March 15, 2011

Brave New Climate Update on Fukushima - at least another 5 days of cooling to get to stability

The situation is clearly (but slowly) stabilising. As each day passes, the amount of thermal heat (caused by radioactive decay of the fission products) that remains in the reactor fuel assemblies decreases exponentially.

On March 11, the reactors went sub-critical, their power levels dropped by about 95 % of peak output (the nuclear fission process was no longer self-sustaining). Over the past 5 days, the energy in the fuel rods dropped by another ~97 %, such that the heat dissipation situation is getting more and more manageable. But we’re not out of the woods yet, and the reactor cores will need significant cooling for at least another 5 days before stability can be ensured.

Yesterday there appears to have been a fracture in the wetwell torus (see diagram: that circular structure below and to the side of the reactor vessel) in Unit 2, caused by a hydrogen explosion, which led to a rapid venting of highly radioactive fission product gases (mostly noble [chemically unreactive] gases, the majority of which had a half-life of seconds to minutes). It also caused a drop in pressure in the supression pool, which made the cooling process more challenging. However, despite some earlier concerns, it is now clear that containment was not breached. Even under this situation of extreme physical duress, the multiple containment barriers have held firm. This is an issue to be revisited, when the dust finally settles.

There have been two fires in Unit 4, the first tentatively linked to a failed oil pump, and the second, being of (currently) unknown cause, but the likelihood is that it was linked to hydrogen gas bubbling.

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