16 iii 11, 2:30 PM GMT—As the situation at Fukushima clarifies, the peripheral rhetoric about that situation gets more muddled.
The essence of what is happening is that successful containment in the first four days of the crisis caused an extreme concentration of radioactivity and resultant heat and fire at the facility, at once revealing the extraordinary unwisdom (a technical term for imbecility) of putting six nuclear reactors plus spent fuel storage pools at a single site.
The argument against centralization of technology is one word: Fukushima. When you put things all together at one place – yes, the easiest away to circumvent local siting opposition – you make that location extraordinarily vulnerable to Common Mode Failure, whether it be earthquakes, meteor strikes, sabotage, or terrorist attack.
So Fukishima is now a spiralling fire pit of heat and radiation where work has become impossible because human beings cannot get close enough. This is the price of successful containment.
The boast of western nucleocrats since Chernobyl has been that those silly Soviets did not put their reactors inside thick containment capsules made of high-temperature steel. That allowed the Chernobyl fire to easily break through to the atmosphere, causing the long-distance dispersion of Cesium-137. What dummies, those Leninists.
What we now learn is that the remarkable steel containers manufactured by Hyundai et al. make excellent pressure cookers with no built-in release valve. So instead of wide dispersion in the atmosphere, we get a nuclear cauldron. And those brilliant do-no-wrong-Japanese geniuses put six of them all right next to each other.
Science project (Do NOT try this at home): Take six pressure cookers. With concrete fasten the release cocks in place so they cannot function or be removed. Fill all with water and place them all in contact on a six-burner stove set to high. Place all available pressurized fire extinguishers and smoke detectors within inches of the stove. Leave unattended for a few hours. Note result.
As of early Wednesday in Japan, a helicopter water-drop had to turn away because of high radiation. One containment vessel is reported breached but perhaps not seriously. The spent fuel storage pools are reported drying out, meaning the spent fuel, considered waste (and stored there because Japan has no disposal option) is heating up. Spent fuel has much more plutonium and fission products in it than the fresh fuel in the reactors that were operating. More details at: Setback in Japan’s Reactor Fight – WSJ.com.
Among other consequences of this, on-site spent fuel storage will no longer be considered a viable option. On-site storage is now the option employed in the USA, since there is no approved disposal site.
At risk of repetition: the drama now will revolve around the site itself, how work can be done there and whether workers will abandon the scene or be ordered out. Then the question of what to do with Fukushima, assuming a cool-down is somehow obtained. Right now I would forecast that the entire site will be entombed in a big block of concrete for lack of any other option.
Symbolic landscape artists, get to work. Employment opportunities will abound. I think this is also very good news for whoever holds the trademark rights to Godzilla.