[ RadSafe ] An assessment at about noon Japanese time on Tuesday. 15 Mar

Maury Siskel maurysis at peoplepc.com
Tue Mar 15 04:14:34 CDT 2011

The summary below may be overly brief, and so on. But it is extremely 
difficult to select the right words to convey the details of an ongoing 
complex problem and walk the tightrope of objective assessment. Such is 
life ...... and death.  Life is hard; the latter is easy.

The lesson so far: Japan suffered an earthquake and tsunami of 
unprecedented proportion that has caused unbelievable damage to every 
part of their infrastructure, and death of very large numbers of people. 
The media have chosen to report the damage to a nuclear plant which was, 
and still is, unlikely to harm anyone. We won't know for sure, of 
course, until the last measure to assure cooling is put in place, but 
that's the likely outcome. You'd never know it from the parade of 
interested anti-nuclear activists identified as "nuclear experts" on TV.

 From the early morning Saturday nuclear activists were on TV labelling 
this 'the third worst nuclear accident ever'. This was no accident, this 
was damage caused by truly one of the worst of earthquakes and tsunamis 
ever. (The reported sweeping away of four entire trains, including a 
bullet train which apparently disappeared without a trace, was not 
labelled "the third worst train accident ever.") An example of the 
reporting: A fellow from one of the universities, and I didn't note 
which one, obviously an engineer and a knowlegable one, was asked a 
question and began to explain quite sensibly what was likely. He was cut 
off after about a minute, maybe less, and an anti-nuke, very glib, and 
very poorly informed, was brought on. With ponderous solemnity, he then 
made one outrageous and incorrect statement after another. He was so 
good at it they held him over for another segment

The second lesson is to the engineers: We all know that the water 
reactor has one principal characteristic when it shuts down that has to 
be looked after. It must have water to flow around the fuel rods and be 
able to inject it into the reactor if some is lost by a sticking relief 
valve or from any other cause - for this, it must have backup power to 
power the pumps and injection systems.

The designers apparently could not imagine a tsunami of these 
proportions and the backup power -- remember, the plants themselves 
produce power, power is brought in by multiple outside power lines, 
there are banks of diesels to produce backup power, and finally, banks 
of batteries to back that up, all were disabled. There's still a lot the 
operators can do, did and are doing. But reactors were damaged and may 
not have needed to be even by this unthinkable earthquake if they had 
designed the backup power systems to be impregnable, not an impossible 
thing for an engineer to do. So we have damage that probably could have 
been avoided, and reporting of almost stunning inaccuracy and 
ignorance.Still, the odds are that no one will be hurt from 
radioactivity -- a few workers from falling or in the hydrogen 
explosions, but tiny on the scale of the damage and killing around it.

It seems pathetic that Russia should be the only reported adult in this 
-- they're quoted as saying "Of course our nuclear program is not going 
to be affected by an earthquake in Japan." Japan has earthquakes. But 
perhaps it will be, if the noise is loud enough.

More information about the RadSafe mailing list