FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Mystery Plume Rising Over Fukushima’s Reactor 3

by OLIVER TICKELL

Fukushima’s Reactor Building 3 exploded on 13th March 2011 as a result of a hydrogen buildup, breaching the building’s containment and emitting a huge plume of radiation. The reactor itself is in meltdown.

And now fresh plumes of steam have been seen coming out the structure. These have now been confirmed by Tepco, the owner of the nuclear plant, from 19th December onwards. The company believes the steam is coming from the fifth floor of the building.

However it does not know the cause of the steam. Lethal levels of radiation and the physical damage to the structure have so far made entry and inspection impossible.

Possibility 1: a meltdown is taking place

The Reactor 3 fuel storage pond still houses an estimated 89 tonnes of the plutonium-based MOX nuclear fuel employed by the reactor, composed of 514 fuel rods.

Ever since the explosion Tepco has been concerned that if the spent fuel storage pond dries out, the intensely radioactive spent fuel rods would melt down and produce further significant radioactive emissions.

One possibility is that this process may now be taking place. In the event of water loss from the pond, the water would begin to overheat and produce clouds of steam, prior to a complete meltdown. If this is the case then a second major nuclear disaster at Fukushima is in the making.

This explanation appears to be relatively improbable, however, and  no official warnings have been released on either side of the Pacific.

Possibility 2: ‘corium’ has reached groundwater

Reactor 3 itself contained 566 fuel rods, and has experienced a complete meltdown. The location of the molten fuel, known as ‘corium’, is unknown, but it may have burnt its way through the reactor base and entered the underlying soil.

This would also produce steam as the hot corium came into contact with groundwater, while also releasing radioactive contamination to make its way into the Pacific Ocean.

Possibility 3: rainwater on stray fuel elements / Reactor

An alternative explanation is that the steam plumes could be caused by stray fuel pellets and reactor rod fragments – which themselves produce significant amounts of heat – coming into contact with rainwater percolating through the damaged and roofless structure.

And of course the same water could be reaching the hot reactor vessel. According to a Fairewinds Energy Education posting on Facebook, the reactor is currently producing about 1 MW of heat, equivalent to 1,000 1KW electric fires, so enough to produce plenty of steam.

This would provide the least worrying explanation for the steam, in that as the radioactivity continues decline so will the heat production and the volume of steam produced. If this explanation is correct, there is no reason expect any catastrophic outcome.

However the steam is carrying considerable amounts of radiation into the atmosphere and represents an ongoing radiation hazard.

Oliver Tickell edits the Ecologist, where this article originally appeared.

Oliver Tickell edits The Ecologist, where this article originally appeared.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 22, 2017
Mike Whitney
Liberals Beware: Lie Down With Dogs, Get Up With Fleas
John Grant
On Killers and Bullshitters*
Peter Linebaugh
Catherine Despard, Abolitionist
Patrick Cockburn
The Bitter Battle for Mosul
Ted Rall
Sue the Bastards? It’s Harder Than You Think
Yoav Litvin
The Emergence of the Just Jew
Kim Scipes
Strategic Thinking and Organizing Resistance
Norman Pollack
Mar-a-Lago, Ideological Refuge: Berchtesgaden, II
Fred Donner
Nixon and the Chennault Affair: From Vietnam to Watergate
Carl Kandutsch
Podesta vs. Trump
Ike Nahem
To the Memory of Malcolm X: Fifty Years After His Assassination
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Tough Talk Won’t Fix Chicago
Paul Donnelly
Betsy DeVos and the War on Public Education
Ebony Slaughter-Johnson
The End of an Alliance for Police Reform
Richard Lawless
Wall Street Demanded the Nuclear Option and the Congress Delivered
Liaquat Ali Khan
Yes, Real Donald Trump is a Muslim!
Ryan LaMothe
“Fire” and Free Speech
CounterPunch News Service
Bloody Buffalo Billboards
February 21, 2017
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Finance as Warfare: the IMF Lent to Greece Knowing It Could Never Pay Back Debt
CJ Hopkins
Goose-stepping Our Way Toward Pink Revolution
John Wight
Firestarter: the Unwelcome Return of Tony Blair
Roger Harris
Lenin Wins: Pink Tide Surges in Ecuador…For Now
Shepherd Bliss
Japanese American Internment Remembered, as Trump Rounds Up Immigrants
Boris Kagarlitsky
Trump and the Contradictions of Capitalism
Robert Fisk
The Perils of Trump Addiction
Deepak Tripathi
Theresa May: Walking the Kingdom Down a Dark Alley
Sarah Anderson
To Save Main Street, Tax Wall Street
Howard Lisnoff
Those Who Plan and Enjoy Murder
Franklin Lamb
The Life and Death Struggle of the Children of Syria
Binoy Kampmark
A Tale of Two Realities: Trump and Israel
Kim C. Domenico
Body and Soul: Becoming Men & Women in a Post-Gender Age
Mel Gurtov
Trump, Europe, and Chaos
Stephen Cooper
Steinbeck’s Road Map For Resisting Donald Trump
February 20, 2017
Bruce E. Levine
Humiliation Porn: Trump’s Gift to His Faithful…and Now the Blowback
Melvin Goodman
“Wag the Dog,” Revisited
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima: a Lurking Global Catastrophe?
David Smith-Ferri
Resistance and Resolve in Russia: Memorial HRC
Kenneth Surin
Global India?
Norman Pollack
Fascistization Crashing Down: Driving the Cleaver into Social Welfare
Patrick Cockburn
Trump v. the Media: a Fight to the Death
Susan Babbitt
Shooting Arrows at Heaven: Why is There Debate About Battle Imagery in Health?
Matt Peppe
New York Times Openly Promotes Formal Apartheid Regime By Israel
David Swanson
Understanding Robert E. Lee Supporters
Michael Brenner
The Narcissism of Donald Trump
Martin Billheimer
Capital of Pain
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail