Fukushima: The Salt Problem


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It's worth remembering, as the battle to prevent a massive radioactive release at the Fukushima power plant approaches the end of its second week, what a best-case scenario might now look like. In the best-case, emergency crews will restore cooling to the reactor cores and spent fuel pools and thus prevent the further release of radiation

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Fukushima: The Salt Problem

  1. 1. Fukushima: The Salt Problem - Ecocentric - TIME.com Page 1 of 4 HOME U.S. POLITICS WORLD BUSINESS MONEY TECH HEALTH SCIENCE ARTS TRAVEL PHOTOS VIDEO SPECIALS MAGAZINE NEWSFEED SEARCH TIME.COM Health & Science ADD TIME NEWS MOBILE APPS NEWSLETTERS Main Ecocentric Going Green Space & Astronomy Environment Oceans Videos Ecocentric Feed Daily E-mail UpdatesA blog about all things green, from conservation to Capitol Hill « Previous A New Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico—and Insight into the Causes of the Old Spill Next » Fukushima: Sick Workers and Cracked Vessels. Whats true? Fukushima: The Salt Problem Posted by EBEN HARRELL Thursday, March 24, 2011 at 3:09 pm Add a Comment • Related Topics: Chernobyl, Fukushima, meltdown, Salt 0 Like 0 Its worth remembering, as the battle to prevent a massive radioactive release at the Fukushima power plant approaches the end of its second week, what a best-case scenario might now look like. In the best-case, emergency crews will restore cooling to the reactor cores and spent fuel pools and thus prevent the further release of radiation. What will then follow is a hugely expensive clean-up operation of the surrounding area and an (even more) expensive decommissioning of the plant itself. Decommissioning of nuclear power plants, even ones that havent suffered serious accidents, is an eerie business; the plant is gutted until all that remains is an abandoned, radioactive hulk that is locked up for hundreds of years before it can be dismantled. That, at this point, would be a dream outcome at Fukushima. Before then, emergency crews face a number of obstacles that many experts believe will take weeks to resolve. Workers must drain radioactive water that has come into contact with damaged reactor cores and they must find a safe way to release radioactive gas. As they do so, they face multiple problems, including one that has only recently come to the attention of outside experts: the build-up of salt in the reactors. The salt, which has accumulated from the seawater that emergency crews have used as a last- ditch method to cool the reactors, might cause the reactors to overheat and possibly even meltdown. As seawater evaporates, salt scaling could insulate the reactor fuel and impede heat transfer and thus cooling. In a worst case, as the rods heat up, their zirconium cladding could rupture, and gaseous radioactive iodine inside could leak out; the uranium core itself could even melt. This, of course, would release event more radioactive material. The New York Times, citing a former engineer with General Electric, which designed the reactors at Fukushima, estimates that 57,000 pounds of salt have accumulated in Reactor No. 1 and 99,000 pounds in Reactors No. 2 and 3. But those reactors are larger. And Shan Nair, a British nuclear safety expert who was part of a panel that advised the European Commission on its response to the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, told Ecocentric that its very difficult to know the danger posed by salt accumulation without more information. "Simply the amount of salt is not the only factor. The salt will melt, some of it will be burned off in vapor. Determining the safe level is like the sort of question youd ask a PhD student applying for a job in the nuclear industry. Without more information, however, I can already tell you, roughly, it would take a hell of a lot of salt to cause a problem. Im not concerned about it." Not all nuclear experts share Dr Nairs sang froid. Some even worry that the Fukushima crisis will get worse before it gets better. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)--not known for taking alarmist positions—criticized the Japanese government yesterday for not extending the evacuation zone around the site, which is currently set at a 12-mile radius. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has advised US citizens within a 50 mile radius around the site to evacuate, but Japan has not extended the zone. In a editorial on the UCSs blog, the UCSs Ed Lyman said: "The crisis is not over. Given the uncertainty over future releases, we believe Japan should extend that evacuation zone." For his part, Dr. Nair is more optimistic. He says the crisis has already shifted to a clean-up operation. "The key was getting power restored to the pumps. Until then they were in a dicey situation. But now they have brought power back to the facility I am not concerned.http://ecocentric.blogs.time.com/2011/03/24/fukushima-the-salt-problem/ 9/29/2011
  2. 2. Fukushima: The Salt Problem - Ecocentric - TIME.com Page 2 of 4 "The challenge is now dealing with the clean-up and taking action to avoid contamination of foodstuff. It sounds terrible that some of the radioactive releases have been taken up by SEARCH THIS BLOG Ecocentric Daily E-mail crops—but its simply a question of throwing away those crops. Its a short term Get e-mail updates from TIMEs Ecocentric in your inbox and contamination event that will create bad publicity and a very expensive clean-up but in terms never miss a day. of public health the problem is very manageable." Enter your e-mail address* Indeed, health experts on Thursday reported that--barring any further release of radioactivity or unforeseen events—the health effects of the Fukushima crisis should remain minimal. As for a panic in Tokyo following the discovery of Iodine 131 in the tap water, Mary Helen Barcellos-Hoff, the Director of Radiation Biology in the Department of Radiation Oncology at NYU Langone Medical Center, told Ecocentric that it should not be cause for concern. "The risk is when there is chronic exposure--that happened in Chernobyl as people ate contaminated food over a course of months. These levels in Tokyo are already very low and they were transient." But thats not to say that Fukushima has not already proven to be a massive nuclear accident. Indeed, Reuters cited an Australian expert on Wednesday who claimed that the release of two types of radioactive particles in the first 3-4 days of the nuclear crisis is estimated to have reached 20-50 percent of the amounts from Chernobyl in 10 days. That followed an estimation from Frances IRSN radiation protection and nuclear safety institute that leaks represented about 10 percent of those from Chernobyl. Health experts were quick to point out several crucial differences, however. "At Chernobyl, the population was not generally aware that the accident had happened," Malcolm Crick, Secretary of the U.N. Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, told Reuters. "People in the nearby town of Pripyat were watching the fire from just a kilometer or so away. They were evacuated a day or so later. In Japan, there was a precautionary evacuation early on." Whats more and perhaps most crucially, wind blew Chernobyls radioactive cloud over population and land; the prevailing breeze in Fukushima has dispersed most of the radioactivity over the Pacific. Print E-mail Add a Comment Twitter LinkedIn Facebook MORE Sponsored Links EMBA Hot Penny Stock EMBA may prove to be the hottest penny stock going this year. Read now www.GreenGainers.com/EMBA 4 Signs of Heart Attack These 4 Things happen right before a heart attack. Know these signs. www.newsmax.com 57-Year-Old Mom Looks 25 Mom Reveals $5 Wrinkle Trick That Has Angered Doctors! ConsumerLifestyles.org Buy a link here Real-time updating is enabled. Comments for this page are closed. Going Green Showing 0 comments Sort by popular now « Back to Ecocentric Home Page In-depth stories on energy, climate and the environment. Go to Going Green » On Twitter: TIME.com TIME Maybe the Muslim Brotherhood isnt all that brotherly | http://t.co/wonP6xIi - 13 minutes ago TIME Tropical Storm Ophelia should get her hurricane upgrade tomorrow | http://t.co/Y2y9M7jT - 34 minutes ago TIME Why does Obama want a Supreme Court fight over health reform? He may think theres no way they can rule against it | http://t.co/GLqzIalj - 54 minutes ago Follow TIME.com on Twitterhttp://ecocentric.blogs.time.com/2011/03/24/fukushima-the-salt-problem/ 9/29/2011
  3. 3. Fukushima: The Salt Problem - Ecocentric - TIME.com Page 3 of 4 Most Popular ON TIME.COM ON BLOGS ON ECOCENTRIC 1. Why Fewer Young American Jews Share Their Parents View of Israel 2. Did Facebook Just Change Social Networking Forever? 3. Why Scientists Are Smarter than Politicians 4. Teacher, Leave Those Kids Alone: A Look at South Koreas Education System 5. Earthlike Planets May Be Less Common than We Think 6. Reebok to Pay $25M over Toning Claims 7. Australia Tells Chinese Tourists: Welcome! (And Bring Your Checkbooks) 8. Egypt: Why the Muslim Brotherhood Isnt All That Fraternal 9. Does Germany Owe Greece $95 Billion from WW II? 10. Can Japans Anti-Nuclear Protesters Keep the Reactors Shut Down?Ecocentric Favorite LinksClimate FeedbackClimateAudit.orgClimateEthics.orgClimateProgressDaily GristDeSmogBlogDot EarthEarth Watch (Richard Black of BBC)EarthJournalism.orgEnergy OutlookEnergy Policy BlogEnergy SmartEnvironmental Journalism Today (SEJ.org)Environmental News NetworkGreenwireLiving on Earth (radio)MongabayMother Nature NetworkPlanetizen – The Planning and Development NetworkRealclimate.orgShop FloorState of the Planet (Columbia)Switchboard (NRDC)The Breakthrough BlogThe Business of GreenThe Green RoomThe Oil DrumTreehuggerWatts Up With ThatWorldchangingYale Environment 360http://ecocentric.blogs.time.com/2011/03/24/fukushima-the-salt-problem/ 9/29/2011
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