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Updates, For Myself & Japan


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3/31/11, Missouri Valley, IA - Hi Everyone.  After nearly a month on the job, Iím settled in and about ready to start the refueling and maintenance outage at the Fort Calhoun, NE nuclear plant. For you technical types, Iíve spent the past two weeks doing surveillance testing on the piping and electrical penetrations to the containment structure. Iím working with a great bunch of guys and Iím really enjoying my free time. Next weekend, the plant goes off line and Iíll start working long hours.

In Japan, the country continues to try to mitigate the consequences of the reactor disasters which occurred at Fukishima Plant #1. This complex consists of 6 Boiling Water type nuclear plants that were either constructed or licensed for construction by General Electric. The facilities are nearly identical in design to the plant I worked last fall in Monroe, MI.

As of right now, it looks like Reactors 1, 2 & 3 have all either partially or completely melted down.  In addition, there is severe damage to the nuclear fuel stored in the fuel pool for Unit 4, and possibly units 1, 2, & 3 as well.  Damaged fuel occurs when decay heat is not removed by heat transfer to water and the fuel begins to melt.  The metal cladding around the rods starts to melt at about 1700 degrees and the fuel begins to melt at slightly over 4000 degrees. If the damaged fuel is not cooled it is possible for it to melt out the bottom of the reactor vessel. It is believed by some scientist that this has occurred with at least one reactor.



Side view diagram of reactor (large purple thing), Primary Containment (gray bulb around reactor) and adjacent Spent Fuel Pool (SFP).  The building around the primary containment is call the Reactor Bldg or Secondary Containment.  Under the Primary Containment is a large doughnut shaped ring, half filled with water that is called the Torus.  The fuel is arranged inside the reactor.

On the plus side, cooling water is now being injected into all three damaged reactors and the spent fuel pools. On the negative side, water containing high levels of radioactive contamination is leaking out of the vessels and structures.  This is causing high dose rates of radiation in the surrounding area, ground water, local area of the ocean and some local airborne contamination. 

While this doesnít impose any direct problems for people living in the U.S.A., itís very hazardous for workers trying to control the situation.  Also, in the future, Itís unlikely that people will be be able to live within several miles of the plant.

The best link to track whatís occurring in Japan is this one by the online encyclopedia Wikipedia.

External electrical power has now been restored to all of the units, but theyíre having a hard time tying it in to the plant, as the tsunami damaged switchgear used to distribute the power and motors used to operate pumps and valves.  Radiation levels are extremely high in many of these areas making it difficult or impossible to access them.

The brave workers at the plant having been making superhuman efforts, even though many of them know that they will probably eventually succumb to radiation sickness.

The Tsunami that hit the plant was 45 feet tall. When the plant was designed, only an 18 feet tall tsunami was used for the design criteria. As such, the waves washed over the seawall and flooded the lower levels of the plant.

Iíll post an update later. Take care, Bob