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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Process water leakage at Fukushima Daiichi, and power lunch!

I've been following this story since it first broke, waiting for some concrete details to emerge. Now that there are some, I will report.

A couple of days ago TEPCO discovered that a major system leak had occurred in the desalination plant ("evaporative condensation plant") building at the Fukushima Daiichi site. The plant had not been inspected visually by walkdown in 21 hours. TEPCO indicated that it believed as much as 45 tons of water had leaked out.

Today, I had lunch with Dan Yurman (and had a great time) who is the author of the Idaho Samizdat blog, a frequent contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe blog (which he helped to launch for ANS personally) and who I consider a friend. We talked about this, and I mentioned the 21 hours since walkdown which I thought was ridiculous. Dan has a lot of experience with this type of equipment and noted that it should be walked down every several hours because there will be leaks. The trick is to find them and fix them before this kind of thing happens. My experience is in light water power reactors, and I certainly can back up having watchstanders looking over all operating equipment continuously as being absolutely necessary. Someone dropped the ball on this, whether it's TEPCO or one of its contractors... that much is certain.

We did some calculations on the stated release figures and got a number of around 12,000 gallons that might have leaked. This water got into the process building, leaked out under the walls and then got to the outer area around the building. TEPCO today has a press release out stating that while the total amount was fairly large it believes only about 150 liters or about 40 gallons / 300 pounds of this 45 tons (we figured long tons) actually got into the water, with negligible effect.

Even with the tiny effect this would have on the environment and on the flora and fauna, TEPCO once again has egg on its face as it were. This is most unfortunate from a PR standpoint as it surely undermines some of the credibility TEPCO has been gaining in its response to the accident and its transmittal of clear information as soon as it has any information.

Cooling to the reactors was never affected. Cooling of the spent fuel pools was never affected. Access to the reactor plants and their support equipment was not affected.

Postscript: Dan and I also talked about some of the wacky anti-nuclear garbage out there on various sites. For the record, as I've said before: No one is building or trying to build any sort of core catcher under the Chernobyl No. 4 reactor, and no one would try to do so under Fukushima Daiichi. There is no China Syndrome occurring, and as I pointed out during our talk (and Dan agrees) you'd be into the water table at Fukushima if you tried to dig under the plants. This is just more nutty scare talk being furthered by people too emotional to learn fact or discern from flights of fantasy. Dan finds the whole notion of "hydrovolcanic explosion" as preposterous as I do... this being a supposed condition about to occur at Fukushima Daiichi. At least, it is if you read articles written by scaremongers who have no idea what they're talking about. What's most important though is that Dan and I had a good time (this was our second meeting) and we plan more in the future.

4:30 PM Eastern Tuesday December 6, 2011

UPDATE: I have been deluged with e-mails and comments regarding the ANS Nuclear Cafe blog. Dan Yurman did not set the Nuclear Cafe up single handedly; there is a large staff of persons behind the scenes who make this happen. However, Dan did have a major hand in the setup of the Nuclear Cafe and for that should be recognized. In fact, Dan has been a driving force behind the use of social media in nuclear energy and has set up more than one venue. From Dan's site, in his accomplishments:

"I am a consultant to firms in the global nuclear energy industry in the area of social media and marketing communications. I launched ANS Nuclear Cafe, the blog of the American Nuclear Society, in 2010 and the Facebook page of the Idaho National Laboratory in 2009."

Having said this, it should be noted that many people work on the ANS Nuclear Cafe blog both with bylines and behind the scenes... and it's their work and Dan's that gives us such a great venue to read.


  1. Thanks Will for the report on our excellent lunch conversation. I'd like to give credit to my colleagues at the American Nuclear Society who not only funded the development of the ANS blog, but also poured their hearts into it.

  2. The amount of misinformation is staggering. it is nice that there are still rational people out there that see the influx of faulty reports and use some logic to make an informed opinion. keep up the good work.sincerely,nuke roadie.

  3. @Dan: Yes, I think that our lunches need to become regular things! I also didn't mean to reduce the perceived contribution of the other fine folks at the ANS Nuclear Cafe, but rather only to point out that you were behind its launch.
    @nuke roadie: Thank you very much!

  4. Looking at the Tepco diagrams of their water treatment process, for example here, the evaporative condensation plant receives the non-permeate (waste liquid) from the RO desalination plant. So the input to this plant is site water that has already had a great deal of water removed from it, concentrating what is left behind by a factor of 5 or more. Of course if the leak was from the waste side of this plant, the concentration factors would be even greater.

    Otherwise, from the glass-half-full perspective, this is a side issue from the main tasks, and Tepco seem to have been foresighted enough to design some back-up leakage catchment into the building, even if it didn't completely work. And there's been no detectable effect on sea water, or even site water.