Explosion and Fire at Fourth Japanese Nuclear Reactor ... Government Says High Levels of Radiation Being Released

George Washington's picture

Washington’s Blog

Kyodo News noted earlier that Reactor Number 4 has caught fire:

The Herald Sun reported:

levels near a quake-stricken nuclear plant are now harmful to human
health, Japan's government says after explosions and a fire at the

"There is no doubt that unlike in the
past, the figures are the level at which human health can be
affected," said chief government spokesman Yukio Edano.




Although the number-four reactor
was shut for maintenance when the quake and tsunami struck last
Friday, "spent nuclear fuel in the reactor heated up, creating hydrogen
and triggered a hydrogen explosion".


He said radioactive substances were leaked along with the hydrogen.


keep in mind that what is burning is not nuclear fuel itself," Mr
Edano said. "We'll do our best to put out or control the fire as soon
as possible."

AP now says the fire has now been put out, although the Japanese government says that high levels of radiation are being released:

Minister Naoto Kan said radiation has spread from four reactors of the
Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Fukushima province, one of the
hardest-hit in Friday's 9.0-magnitude earthquake and the ensuing
tsunami that has killed more than 10,000 people. "The level seems very
high, and there is still a very high risk of more radiation coming out,"




fire was put out. Even though it was unoperational, the fourth reactor
was believed to be the source of the elevated radiation release
because of the hydrogen release that triggered the fire.




is likely that the level of radiation increased sharply due to a fire
at Unit 4," Edano said. "Now we are talking about levels that can
damage human health.

Hopefully, Edano is right, and the high levels of radiation were due to a temporary fire, which has been put out.

However, high radiation levels were reported before the fire, when reactor number 2 exploded earlier today, and the government said that its containment core had been breached.

The Christian Science Monitor notes
that a design feature of the Fukushima reactors may mean that spent
fuel rods release far more radiation than the reactors themselves:

particular feature of the 40-year old General Electric Mark 1 Boiling
Water Reactor model – such as the six reactors at the Fukushima site –
is that each reactor has a separate spent-fuel pool. These sit near
the top of each reactor and adjacent to it, so that cranes can remove
spent fuel from the reactor and deposit it in a swimming-pool-like
concrete structure near the top of the reactor vessel, inside each
reactor building.


If the hydrogen explosions
damaged those pools – or systems needed to keep them cool – they could
become a big problem. Keeping spent-fuel pools cool is critical and
could potentially be an even more severe problem than a reactor
meltdown, some experts say. If water drains out, the spent fuel could
produce a fire that would release vast amounts of radioactivity,
nuclear experts and anti-nuclear activists warn.


should be much more attention paid to the spent-fuel pools," says
Arjun Makhijani, a nuclear engineer and president of the anti-nuclear
power Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. "If there's a
complete loss of containment [and thus the water inside], it can catch
fire. There's a huge amount of radioactivity inside – far more than is
inside the reactors. The damaged reactors are less likely to spread
the same vast amounts of radiation that Chernobyl did, but a
spent-fuel pool fire could very well produce damage similar to or even
greater than Chernobyl."


But another scientist said while the
spent-fuel pools have capacity for high volumes of radioactive
material, the amount of fuel currently in the spent-fuel pool might be
less than widely believed, based on data he has seen showing only
about as much spent fuel in the vulnerable pool as contained in the


"The inventory numbers I've seen for
the spent-fuel pool [that was losing coolant] is well below capacity,"
said Edwin Lyman, a physicist with UCS, which describes itself as
neither pro- nor anti-nuclear power, but which says nuclear safeguards
today are not adequate. "That could limit the damage."

It is stunning that the reactors were so poorly designed.

BBC reports (scroll down on left side):

engineer Masashi Goto, who helped design the containment vessel for
Fukushima's reactor core, says the design was not enough to withstand
earthquakes or tsunami ...

Goto was speaking about the reactor core. I'm certain he would say the same thing about
the spent-fuel pool.

As MSNBC notes, there are 23 virtually-identical reactors in the U.S.

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Escapeclaws's picture

The problem with nuclear reactors is not the science but the fact that they are so expensive. Where there is high cost, there is cutting corners and corruption. I wouldn't be half surprised to learn that that is the real issue with these Japanese reactors. Follow the money. Who got paid off when. I sure hope the Japanese pursue this aspect of the problem when the dust finally settles. I'm sure the shredders are overheating as I write this.

moneymutt's picture

agreed, every form of energy comes with its risks and down sides and harm to human health...we should look at these objectively and determine when all done with equal safety what is best deal....nukes got over because people were cheating

tamboo's picture

"It is stunning that the reactors were so poorly designed."

not really when you consider the fact that the clean free energy devices of tesla, schauberger,and many others have been ruthlessly suppressed by the oligarchy. use primitive technology to create crises that lead to death and more govt control is the rule of the day. see gom.



High Plains Drifter's picture

GE will be a thing of the past soon enough. To old Mark Haines etc, I say to you sir, so long to your retirement benefits as well.  Its law suit city now and open season on the GE and Westinghouse.

ImNotExposed's picture

Does the seawater being pumped in become radioactive? If so, where's it going? It doesn't seem as if they could circulate it through the cooling systems, because the cooling systems are down.

Also, how did the waste pool get hot enough to boil off enough coolant that the pool caught fire? Did the cooling system fail there too, or was there heat from a nearby meltdown?

High Plains Drifter's picture


23 sisters in United States. I want these problematic pieces of trash turned off and the fuel buried wherever they bury such horrible things and it is obvious we have to do something else on this.

Iam_Silverman's picture

"I want these problematic pieces of trash turned off"

The best way for your voice to be heard is through economic protest!  Show them you are a consumer who is in charge - go to your main breaker and switch your power off!  Furthermore, refuse to buy any power again, ever, until they shut down all nuclear plants and all of the fossil-fueled plants on this continent and replace it with safe, clean and very efficient wind power!

Power to the people, man!  Economic revolt!  Let's start the Green Revolution now.

High Plains Drifter's picture


This is my problem. I never liked it. Now that this has happened in Japan, I am sure I won't be alone in my feelings on this matter. If will notice its location, can you just imagine how much sweating goes on down there during hurricane seasons??? One good hit ,is all it will take. The whole thing here was a big political slap my back, grease my palm thing on this unit. It never really was needed imho. They could have figured out some other way, but they pushed this thing on us so now, , so now, I think as black swans go, things in the star may change since there are a lot of loud boisterous anarchist living in austin etc.......

Iam_Silverman's picture

"imagine how much sweating goes on down there during hurricane seasons??? One good hit ,is all it will take"

Yup, hurricane Ike pretty much wiped them out. Just like Andrew totally destroyed Turkey Point in far south Florida.  Both sites are now just a nuclear wasteland with armadillos and jackrabbits as the sole inhabitants.

High Plains Drifter's picture


well you can make fun of it if you want and you can trust in your government to protect you and not lie to you if you want. that is up to you. I think that any fool that builds one of these things in a hurricane prone zone is a complete madman, yet there they are. Sure the two units you talk about , skated on any trouble, but something could have happened, no doubt about it. Maybe in light of what has happened in Japan, the old anti nuclear movement will get motivated again, as in the old days.

High Plains Drifter's picture

I can remember a time when the anti nuclear people were very active in this country. It had kind of died but no more........

High Plains Drifter's picture

Nuke engineer: Fuel rod fire at Fukushima reactor “would be like Chernobyl on steroids”


AN0NYM0US's picture

firedog=envirowackos=antinuke extremists

AN0NYM0US's picture

It is stunning that the reactors were so poorly designed.


They don't call him Immelt for nothing

sushi's picture
  1. 1000: A Japanese nuclear safety official has confirmed reports that the water inside the waste fuel storage pool for the number 4 Fukushima reactor may be boiling, AP reports. Hidehiko Nishiyama refused to comment on the potential risks from the rising temperatures caused by a failure of cooling systems and said the plant's operator was considering what to do about the problem.
  2. 0935: Japan's nuclear safety agency has said there are two holes of 8 sq m (86 sq feet) in a wall of the outer building of the number 4 reactor after an explosion there, Reuters reports.




Unit 4 is the one that had a reported fire in the SFP. This is the first known report of that unit also having suffered an explosion.

If the water in the SFP is now boiling then it will eventually evaporate the full 40 ft x 40 ft x 20 ft SFP, the fuel bundles will be exposed to the atmosphere and H2 will be liberated as the cladding oxidizes and the result will be either a fire or an explosion.

moneymutt's picture

and the you have radiation volcano...last year was oil volcano...all due to greedy business menot listening to their damn engineers and spending a few more dollars, not a fortune n=mind you, just some profits..

sushi's picture

The BBC carried a report this morning to the effect that the SFP coolant was boiling away. This will eventually result in the loss of all cooling water, the claddingon the fuel bundles will oxidize and release H2 with consequent fire and explosion.

Put the link in TD's other thread on this topic. The reporting is really inconsistent and fails to keep up with events. Almost like someone would prefer you/we/them were not informed.

johnQpublic's picture

6 of this style reactor within 18-25 miles of my town

had an ice jam at the water entrance to one of them last year...

Money Squid's picture

There is something fishy about the Reactor 4 fire reporting. How can the level of radioactivity increase sharply due to a regular fire? Does a normal fire emit radioactivity? The guy also says "spent nuclear fuel in the reactor heated up, creating hydrogen and triggered a hydrogen explosion". So the reactor was cold , heats up, generates hydrogen and blows up, releasing radition, and the radioactivity is from the fire, but the fuel rods are not on fire? Hmmmmm......

An article I linked to in another thread on ZH describes the spent fuel pools as being located above ground on top of the reactors in the rectangular buildings, and with these hydrogen exlposions these fuel pools have kept their integrity? And, they need fire trucks to spray seawater mixed with boric acid to put ......the fire out?

New World Chaos's picture

The fuel rods can burn in a "normal" fire.  The initial heat comes from decay of fission products instead of from a chain reaction.  The heat can cause the water to react with the metal fuel rods and create hydrogen, or it can boil the water and allow the metal to react with air.  A lot of metals burn at very high temperatures- including uranium and plutonium.  The metals can go up into the air as smoke particles, hence the increased radiation.  Don't know about hydrogen explosions cracking the pools.  Since they were designed by the same geniuses who put all four backup generators next to each other with none of them on stilts, I guess anything could happen.

RoRoTrader's picture

central bankers are NOW the offivcial radiation fire fighters.......the Nikki is UP from a low of 8,335 to 8625,,,,,,1:17 AM EST

sharkbait's picture

Poorly designed??  they just got slammed by a 9.0 earthquake.  do you have any concept of how powerful that is?


honestann's picture

Yes, an 8.9 earthquake is powerful.  However, in Japan or Chile is it PROBABLE that an earthquake of that size would occur within the lifetime of those reactors.

Therefore, to NOT design them to be safe in a 10.0 earthquake is massive and blatant irresponsibility.  And this is what you expect when government and large corporations are involved.  They are perfectly happy to make tradeoffs in which the chances are 95% or 98% that they will get rich as hell from their nuclear plant and no disaster will occur with their ONE facility.  But if everyone does that, and there are dozens of facilities... you know somebody will lose.

But the business-scum and government-scum are perfectly happy to take those risks, because THEY don't lose when the dice rolls against them, everyone else does.

Send all the executives and engineers of the power company and reactors to fix the problem, plus everyone in the government who approved those designs.  I'm not kidding.  I am 100% serious.  Send them in right now.  Today.  Immediately.  Then see how well the next generation of reactors are designed, and whether those designs are approved.

Nepenthe's picture

So what happens when the 10.1 hits? Your logic failure would then have us build a reactor to withstand an 11??

"This one goes to 11...." 

honestann's picture

The point is, in any endeavor where the consequences of "mistake" can harm or destroy millions or billions of OTHERS not involved in your endeavor, you are most certainly required to assure your endeavor is designed to make that large scale disaster impossible in any reasonably conceivable circumstances.

#1:  Several 9.0+ earthquakes happen every century.

#2:  Japan, Chile and perhaps a couple other locations are most prone to large earthquakes.

Given #1 and #2 alone, not even counting any other relevant facts, dictate all nuclear facilities must be designed to DEFINITELY withstand any 9.x size earthquake without release of radioactivity, plus some margin for error.  So yes, today design for at least 10.0 is prudent.

And yes, if earth does experience an 10.0 then all facilities should be modified to definitely withstand 11.0 (approximately).

One would hope that a facility designed to DEFINITELY withstand a 10.0 would most likely withstand a 11.0 also, unless perhaps the earthquake took place directly under the site and opened a chasm into which the facility fell.

The requirements may be somewhat different in more mundane situations when worst-case consequences are much smaller, and insurance HAS BEEN purchased for full coverage of worst case scenarios.

In this situation, however, insurance coverage for full coverage of worst case consequences literally cannot be purchased or covered, and therefore the facilities must not be built unless their designs are inherently and literally incapable of causing disasterous situations like meltdowns.  Of course, the nuclear companies and their bought-and-paid-for apologists have always assured these kinds of situations literally cannot happen.  Do you believe them now?

The fact is, any rational and observant human being given the facts about earthquakes and tsunamis would never have approved those power plants, because they are obviously not safe from a probable size earthquake alone, and certainly not right on the ocean in the path of the tsunami that would be likely after a large earthquake.

Everyone who signed off on those oceanfront facilities was bought and paid for, or completely corrupt.  And as always happens, anyone not willing to sign on the dotted line to give their assurance of safety for approval found themselves out of a job and replaced by someone who would sign anything for their paycheck.

moneymutt's picture

so we don't design to survive 300 ft tsunamis either...it is a balancing act of risks and costs...but it is not unreasonable to design for the level/strength of earth quake that has happened several times in last 200 years, for pete's sake. A 9.0 is a biggee, but in modern history is not-unprecedented or low risk. It's not like a 9.0 hitting near coastal city is a once in 10,000 year event. AK got hit with one in 1960, come on. Everything else in Japan survived the 9.0 pretty damn well, the tsunami took out whole towns, and I don't expect a whole town but even those had done some things right...many houses site beyond reach of tsunami, hospitals on high ground, only buiding to survive. So if you can do it for municipal hospital in practical manner, can't you do it for a 9.0?

I get that we, as a societ,y might go out on a limb and build something that if damaged in a once in 10,000 year disaster will really harm a lot of people. But with something like nukes, with such an ability to do continuing harm to so many, to so much of the earht environment, for so long, if the humans nearby are not immediately available to fix it quick like, I think its reasonable and doable shoot for it surviving something that has happened within the last 100-200 years....argggg. People act like this stuff is impossible to fix or like there was no warning. Didn't anyone in Japan start thinking about this after Banda Aceh? Freak, they invented the word tsunami.

At some point its not practical to remove all risk, but reasonable ones can be meet unless we get lazy and greedy. A 9.0 EQ and a 30 ft Tsunami in Japan is reasonable to design a freaking nuke plant against, its just not profitable. If it you can't do it cost effectively, then don't do it.

Reptil's picture

That was a stress test of things to come. We can't build our world around technology that goes into suicide mode when (not if) there's a natural disaster. To do so is insanity, pure and simple: (long term) survival trumps (short term) profit.



hardcleareye's picture

It's an old proven design poorly adapted to it's site. 

The decision to put generators and switch gear below flood levels, in a "bath tub" and then allowing it to be flooded by a 20' flood (think storm surge from a cat 5 hurricane) is engineering hubris, (the thought process, that my design cannot be flawed, I have covered every contingency). 

Engineers (being one myself) may not be as bright as they say they are, and in this case, predictable nature trumped an insufficient design.

moneymutt's picture

I'm a civil engineer and while there are idiots out there, we actaully, in US at least, have a tendency to like to rat our our fellow engineers and think we are smarter. Lawyers doing malpractice like engineer suits way better than doctor suits for this reason. Yes some engineers are dumb but as the temp structures flying away in low winds debacle shows (see Dalls Cowboys practice facility failour, PA's de-incing salt domes) , it usually is not the engiener being stupid by the managers and owners pressuring them to do crazy stuff...several engineers quit the firm doing this fabirc strucutres, but the management pressed on eventually finding compliant engineers.

When US nukes facilities were falsififying safety tests, it was engineers that bravely ratted them out, even tho they likely knew, as is common, they lost their livelihood and were black balled.


Yes, some engineers idiots but generally culture of civil engr is US is not like some protective club like police and doctors are and usually it is profit pressures and consequent career pressures on engineers from above the lead to bad design, not stupidity or hubris...rather greed.

Big Corked Boots's picture


You are correct and I have seen the "peer review" in process. Adds a safety factor to everything done.

moneymutt's picture

The skyscrapers survived it, didn't they? The hospitals and schools survived, didn't they? Even the towns nearer epicenter had very intact strucutres until tsunami hit and you can see in the pics of devastation that often, not always, but often their hospitals were sited on high ground and are the only remaining structure after tsunami, with SOS's painted on their lawns. So the towns folk made their hospitals safe to even against this extreme event when it was practical.  If you can do it with hospitals, why not nukes? Routine structures are designed to survive 100 year earhtquake and flood events, but often do pretty well in even bigger events, if the design codes are enforced: see Chili, Japan, NZ vs Haiti/China.  Schools and hospitals are typically designed to survive in the case of much less frequent extreme events. So what should nukes be designed for.

This whistle blower engineer claims the structures were not designed for seismic at all, not a 7, not a 8 not 9.And this tsunami that hit is not unprecedented. They had one in Japan similar in size/hgt 1100 years ago, the historians and geologists know all about it.

So, first, siting the plant tight on the coast seems idiotic to me, but building sea walls to hold a 40 ft tsunami wave around a discreet area of a nuke plant is quite doable. They did have sea walls there but they were not remotely trying to address a thousand year tsunami.  Desigining whole towns for a 1000 yr tsumani, pretty impratical, but for a plant you want to rigth at waters edge, doable and reasonalbe and riduculous not to do.

There is so much we don't know now but it seems that if they had maintained power at the plant, all would have been well, so despite tsunami, despite 9.0, the big issues became the deisel generators failing. Greg Palast claims that in US, oversight of our nuke plants showed nuke plant operators falisified tests on generators and at one plant when they finally forced a test, the generators failed within hours, and that's with no natural disaters. So we don't even know if un-designed for tsunami was the source of generator problem. And we know no consderation was given for the location of the generators, they were in a low spot. If you can't practically design a sea wall to handle an 1000 year tsunami, how about have generators in a location that will still survive even plant floods? All we know is plant predictably lost power after the quake, deisel generators failed quickly and the battery backup was only good enough for 4-8 hours. 

Also, what about the nuke plant near the epicenter?...I hear nothign of it. Assuming it is okay, it too survived a very extreme event but does not have these problems...was it becuase it was sited in a way the tsunami did not effect it or it has power grid redundancies? Is it because its desiel generators have worked to allow proper cool down?

Beau Tox's picture

Why did the Japanese place the nuke plant on the east side of their island, close to a subduction zone, and not on the west side, away from tsunamis and farther from EQs?

Iam_Silverman's picture

"on the east side of their island"

So that the prevailing winds would sweep any radioactive release out to the Pacific, away from their population?  Why so "close to their population centers"?  Funny how power supplies are built close to where the demand is - something about transmission losses and efficiency.

East side?  I thought it was on the west side.  Well, maybe China, the Koreas and Russia moved to accomodate your map.

goldfish1's picture

I thought it was on the west side.

Why speak?

Iam_Silverman's picture

My bad:


Let's see, north is up, east is right.  Prevailing winds blowing from West to East - away from nearby populated zones.


Mea Culpa.