When the Upside is Three Mile Island

Two days ago I felt like saying, “this is going from bad to worse,” but I held my tongue thinking it was too pessimistic to put out there — just focus on recovery from the devastating earthquake and tsunami. How could it get worse?

And now, fifty people are left to protect Japan and the world from having a nuclear catastrophe at four of the six nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daichi facility. Each of the reactors is equal to one Three Mile Island.

Back up power and emergency systems are gone. There have been radioactive releases. There’s more waste in the spent fuel pools than in the reactors. Normally the water should be twenty feet above the fuel. Perhaps the rods have fallen down into the water. At Three Mile Island, it took five years for the system to cool down. Only then did they discover that there had been a fifty percent meltdown after the system was turned off for only two hours. In Japan it’s been much longer.

All the fuel could melt and go through the bottom of the pressure vessel. None of these structures is made to cope with this kind of event. If this happens, there would be an easier path through the molten vessel to the outside. Once the spent rods are in the pool, no one thinks about it (protecting them further).

Wikileaks revealed the U.S. had said that Japan wasn’t properly regulating its nuclear power industry. Japan built six reactors at one location, concentrated them there, because everyone said “not in my backyard.” (duh!)  That’s never been done before, and it makes things much more complicated and likely to happen with them all subject to the same conditions.

GE whistleblower – In 1975, in the design of Mark 1 containments they hadn’t taken into account loads caused by loss of water and other events. At that time he was asked to be project manager. Event: large loss of coolant accident – break of pipe and release of steam and containment products into the pool itself. Heavy vibrations weren’t considered. The steam from a large break should be condensed by water in the suppression pool. You could have a meltdown, or an uncontrolled release of radiation.

The cause of accident is the combined earthquake and tsunami which wiped out all backup systems onsite, so they haven’t been able to cool the system as designed. On all five of the Mark 1 plants at Fukushima, the spent fuel is on the reactor fueling floor. Why? It’s handy because they don’t have to move it very far. After it cools, the fuel is moved into another storage pool that’s outside of the reactor building. Under normal circumstances, it’s water-filled.

Usually you’d have a couple of days in which to act. Unit 4, which is now under threat of meltdown due to a fire wasn’t even in operation at the time. (Now @ 9pm ET, it’s claimed the fire is out.) However, in a horrible confluence of events, Unit 4 was under a maintenance program, and all of the fuel in the reactor had been off-loaded from the reactor into the fuel pool. So, it was verrryyyy hot.

* This post is comprised of my notes from Elliot Spitzer’s interviews of nuclear energy experts on his CNN show tonight 3/15/11. Although they are experts, these interviews are opinion and likely we will not know exactly what happened for a long time — if ever.

Obama needs to re-chart his energy course, which is heavily laden with nuclear, NOW! Declare a MORATORIUM on building new plants! Here we go again: NO MORE NUKES! NO MORE NUKES!

Praying for Japan and its people. God bless us all.