While the future of the free market now hinges on some power cord which according to the AP "may solve the crisis", yet which we are a little skeptical is merely the latest deux ex machina that the prevaricating Japanese authorities are pulling out of their collective derrieres (remember the water and boron baths that were supposed to fix everything), a far more troubling report has emerged from the New Scientist (citing Kyodo) which may explain why TEPCO and Japanese authorities have been so tight lipped about the actual truth of what is happening at Fukushima. To wit: "The situation at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has
become extremely unnerving. The Tokyo Electric Power Company has now
admitted that the spent fuel rods could go critical - that is, a nuclear
chain reaction could restart." This would be an absolute worst case disaster which would make Chernobyl look like a dress rehearsal. Incidentally while hope and pray (to Ben Bernanke) may have been a viable strategy for stocks over the past two years, it will fail disastrously when dealing with a nuclear catastrophe.
From the report:
We have known since yesterday that the reactors themselves were
coming under control, and that the biggest threat came from the spent
fuel ponds, where the water level has fallen and temperatures have
risen. That could lead to the stored fuel rods breaking open, releasing
their radioactive contents.
Kyodo News reports:
Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Wednesday it is considering
spraying boric acid by helicopter to prevent spent nuclear fuel rods
from reaching criticality again, restarting a chain reaction, at the
troubled No. 4 reactor of its quake-hit Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power
plant. "The possibility of recriticality is not zero," TEPCO said as it
announced the envisaged step against a possible fall in water levels in a
pool storing the rods that would leave them exposed.
This is a real surprise. These ponds are a standard feature of
nuclear reactors, and are typically designed to ensure that nuclear
reactions cannot restart in the fuel rods. Among other things, the rods
should be widely spaced in the pond.
The BBC explains that the company is now "caught between a rock and a hard place":
If the fuel rods are dry and hot, there could be damage to
the cladding and the release of light radioactive nuclei. To prevent
that, you would want to inject water. But water on its own is a neutron
moderator and would enhance the chances, however small, of
criticality... [water] reduces the speed of the neutrons, meaning they
can be captured by uranium nuclei in the fuel rods, inducing them to
split. Without water, the neutrons travel too fast, and are not
Hence the company's proposal to add boric acid, which would mop up
the neutrons and hopefully stave off the reactivation of a nuclear
reaction. If this did happen, it does not mean there would be a
nuclear explosion, but the rods would heat up, the zirconium cladding
would probably split, and the likely release of radioactive material
into the atmosphere would be significantly higher.
In the longer term, questions will be asked about how the ponds wound
up in this condition, when it should have been completely avoidable.
We can only hope this is completely wrong as the alterantive would be total devastation beyond anything seen so far.
h/t Themos Mitsos