Nuclear Expert: "Fukushima Has 24 Hours To Avoid A Core Meltdown Scenario"

Tyler Durden's picture

In an interview with Mark Hibbs, a Berlin-based senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a nonprofit think tank, Newsmax magazine asks - what happens next at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. The answer according to the nuclear expert, is that as Fukushima is now well on its way to a full core-melt nuclear accident, a worst case scenario could possibly lead to the same results last seen in 1986 Chernobyl.

Below we present a brief overview of the Fukushima plant from Wikipedia:

The Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant (Fukushima I NPP, 1F), often referred to as Fukushima Dai-ichi, is a nuclear power plant located in the town of Okuma in the Futaba District of Fukushima Prefecture. With six separate units located on site with a combined power of 4.7 GW, Fukushima I is one of the 25 largest nuclear power stations in the world. Fukushima I is the first nuclear plant to be constructed and run entirely by The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO).

Fukushima II Nuclear Power Plant, 11.5 kilometres (7.1 mi) to the south, is also run by TEPCO.

Unit Type First Criticality Electric Power
Fukushima I - 1 BWR March 26, 1971 460 MW
Fukushima I - 2 BWR July 18, 1974 784 MW
Fukushima I - 3 BWR March 27, 1976 784 MW
Fukushima I - 4 BWR October 12, 1978 784 MW
Fukushima I - 5 BWR April 18, 1978 784 MW
Fukushima I - 6 BWR October 24, 1979 1,100 MW
Fukushima I - 7 (planned) ABWR October, 2013 1,380 MW
Fukushima I - 8 (planned) ABWR October, 2014 1,380 MW

So what happens next? First, Hibbs explains precisely what already has taken place:
“What happened in Japan is very alarming because it would appear . . . that about 2:30 this afternoon Japan time, when the earthquake struck . . . three of the reactors that were operating were disenabled because of a loss of offsite power that was caused by the earthquake.”

The Japanese situation appears to be roughly analogous to the Three Mile Island incident in the United States, where authorities struggled for days to contain an improperly cooled reactor core but were able to avert a widespread release of nuclear material.

“We were in a situation as I recall then very similar to where we are now, where we were told by news media in 1979 that there was a core melt accident unfolding, we didn’t know how serious it would become, and what would happen,” Hibbs tells Newsmax.

At least one of the reactors in Japan, and perhaps more, “ are on the path of a core-melt accident. It’s called a loss of coolant accident. . . . And it’s up to the Japanese authorities, together with the industries in that country, to find a way to stem this problem,” he said.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed that the United States is trying to help alleviate the situation. "We just had our Air Force assets in Japan transport some really important coolant to one of the nuclear plants," Clinton said, according to the Associated Press.

The Japanese reactors are designed to drop neutron-blocking control rods into the core as soon as the plants detect a seismic disturbance. These controls apparently functioned normally. But even after the procedure, scientists say a base level of heat continues to flow, and coolant is needed to constrain those temperatures.

Unfotunately, Japan does not have much time:
Asked how long Japanese scientists have to correct the problem to avoid a core meltdown, Hibbs tells Newsmax that it depends on system design, adding, “it could be a day, plus or minus 10 hours.”

“After a while, with the heat building up in there, and lack of coolant, you’re going to see damage in your fuel, the cladding, the metal container around the nuclear material, begins to buckle or balloon or break, and after a little while you’ll get a situation where the fuel falls apart, melts, and falls into the core, and then you’ve got a classical core melt accident like you had in Three Mile Island that you had in the United States in '79.”

Hibbs spoke with Japanese government officials who told him the force of the tsunami was so severe that the water may have flooded the reactors,  power generators, and cooling mechanisms, disabling the equipment. "Which means they have to resort to basically a military-type exercise, to rush in to the devastated site equipment that they can quickly hook up to the reactor to get power in there and start this emergency equipment, to get cooling water into that core and prevent that fuel from overheating.

“And if they can’t do that,” he told Newsmax, “then you’re going to have this meltdown.”

They have 24 hours or so to avoid a core meltdown, he says. But if one occurs, two scenarios could follow: The good outcome would mirror what happened at Three Mile Island, while the bad one could involve what he called a “Chernobyl scenario, where the damage to the reactor was such that the integrity of the structures were damaged.

“There was an explosion and other things happened in there, that opened up the reactor so the inventory of radioactive material . . . went into the atmosphere and generated this deadly plume that we know happened in Chernobyl.

“So that is the ultimate worst-case scenario. Nobody is saying that’s going to happen. Nobody is even saying we’re going to have a core meltdown. But we have a window of time now. We don’t know how much is left — but the Japanese authorities and the government and all the agencies that they can muster are working overtime to get cooling systems on that site powered and working.”

The April 1986 Chernobyl disaster cost an estimated 4,000 lives. More than 330,000 Russians had to be relocated because of contamination.

But Hibbs says, “A lot of worst-case things would have to happen for us to get that far.”

Hibbs said the Japanese right now are fighting the clock to contain the heating.

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UGrev's picture

Shit just got R E A L. My thoughts and prayers for all those affected by this.

tempo's picture

Never let a disaster/problem go to waste...QE3+++ to be announced.

Cinfultreat's picture

How is this not Bullish?  Classic sell the news buy the rumor!


News - Japan self destructing, Market opens down

Rumor - Japan will need to spend Benzillions to rebuild

ReeferMac's picture

It's disgusting, sad, and 100% totally true and correct, unfortunately.

dryam's picture

Replying to antagonistic trolls promotes their behavior. 

rocker's picture

Responding to Newsmax is about as bad as following Robert Prechter's Bullshit on Elliott   I am speaking from past experience. And yes, I was a dumb ass once for both. Fool me once, shame on you and me. Fool me twice, not going to fuckn happen.

Not being a Nuclear scientist I can assure all that Japan is much smarter than Russia in Nuclear Power. And while their could me a melt down I feel that it is most likely not going to happen. First, they called for help which they will get. Russia did not. Everything that can be done to prevent a further problem is being done. So, cross your fingers if you like. But there is no use in listening to some asshole from Newsmax who would not know what real news is. But they have lot's of shit to sell you. 

maximin thrax's picture

Yes. Completely different plant designs. Chernobyl had woefully inadequate to totally absent containment.

From PBS "Frontline":

All the Chernobyl reactors were of a design that the Russians call the RBMK--natural uranium-fueled, water-cooled, graphite-moderated--a design that American physicist and Nobel laureate Hans Bethe has called "fundamentally faulty, having a built-in instability." Because of the instability, an RBMK reactor that loses its coolant can under certain circumstances increase in reactivity and run progressively faster and hotter rather than shut itself down. Nor were the Chernobyl reactors protected by containment structures like those required for U.S. reactors, though they were shielded with heavy concrete covers.


Without question, the accident at Chernobyl was the result of a fatal combination of ignorance and complacency. "As members of a select scientific panel convened immediately after the...accident," writes Bethe, "my colleagues and I established that the Chernobyl disaster tells us about the deficiencies of the Soviet political and administrative system rather than about problems with nuclear power."

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

That quote would work wonderfully on an entirely different subject.

"As members of a select economic panel convened immediately after the...accident," writes Bethe, "my colleagues and I established that the Wall Street/Federal Reserve disaster tells us about the deficiencies of the American political and administrative system rather than about problems with capitalism."

prophet's picture

Completely agree,  lack of proper controls and enforcement is what allowed it to go too far.  Prudential supervision is a known joke.  Thousands of people are hurt everyday by financial institutions executing egregious business practices.  So much so that those behaviors are common practice.  I see it first hand everyday.

PeterSchump's picture

"egregious business practices", i.e., fraud

TBT or not TBT's picture

Personally, I am offended by the egregiously uppity word egregious being banded about egreiously here tonight in this awe-gust fah-room.

Spirit Of Truth's picture

Looks like there was a meltdown and reactor explosion:

Prayers up for Japan.

Michael's picture

The reactor in Japan blew 45 minutes ago.

Oil will be over $200/barrel come Monday morning if they don't stop the Federal Reserve Corporation margin funny money by then.

Pegasus Muse's picture

The TwitVid at the bottom of this article that shows material escaping from the plant.  Cannot tell if it is coming from a containment facility or another building.

GBruenetti's picture

The explosion produced a very fast shockwave (visible on the video), so it was most probably not steam from inside the containment but a hydrogen explosion stemming from radiolysed steam outside the reactor/turbine containment (but inside the building hull). Thus it blew the outer building structure away and the steam could escape (hence the large white cloud afterwards).

There are however pictures now where you can see the steel skeleton of the building still standing and - much more important - no ongoing steam or smoke escape. So while the coolant pumps will be damaged and a core melt is inevitable or even underway already, the containment seems to hold - for now.

The wind is forecast to turn south - to Tokyo - in two days. Until then they better had the situation under control somehow. At the moment everything blows out into the pacific.

sushi's picture

If you examine that shock wave it moves direct, straight up and appears to have a form of lens at the top of it which then commences to spread. This is then followed by a debris cloud.

My reading on this is that an accumulation of hydrogen would have resulted in a radial blast - the building would have erupted radially.

I interpret the direct, straight up jet with the "lensing" as the cicular top of the containment blowing off with the building cladding blowing away subsequent to that.

jeff montanye's picture

wonder if someone is going over the five year plan for combatting global warming, achieving energy independence, etc. etc. with some cyber whiteout everywhere it had "aggressively increase nuclear power"?

next siting near the san andreas will likely be a touch more tricky.

Bendromeda Strain's picture

Yup - there goes that strategy for a generation.

Spalding_Smailes's picture

Japanese national authorities are holding their next Press Conference.

You can follow it here:

[link to]

Spalding_Smailes's picture

Fallout Map: link to

10 days to reach the USA. Japan says meltdown possible at nuclear plant

ColonelCooper's picture

Good links the last day or two, Spalding.  Thanks.

CitizenPete's picture

Correct.  Thank you for posting this.  Too many folks are comparing the two (incorrectly).

Triggernometry's picture

Correct, Chernobyl's RBMK design had a positive void coefficient; as coolant water boiled, absorption cross-section decreased thereby increasing thermal output and causing coolant to boil faster. Once the reactor fell into this positive feedback loop it was impossible to stop with the resources available on-site even if they had worked properly. The explosions were caused by the release of superheated graphite moderator, which spontaneously combusts on contact with air.

Fukushima is a different design, but its a different problem as well. Even with a negative void coefficient the core gives off decay heat; unless removed its just a matter of time before the fuel gets hot enough to compromise its cladding and then the core itself. Should coolant be leaking, our delivery of extra coolant will only buy more time, and not much at that.

Yen Cross's picture

They have power. It's rudundant resources. They don't have coolant feeds!

malikai's picture

News footage seems to indicate a steam explosion at that unit. They were detecting Cs137 and I131 on the grounds prior to the explosion. It appears a meltdown is well underway.

george's picture

I remember when some supersmart guy was saying the only option to stop the oil leak in the gulf was to detonate small nuclear bombs. I'm done pooping my pants speculating on worst case scenario's.

My thought's and prayers go out to Japan.

lolmao500's picture

Thing is... it's still leaking in the gulf.

TBT or not TBT's picture

And seven billion souls are leaking every day too.   Some twenty times day, such as pregnant women and drunk people.   If you have an issue with petroleum leaking into the oceans, which cover some 70 percent of the planet some few miles deep, bitch to Allah.   The rest of us want to drive from A to B air conditioned and rocking it out to our favorite jam, or NPR, or Hannity, or whatever. Nuf said.

dark pools of soros's picture

so if you want the oil in your car why protect the jackasses for wasting it on the seafloor?

TBT or not TBT's picture

If you wanna make an om.....oh nevermind.     The help is always found wanting, unless and until you get one that'll lift up her (or bigotry of that sort from me) skirts in a moment of need.    Or maybe gneed, in 80's parlance.

Yen Cross's picture

A nice healthy dose of gamma rays over a couple off weeks in the prevailing weather patterns could help. You idiot! Do you understand the damage that could happen to your body? These radioactive particles attach to your clothing,food,water. They destroy every cell in your body. You don't even feel it. Two weeks later you are shitting blood, and picking clumps of hair from your head.Neutrons finding a core!

TruthInSunshine's picture

TimeOutTokyo: Reports confirm that 2 people have died at Fukushima nuclear reactor 1, and 1 person at nuclear reactor 2

Nuclear Authorities: Nuclear Reactor May Be Experiencing A Meltdown
TOKYO (Dow Jones)--Japanese nuclear authorities said Saturday afternoon the Fukushima Daiichi No. 1 nuclear reactor 240 kilometers north of Tokyo may be experiencing a meltdown after Friday's massive earthquake damaged the cooling system.

YHC-FTSE's picture

Don't even know anything about Newsmax, but yeah, it's doubtful that there would be a meltdown. Increased radiation was expected from the vapour venting they announced earlier a few hours ago. 

The "special coolant" (Probably boric acid) that Clinton said the US delivered never arrived because the order was cancelled, probably by the Japanese authorities after they sourced their own. If they can't cool down the reaction, we would see explosions and fires. Not fission explosions obviously, but explosions from the burning of secondary materials that make up the power station from the intense heat - just like Chernobyl. Haven't seen any evidence of that in the news. Yet.


Another chance to see where the radiation debris will fall if there is a major meltdown in Fukushima (Can't believe not a single news or govt agency has picked this up yet) :

Eternal Student's picture

+1. Especially about the jet stream gif. I agree; this is the info which needs to get out. And for that reason, it probably won't.

YHC-FTSE's picture

Cheers. Just worked out that time taken for the debris to cross the Pacific on the jetstream is roughly 29 to 38 hours. More than I expected. 

MarkS's picture

There are a lot of scenarios and radioactive vapor isn't necessarily all that radioactive.  I'm not saying it's good just that a lot would have to be vented and as it cooled it's more likely affect a close area rather than get into the jet stream and get carried afar and if it did would be diluted as it spread.  I'm no expert but, I remember my old days plotting the effects of nuclear blasts and calcualting the plume (for college credit!) and I don't think it would be that great of a danger.

Nuclear reactors in the west are pretty safe.  You get more radiation standing on the blacktop in the parking lot of a nuclear plant than you do inside the plant itself.

FYI, They did most everything wrong at 3 Mile Island PA and it still didn't melt down.  My power plants Prof was one of the experts called in to fix/solve the problem and he went through it step by step with us.  The level of overengineering in these plants is pretty thorough so lets hope they solve it quickly.

I'm not panicking yet...



YHC-FTSE's picture

Absolutely agree on all your points. Venting is localized. The only real danger is a meltdown that would be hot enough to spew radioactive debris up to the jet stream (+23,000ft) directly above these reactors. I've seen dissipation patterns in the sub-tropic stream, and unfortunately once it reaches that height it only takes a few hours (29hrs to 38hrs at this time of year) to travel in the dense clouds to landfall on the West coast.

thedrickster's picture

The reactor shut down, it's residual heat now at issue.

Think incredibly radioactive molten metal cooling to slag, not BOOM.

johnnyj01's picture

I have worked at a nuclear power plant for 25 years.  A BWR no less, just like the Japanese plant in question.  General Electric holds the patent on BWR technology so it has to be one of theirs.


The request for "coolant" is very strange and I believe, most lilely in error.  Phrased by some communications representative from the compay that has no technical knowledge.  They built the plant on the coast to use the ocean as a heat sink.  They don't need coolant, they need coolant pumped into the reactor core.  The emergency diesel generators are designed to be able to do just that (only need 1 to do job for two reactors typically).  The problem according to one article is that the tsunami wave flooded the diesels.  It seems like it may be an older reactor without watertight doors on the DG rooms (newer ones have this feature that allows DG's to run with water flooding up to the roof of the building).  This coupled with a loss of offsite AC power is causing the trouble: called a station blackout.  If they get AC power restored, all is well.  If they don't, the core will likely melt.  Big trouble.

The only possible "coolant" that would could need delivered would be a boron solution, but this too is highly unlikely as the site is required to maintain an ample supply of this onsite. 


What they need is the DG's repaired, offsite power restored, or another working DG(s) delivered.  They should be able to make one of these happen.


Even if the core melts totally (like TMI) the containment system will contain the radioactive material.  I personally knew rad pro techs who surveyed TMI after the accident.  Acccording to radiation release to speak of.  We cannot have an accident like Chernobyl.  We (Japan too) moderate with water vs. flamable graphite which was instrumental in the explosion.  We operate on the safe side of the reactivity curve where reactor power goes down with a loss of moderator.  We have containment walls that are made of concrete and are several feet thick.  Many other differences that make this (Chernoble accident) not plausible in western US style reactors.


Proof in the Pudding: I'm within the emergency exposure zone of my plant and I sleep just fine at night.


Feels good to finally give back to ZH community in a subject that I actually know something about.

Jim in MN's picture

I get where you're coming from, but TMI was in fact a near-miss that could have been an unbelievable disaster.  There was puddled molten metal on the floor, which in several more hours would have caused a failure.  In other words the containment vessel, itself, DID fail, and only the containment building kept the fuel from dispersing (likely as superheated steam).

The best part: No one knew the fuel had melted, or that the containment vessel had gone.

From the Smithsonian Institute of American History (I've seen the actual pictures taken by the first robots in, but too lazy to find them now):

So let's not misrepresent how safe a PWR is in a loss of coolant scenario.  It's not Chernobyl.  But it can be a very, very serious accident.

johnnyj01's picture

Agreed the core totally melted and breached the reactor pressure vessel.  However, under the vessel is the concrete containment building (10 feet or so of reinforced concrete) but the kicker is this concrete rests on bedrock.  The "nuclear pile" would have to melt through the entire bedrock layer to go anywhere.  The Rasmussen report and numerous NRC studies have proven that it is not plausible for a major Chernobyl type release.  However, nothing is without risk.


THE ENTIRE CORE MELTED AT TMI AND NOTHING HAPPENED!  THE OPERATORS DID EVERYTHING WRONG.  If they would have been asleep, the plant  would have prevented anyting from happening.  Operator training has been greatly and painfully ehhanced since then: trust me , I've felt the pain for many years.


I really do believe that these pants are safe.  This "station blackout" is about the only thing that will cause the core to melt.  I find is suprising that the plant design allowed the DG rooms to flood.  Any plant I have seen has watertight doors to prevent flood impairment to levels above the design basis flood level.


Nothing is without risk.  Like my high school chemistry teacher said.  The alternative is to LTBFITD.  (Let the Bastards Freese in the Dark!)



goldfish1's picture

Your comments quiet fear noise. Thanks.

Rick64's picture

 No media hype, thanks.

Dont Taze Me Bro's picture

Thanks for explaining that Johnny :)