Fukushima Entombment not a slam dunk. Hitachi Maps out 30 year process. Tepco: Cold Shutdown in 6 to 9 Months.

April 17, 2011

From Reuters:

Encasing reactors at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant in concrete would present much more of a challenge than Chernobyl, according to an executive of the firm whose pumps are helping cooling efforts there.

“In Chernobyl, where a single reactor was encased, 11 trucks were in action for a number of months. In Fukushima we’re talking about four reactors,” Gerald Karch, chief executive of the technical business of unlisted machinery maker Putzmeister, said in an interview with Reuters.

He said that while no decision had been made in Japan, concrete encasing would be the most sensible solution once the crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant has cooled down.

“In my opinion, when a closed-circuit cooling system has been developed and successfully set up, there will be no other option but to encase the reactors in concrete,” he said.

He added, however, that the logistics of such an operation — getting all the necessary trucks on site, for example — would present a real challenge for plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO).

UPDATE: Kyodo News reports-

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Sunday that it aims to bring the damaged reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to a stable condition known as a ”cold shutdown” in about six to nine months, while restoring stable cooling to the reactors and spent fuel pools in about three months.

At a news conference in Tokyo, company Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata announced the utility’s schedule ”for the moment” for bringing the complex in Fukushima Prefecture under control, while offering an apology for the ongoing nuclear crisis.

The utility, known as TEPCO, also said it needs three months to achieve ”steady reduction” in radiation, and an additional three to six months to control radioactive emissions and curb radiation substantially.

It said it is addressing the immediate challenges of preventing hydrogen explosions at the Nos. 1 to 3 reactors and emission of water contaminated with high-level radiation from the No. 2 reactor.

Am I losing it, or do I remember reading the plants were in “cold shutdown” a month ago..?

Business Week:

Hitachi Ltd. and General Electric Co. submitted a plan to dismantle the crippled Fukushima Dai- Ichi plant they helped build as Japanese engineers battle to contain the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.

The proposal, which also involves Exelon Corp. and Bechtel Corp., was submitted April 8, said Yuichi Izumisawa, a Tokyo- based spokesman at Hitachi, Japan’s second-largest maker of nuclear reactors. He declined to specify details of the plan.

The Hitachi-led proposal will vie against plans from groups led by Toshiba Corp. and Areva SA as Tokyo Electric Power Co. begins preparing to clean up a nuclear disaster that’s led to the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of inhabitants. Decommissioning the reactors may take three decades and cost more than 1 trillion yen ($12 billion) to complete, engineers and analysts say.

A competing plan from a group lead by Toshiba Corp., was said to lay out a lightning-fast 10 year process.

Nuclear Technology. Another enterprise too big to fail.

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2 Responses to “Fukushima Entombment not a slam dunk. Hitachi Maps out 30 year process. Tepco: Cold Shutdown in 6 to 9 Months.”

  1. neilrieck Says:

    Unlike 30 years ago, you can no longer get accurate information from TV and newspapers. They do very little “investigative journalism” and they do almost no fact checking using secondary and tertiary sources. Unfortunately, blogs are worse and people like George Will have admitted to using sites like Daily Tech for technical information.

    If you want accurate information you must read magazines (or visit the blogs) of, publishers like: Scientific American, AAAS, IEEE, New Scientist, National Geographic, etc. Alternatively, you can watch PBS or listen to NPR.

    ###

    Here are a few facts. When a light-water reactor (which is powered by enriched uranium) is shut-down, it still produces heat at the 7% level. The is why spent fuel must be maintained in a cooling pond for 5 years after it is removed from the reactor core.

    Anyone who used the phrase “cold shutdown” just did not understand the facts (but remember that journalism students leaned toward the arts and away from the sciences)

    In Chernobyl, politics trumped engineering so Russians just tried things without getting approval from an engineering committee. As part of a knee-jerk reaction, they entombed their reactor in concrete much too soon. Once the concrete set, the fuel was no longer able to dissipate newly generated heat. The concrete fractured then began to spew radioactive dust. This meant that a second covering (which they called a sarcophagus) needed to be built to cover the original mistake.

    What the Russians should have done, and what I believe the Japanese will do, is pump water into their reactors for the next 4-5 years (emulating a cooling pond).

    In Japan, the fast-moving water will be in contact with the reactor fuel for such a short amount of time it will only contain a very tiny amount of radioactivity meaning that they will be able to just dump it in the ocean. Keeping the fuel covered with water will have a secondary effect: it will prevent natural air from reacting with exposed fuel and fuel casing. (which will be lowered with lower temperatures).

    ###

    I once attended a lecture by Edward Witten who gave a detailed introduction to the science of the past 100 years. The main takeaway point was this: chemicals (like a battery) naturally work in the range of 1-2 electron volts while radioactivity naturally works in the range of 1-2 million electron volts. Chemical energy release (like burning coal) produces 1 million times more waste (which goes up the smoke stack) than nuclear, but the nuclear waste is 1 million times more dangerous.

    There is no free lunch here. As far as pollutants are concerned, one technology is as bad as the other. Chemical energy will kill you slowly while nuclear energy will kill you quickly. But human error at a chemical plant won’t garner world-wide attention.

    In my humble opinion, humanity can work with radioactive energy provided we are 1 million times more careful. This means that nuclear power generation will need to be the most regulated industry of all. If a plane crashes, airline companies will be libel for the deaths of 100-300 people (provided the plain didn’t crash into a city). But if a reactor fails the total amount of accumulated damage my be 1 million times worse.

    This means that capitalists may wish to invest in renewable technologies like wind, water, and solar WHICH DO NOT RELEASE ANY POLLUTANTS and won’t kill anyone.

  2. pendantry Says:

    neilrieck:
    “Chemical energy release (like burning coal) produces 1 million times more waste (which goes up the smoke stack) than nuclear, but the nuclear waste is 1 million times more dangerous.”

    “This means that capitalists may wish to invest in renewable technologies like wind, water, and solar WHICH DO NOT RELEASE ANY POLLUTANTS and won’t kill anyone.”

    Just felt those two sentences bore repeating.

    Such a pity the capitalist investors aren’t listening — mainly because they don’t have to pay the cleanup costs when things go wrong.

    Business Week’s “Decommissioning the reactors may take three decades and cost more than 1 trillion yen ($12 billion) to complete, engineers and analysts say” might underscore the point if it stated where the $billions were coming from. I’m willing to bet the original investors in Fukushima Dai-Ichi cut and run with their profit long ago.

    As for the idea of making nuclear power generation the most regulated industry of all, the entire history of nuclear power has shown us time and again that if the regulators earn pay, it must be mainly through backhanders and kickbacks (see for instance http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/2011/03/a_is_for_atom.html ).


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