Sunday, March 27, 2011

The "Fog of War " Shrouds Fukushima But Ugly Facts Emerge

The "fog of war" is concealing from humanity--all of us--critical facts about Fukushima such as are fuel rods and nuclear cores covered with water. The Japanese officials just don't know with 100% certainty key facts. Why?

The high, even lethal levels of radiation and damage to instrumentation at the Fukushima site make assessing basic facts about the facilities currently impossible and possibly so for a long time.

As a result of a similar fog at Three Mile Island, only in 1985, six years after the accident in 1979, was a partial meltdown of the core and its dimensions confirmed.  At Fukushima it is almost certainly going to be years, perhaps a decade or more, before the full facts are known.

But here are some facts now established.  Fukushima was engineered to withstand approximately a 7.5 earthquake.  It was hit with a 9.0 disaster or 15 times stronger than for what it was designed. 

Fukushima is built on a 13 foot bluff overlooking the sea.  The tsunami generated a 30 foot plus wave.  9.0 earthquakes and 30 foot tsunamis are not unprecedented in even recent Japanese and Chinese history.

Those are ugly facts.  It is amazing, shocking that they were ignored in Japan until it was too late.   They offer a huge lesson for operators and regulatory agencies around the world.  They must be faced.

Here are some more facts.  Radiation levels at the plant are at lethal levels.  Two workers on friday were exposed to radiation doses that would create a 50% chance of death within weeks if they were full body doses.  Hopefully, the two workers who stepped in water at 10,000 times the safe level did not receive a full body dose.

It is not fully clear how many workers have died already (some reports say 5), how many have been injured (some reports put the numbers over 20), and what are the dose levels to which workers have been exposed.  Japanese officials have this information and making it clear would respect the sacrifices of those working at Fukushima and help repair their damaged credibility around the world.

Radiation has left the facilities and has contaminated the surrounding environment.  First, the good news.  Radiation levels in Tokyo's water supply have fallen since wednesday when they exceeded safety levels for infants and had returned to safe levels from thursday to saturday.  Tokyo is about 140 miles from Fukushima.

Levels  in areas near the plant appear to be increasing with now the Japanese government encouraging an evacuation within 12 miles of the plant.  Previously it had urged evacuation within 6 miles.  The US government has told Americans to evacuate within 50 miles.

Now for the not good news.  A monitor of seawater on saturday near the facility recorded iodine 131 levels at 1250 times the safe level and on wednesday the level was 147 times the limit.

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