Here We Go Again: NHK Reports Fire At Fukushima Reactor #4

Tyler Durden's picture

Just headlines for now. We can only hope that the containment pool is not involved.


From AP:

A new fire broke out at a nuclear reactor early Wednesday, a day after the power plant emitted a burst of radiation that panicked an already edgy Japan and left the government struggling to contain a spiraling crisis caused by last week's earthquake and tsunami.

The latest blaze erupted in the outer housing of the containment vessel at the No. 4 unit at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex, said Hajimi Motujuku, a spokesman for the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. Japan's nuclear safety agency also confirmed the fire, whose cause was not immediately known.

On Tuesday, a fire broke out in the same reactor's fuel storage pond - an area where used nuclear fuel is kept cool - causing radioactivity to be released into the atmosphere.

Radiation levels in areas around the nuclear plant, which rose early Tuesday afternoon, appeared to subside by evening, officials said. But the unease remained in a country trying to recover from the massive disasters that are believed to have killed more than 10,000 people and battered the world's third-largest economy.

The radiation leak caused the government to order 140,000 people living within 20 miles (30 kilometers) of the plant to seal themselves indoors to avoid exposure, and authorities declared a ban on commercial air traffic through the area. Worries about radiation rippled through Tokyo and other areas far beyond that cordon. The stock market plunged for a second day, dropping 10 percent.

NHK is currently reporting live on Reactor 4 developments (click on picture for live stream):

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astartes09's picture

does NHK stream content?

financeguru500's picture

Here's the question that everyone should be asking.

Who the hell builds a spent fuel rod storage pool directly above a reactor? That is like designing a car with the fuel tank sitting directly on top of the engine. There has to be some kind of common sense when dealing with something this dangerous.


Bob Dobbs's picture

Before this happened I would have said that the area above the reactor was a great place to store the fuel rods.  Really, the analogy of a car & fuel is quite out of place in this case.  Nuclear problems are not really easy to find equivalent comparisons for.

yipcarl's picture

It's a great analogy.  The point is it's the most retarded thing ever. 

Bob's picture

I was thinking that storing your nitroclycerin over your dynamite would be a better analogy.  One could design for temperature and motion stability, and call that addressing the safety parameters, but the principle is very much the same . . . if you place them in a train station.  Except for the power generation upside, of course. 

invention13's picture

It might make perfect sense.

They are within the same containment vessel and it minimizes the distance they have to be transported once they are removed.

Where should they be stored?

Bob Dobbs's picture

Exactly.  The refueling of a reactor is difficult under any circumstances.  Why truck the stuff around at all.  It's all hot, keep it together.  No one could have foreseen what happened Friday.  The Monday morning quarterbacks are really getting their rocks off on this one.  The problems over there in Japan are very real, and those folks are doing what they can.  Lay off.  It is what it is.

IQ 145's picture

 GE designed it; the NRC (US) approved it; a professional association of nuclear engineers objected to the NRC that they should not approve it; The NRC ignored them. The reason they call it a pool or a pond is that it is supposed to be a thing like a swimming pool, outdoors, in the dirt. This abortion is unbelievable. it's not a pool; it's a room in a concrete building, on the third floor; this way you don't need to have the crane gantry extend out thru the wall to the outside world to lower and raise fuel elements from the swimming pool. But, there is no consideration of anything unusual happening; like a hydrogen burp in the building; It's very difficult to believe these little rooms still hold water after the building blew up; it seems likely that at least one of the little rooms isn't there anymore. It went away. I never had any idea such a "design" existed; it completely invalidates the safety engineering of the reactor itself; because right next to it is many times as many fuel elements; protected by---nothing. I suppose they saved $3.57; I hope they're proud of themself.

Bob's picture

Is there a fucking government regulatory agency on Earth that isn't owned by the industry it is supposed to supervise?

Cistercian's picture

 Great...more epic disaster.

  God help them, every one.

bankrupt JPM buy silver's picture

Ben said he has all this covered.  he can print another $4 trillion and re build Japan to save the recovery.

tekhneek's picture

That one had the MOX fuel. 1 micron sized particle from that can kill you in seconds.

redpill's picture

Incorrect, it was Reactor 3 with the MOX fuel.  But of course the roof already blew off Reactor 3, so I have a hard time believing some of that hasn't gotten out too.

tekhneek's picture

Ah. Thanks for correcting me. But reactor 3 already blew up didn't it? Reactor 4 has the spent fuel rods atop it.

redpill's picture

1) Yes Reactor 3 really blew its top, which is why I'm concerned about the MOX fuel storage.

2) All the reactors have spent fuel rods atop them.  In fact there are 7 storage pools at this plant.  One is in the ground a ways away from the actual reactors, and there is one of each of the reactor buildings, each one is above the reactor.

3) The dirty secret with Reactor 4 is that it was going through maintenance when the earthquake struck, so it's very possible that not all of the fuel rods in that storage pool are spent!!


Cognitive Dissonance's picture

Unit 3 was just loaded with MOX fuel for the first time last year so there shouldn't be any MOX fuel in the spent fuel pool of unit three. The unit 3 spent fuel pool should only contain "normal" reactor fuel. 

The local authorities prevented TOPEC from loading the MOX fuel for 10 years because of local concerns about the toxicity if........well, if this happened. TOPEC just received approval early in 2010 to load the MOX fuel and they did.

IQ 145's picture The used fuel assemblies are staked on end in the little chamber near the reactor head; un-believably, but that's the way the thing is made. The requirement for distance between the bundles has been reduced twice over the operating life time; "for economic reasons".  I don't understand how these water filled rooms are going to be water tight, or how they're going to be topped up; either one. Last time I looked at a power plant drawing the cool down pond was outside; like a swimming pool, more or less. This thing is just completely crazy. Anything could happen here; including an uncontrolled chain reaction; I'm sorry to say. I hope they put a lot of boron in that water.

sushi's picture

An uncontrolled chain reaction is unlikely. You really have to work hard to make this stuff bang. If it were easy a lot of nasty folks would already have the capability.

The problem is not going critical but the evaporation of all coolant leaving the fuel bundles exposed to the atmosphere. They will continue to heat and release H2 and the H2 will go bang and the consequent fire and debris cloud constitutes a "dirty bomb."

The 36 million people of Tokyo live just 100 miles downwind. This is the reason the Japanese government invoked Article 15 preventing disclosure to the public. We are at the scene in Titanic where the Captain and his officers are aware the ship is doomed but they devote their time to telling the passengers to have another brandy.

Too bad that in the real life movie there are no lifeboats in Tokyo, no way to move 36 million people out of the way of the plume. The best that can be hoped for is that the winds to continue to blow offshore for the next four of five years.


Another tell of the severity of this event is to watch what the Bejing and area civil defence people do. They are also potentially downwind of this and they are not entirely stupid.

IQ 145's picture

No discussion of "going bang" you don't understand. a supercritical mass generates an enormous amount of heat; and this is obvously bad; vaporized materials, upward thermal plumes; etc. Not about going bang.

sushi's picture

Please explain "uncontrolled chain reaction."

Your words.

A "supercritical mass" does not constitute an "uncontrolled chain reaction."

I objected and you changed your words and tried to extricate yourself from your prior statement.

I think you have inverted your IQ number.

buzzsaw99's picture

From what I can tell you are the one who is confused. A meltdown without an explosion is still an uncontrolled chain reaction.

sushi's picture



"Meltdown" is your term. It is not a recognized term in nuclear engineering.

A "meltdown" is exactly that. Some material reaches a temperature at which it begins to melt. There is no explosion involved.

A nuclear "meltdown" refers to melting of the fuel assemblies which sit within the core of the reactor vessel. There is no explosion involved.

The melted fuel assemblies will fall to a catch basin beneath the reactor. This catch basin forms part of the containment. It is designed to retain the melted material and protect it from exposure to the atmosphere to preclude radiation exposure to the surrounding area.

The only form of "uncontrolled chain reaction" is that of a nuclear explosive device. Once initiated it cannot be stopped. It is beyond human control.

The glow in the dark radium watch dial on your wrist is a consequence of a chain reaction. It is this reaction that creates the glow. But the amount of radium is carefully calculated to ensure that you are not exposed to radiation hazard.

Reactor cores are also controlled reactions. They are specifically designed to ensure that they cannot go supercritical and initiate a nuclear explosion (the uncontrolled chain reaction).

As I expressed in my response to IQxxx a nuclear explosion at this facility is extremely improbable. It aint gonna happen.

What is likely to happen is heating of the cladding, release of H2, the explosion of the H2 and a consequent fire. Fire produces lots of hot debris which rises in the atmosphere and travels with the winds. This presents a danger to anyone downwind.

Since Unit 4 is experiencing a boil off of the coolant in the SFP the heat will rise, H2 will be produced and there will be a fire and a radioactive plume. This produces the same effects as a dirty bomb. This is the danger.

All the crap in the melted core is is unlikely to go anywhere apart from a molten mass on the bottom of the boron infused concerete sub-pan.

The crap lifted into the atmosphere by the fire is going to result in significant health impacts on those downwind.


Cognitive Dissonance's picture

They all store spent fuel in pools in the upper area of the containment building. And yes, unit 3 had an explosion but (at least we are told) the reactor itself was not breached. I have found it interesting that only the spent fuel pool in unit 4 has been discussed. Considering the magnitude of the explosion from unit 3 I have assumed that pool is now exposed.

This is all turning into a one armed paperhanger joke that isn't funny in the least.

IQ 145's picture

Yes. yes. all the same design. but it's crazy; it takes no account of partial failure modes at all; it's like, just put all your risk in one nice tight little area. The core itself is enormously portected; this cooling pond isn't protected, and it's in a blown up building now. I'm sorry, I should have looked for a diagram earlier.

VinniPukh's picture

I was wondering the same thing when these SFP's started to become the centre of conclusion - they're constrained by the off-the-shelf design they purchased a generation ago but I would expect as a hedge, some sort of regulation putting a heavy limit on the number of rods to be stored onsite. & that number would reflect contemporary safety policy.

That'll be buried in public record somewhere for sure (my Kanji sucks & I'm inherently lazy)

That said, if/when this storage pool does attempt orbit, a cynical punter might bet someone's not been telling the truth 'bout the number of rods stored onsite. There might even be a clever quant out there who, given the right data & case of beer, can infer with some degree of confidence the number of rods stored prior to meltdown

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

It is my understanding that as the world has refused to deal with the issue of long term disposal of high level nuclear waste Japan has followed the lead of the USA when dealing with the spent fuel in their pools.

What the US industry has done over the last 25 years is receive industry requested approval on two occasions that I can remember of to pack the spent fuel rods tighter in the pool in order to allow that much more insanity into the pool. The last time was when Yucca Mountain was abandoned as a long tern storage facility. My understanding is that Japan has done the same thing though I didn't take the time to find a reference or citation. 

Bottom line......since the Fukushima reactors have been running 30-40 years the pools are very very full. I don't believe TOPEC uses dry cask storage so it's everybody into the pool. Imagine that, a very bad decision by all involved coming back to bite you in the ass.

Confuchius's picture


It would seem that the posters with all the answers (NUKE the reactors!) must be refugees from the US Treasury, who want to cure the problem of too much debt by simply borrowing more. LOL!

Didn't their mama ever tell them that some problems have no solution. Even in theory.

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

My hand moved the mouse to the reply button but I wisely decided that nothing was going to talk any sense into them. Too many assumptions needed to be unwound before we could even begin to discuss blasting holes under reactors, then another blast to dump/push the reactor into said hole, then letting the sea cool them down. Too funny by several orders of magnitude. :>)

Confuchius's picture


as a postscript to the long lived waste disposal; it does not take too much thought to come up with the simplest solution. Encapsulate the waste and sink it into the ocean's deepest trenches (8,000 to 12,000 meters deep) where it will be transported back into the earth's crust from whence it came.

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

The space aliens didn't want us dumping our nuclear waste where they had their secret bases located (don't piss in our back yard friendo) so they nixed the idea.

At least I think that was why it was never done. :>)

New_Meat's picture

Confuchius: deep ocean entombment been well studied; proponent in "Power to Save the World" had serious involvement in that, plus good discussion of PRA techniques. e.g.:

Lots of discussion about the in-unit swimming pool, but that is an interim stopping point.  Big poolz outside.

- Ned


davepowers's picture


so CD, do you think that the pools at #1 and #3 were disrupted by the explosions there? Could they have been 'blown out?'

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

I suspect Unit one pool is not "blown out". The explosion, while violent, didn't appear to be that destructive. Almost all the steel structure framework remained in place in the blast area on top of the actual containment building. Unit three is a different story. I asked a question elsewhere if the pools were open or covered when the units were running, as they were running when the earthquake hit.

No one had an actual answer though someone said he's seen then open in some plants and covered in others. If they were covered they may be OK, if they were open God only knows the condition after the horrendous explosion from unit three. Who really knows is the proper answer from me.

davepowers's picture

thanks for that reply

I asked because you seem to be careful in acknowledging the limits of your expertise.

There's a lot to be said for that these days, IMO.

I take hope in the appearance of the steel structure laying flat on #3, suggesting hopefully that the bigger event there limited itself to folding that over. More damage but not exposure.

The symphony of problems at multiple reactors doesn't inspire a lot of optimism here. though.


TerraHertz's picture

In all the good-resolution shots of the big 'speckled blue' containment buildings, and the diagrams of the structures, I see no barndoors and extendable crane from the upper part of the building. Spent rods are too radioactive and thermally hot to move at all for a few years, so they stay in the pools for that long at least. But I'm thinking that perhaps the design of these buildings assumed the spent fuel would stay in the pools for the entire operating lifetime of the reactors. In other words, possibly there's no means to transport it out of the building, and it's expected to only be removed when the building is eventually dismantled.

This fits with reports the pools contain spent rods from the entire life of the reactors, with more rods even than originally designed for.

Nuclear fission power - such a brilliant idea.

It's pretty clear the no-fly-zone around the reactors is to stop anyone taking good resolution pictures of the damage. Then applied an equivalent of a D Notice to the media. Such a great confidence builder, not.

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

I'm certain the US has already taken half meter resolution satellite shots of the entire campus including the tops of all 4 units. And if I remember correctly Japan (along with several other countries) also has a satellite in orbit with a high resolution camera snapping away. So the only ones who don't know what's going on are the citizen's who will be directly affected.

Same ole same old.

Dabale arroz a la zorra el abad's picture

It looks to me that not only the pool is exposed. Rather, that it was blown away with the explosion. But I haven't seen yet good enough pictures of reactor 3 that may confirm (or better, refute) this. The only one, that satellite image.

J.B. Books's picture

CD, given the size of the explosions I can't believe that the cooling ponds have NOT been breached...  

J.B. Books.


IQ 145's picture

 I don't believe it either; if all these little rooms are still water tight; then angels must be watching over Tokyo Electric. This design was protested by an Industry Engineering group in the US to the NRC; to the effect that you can't do that, you can't put tons and tons of fuel in the building next to the reactor; the NRC ignored the request for re-regulation. It's cheaper than running the overhead crane thru the curtain wall and lowering and picking bundles into and out of an outdoor swimming pool. But it completely ignores safety principles. Amazing.

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

I agree. As I said above I am assuming the pool is now exposed to the atmosphere. How much water if any is in the pool or if it was actually breached would just be speculation on my part. I don't know if these pools are covered during normal operations.  

Considering the magnitude of the explosion from unit 3 I have assumed that pool is now exposed.

Aristarchan's picture

Some of the US type 1's I have been at cover the spent fuel pool except during refuel ops. But, I do not think it is required, since I have worked at plants where they left them open....which was kind of nice, we could look over into them and admire the Cerenkov radiation.

Aristarchan's picture

The deep blue sea of Cerenkov. I love the taste of fission in the morning. Slightly acidic lead.

Aristarchan's picture might find this interesting, it from a retired TVA Engineer responding to a MSM article about the dangers of spent fuel it old - 1994, but those reactors have not changed much. It has a lot of details about the issue. BTW, His opinions are not nessessarily shared by me in every respect.


SWCroaker's picture

Aristarchan - thanks for that link.  It was *interesting*, and I too can see the guy's points, but not agree with them.  I'm not sure the sizes and capabilities that he mentions for spent fuel pools applies to the pools in the reactor designs in question; they don't look to be football field in size.

As an engineer (Aerospace, and no I don't stay at Holiday Inn Express), I see all kinds of red flags associated with SFP located above grade, above the containment vessel, in close proximity to any hydrogen gas buildup events that might occur.  You're just asking to complicate any bad situation that happens with that setup.  Somebody is going to really have to work to convince me that this is in any way optimal, and safe.  Cost effective I can see, but if that is the driving factor in running nuclear plants, then we blew it somewhere...

Thanks again.