European, I’m NOT European) who has no say in either area. And I know some people will lay some flak into this.

      Kan. Obama. Enough said. Obama is golfing and voting “present”, as always, and Kan is… I have no idea where he is. Every time I watch some footage about Japan I see Edano (I’m starting to think he’s running the show) or the defense minister, but never the prime minister. Heck, the emperor, at his age, is more active than Kan in this crisis!

      Let me say it, please!


      • Ronny says:

        Off on a tangent here, but since you are Austrian, mountainbear, can you tell me whether Zentralanstalt für Meteorologie und Geodynamik (ZAMG) a government agency? It seems to have been following events in Japan closely, and I have posted a few links to dispersion models on the site.

  10. Pingback: Trying to sort out truth from speculation at Fukushima « Quotulatiousness

  11. Avogadra says:

    I wrote the post assuming that they had electrical power.

    I’m no expert at anything nuclear. That said, where did you get the idea that they had electrical power at Fukushima I? They never said they had power. They never acted like they had power. The whole scenario with the giant extension cord confirmed (to me) that they didn’t have power. As I said, I’m no expert, so maybe I’m just confused.

    • wormme says:

      This is one of those reasons Heinlein said “specialization is for insects”. I overspecialized.

      I was studying the radiological info. And this was, two days in? I knew they had power concerns. But without power for their cooling systems, for days? And not letting everyone know?

      Okay, maybe they did, everyone who they thought could help. And by everyone I mean including the Chinese.

      Perhaps the Japanese techs and operators and safety specialists tried to whistleblow when management kept failing to get anything accomplished. Do you think so? Is it in line with what we know of Japanese culture?

      I do not believe their American counterparts would sit quietly by as management failed and failed and failed. I’m not even saying it has to be management’s fault. Just that here, whistles would be blowing.

      • Avogadra says:

        I can’t really say anything about what the Japanese culture would have permitted as far as whistleblowing. One suspects that it would have been frowned upon.

        However, I think the difference in our perceptions about electrical power getting to the site was that you knew it was essential and I didn’t. I heard what I heard because I wasn’t necessarily expecting to hear anything else.

  12. Avogadra nailed it. The fact you are knowledgeable on the subject caused you to make an assumption that a layman would not make. Interesting really. I still don’t think it invalidates your “incalculable” post, because you have to consider what information you did and did not have at that time.

    All these nuclear power posts and comments have been interesting to scroll through, BTW. I feel a like a fly on the wall, especially in the sense that the insect is there and witnesses everything, but hasn’t the slightest clue what’s really going on.

    Snort. G’night.

  13. Pingback: Crisis response and criticality. | World's Only Rational Man

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