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Commentary on the News
Monday, March 28, 2011
Ed DeShields

Of the hundreds of people who work at a nuclear power plant, only the licensed reactor operator has access to the controls to directly regulate the actual reactor core.   I discussed Japan’s Fukushima nuclear crisis with a licensed reactor operator who explained what might actually be going on in Japan’s nuclear disaster – as it unfolds.

According to my source, whose name is withheld for obvious reasons, despite the news reports it is virtually certain that most of the active reactors at Fukushima, Japan have melted down.  Along with the reactor meltdown there is a supply of spent nuclear fuel that is also involved.  It is also clear there is nuclear fuel outside of the containment area and it is probable that the core itself has been breached exposing the fission process directly to the environment.

There is no saving Fukushima.  A meltdown represents a complete loss of control of the reactors. There is only a dangerous process of containment and the eventual entombment into a permanent sarcophagus that will shield the environment from the disaster during its decay over the next thousand-or-so years.

A meltdown is a volatile process that, in the case of Fukushima, began with the loss of power that disabled the cooling systems that keep the heat of the nuclear decay under control.   It is likely the actual meltdown occurred within minutes after operators lost control of the plant.   At the time, plant operators were probably working in a dark and tsunami-flooded facility.

Seconds before meltdown the core, unable to control its heat, reached approximately 2,200 degrees and melted the rods (i.e. tubes) holding its nuclear fuel.  The operators knew the core was going critical and vented its heat into the atmosphere in an attempt to slow the disaster.   The venting contacted the atmosphere and flashed into hydrogen gas and radioactive water vapor in a plume of contaminating steam.   A series of explosions ensued.  That steam and subsequent fires atomized into a toxic vapor that spread contamination in the local area (perhaps as large at 60km) and into the jet stream.

There is a significant difference between contamination and radioactive exposure.  While the actual radiation levels are low outside a few miles of the plant contamination has a habit of working itself into the food chain and is absorbed by the body where it collects doing nasty long-term damage to living tissues.  It is the contamination effect that is a real issue to Japan.    Alternatively, discussions of low radiation levels equivalent to a chest x-ray are misleading.  You don’t ingest x-rays.

Fukushima is now in its “corium” stage.  As a meltdown occurs, the nuclear fuel become molten and melts everything with it.  This lava-like flow falls to the bottom of the reactor containment building but now contains a molten mixture of the nuclear core, fuel, and some very nasty chemical compounds as it comes in contact with air, water, molten concrete and steam.   Most of the events since the first few minutes of the disaster have been aimed at stabilizing the corium which is unstable and capable of hydrogen related explosions spewing contamination dust and steam.  Chain reactions generate high amounts of heat and highly radioactive fission products. Obviously, this condition is highly undesirable.

There have been some reports of neutron beam. Neutron beams, or penetrating radiation, are detectable only from exposed core material involving a breach of the containment facility thereby exposing the environment.   It is inevitable that parts of Japan are now permanently uninhabitable.  And, perhaps a much larger area will be allocated as unsafe. 

It is suspected that the contamination area could be a large at 60km, or on the scale of Chernobyl.  Japan's damaged nuclear plant in Fukushima has been emitting radioactive iodine and cesium at levels approaching those seen in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident in 1986.

If the contamination field does reach the size of Chernobyl the uninhabitable zone will stretch over one-half of Japan.   Setting aside the environmental damage, the economic damage to the world’s economy by the reduction in Japan’s GDP will be stunning.   This, or course, depends on wind direction (which reserves direction in winter months) and whether the reactor has been breached.   However, the wind will change directions. 

Tokyo’s water supply is tainted, as are its agriculture fields in Northern Japan.  The sea, in a twenty-mile area, is also contaminated.

Among the first evacuees in Tokyo were the bankers who were whisked off to Hong Kong leaving the financial markets to its underlings to mind the store.  The demand for corporate jets was stiff.  Cost was not an issue. 

Expect this story to get worse, on a drip-by-drip release of the real story behind this staggering crisis that will affect the world in one way or another.

About Ed DeShields

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