Sunday, April 10, 2011

No Biorobots For Japan

You can see the whole video the excerpt was taken from at my Gorbachev - Chernobyl Did It post. This article explains why "biorobots" were necessary.
Describing the horrific event and its immediate aftermath, Russia's Pravda (April 26) said: "The nuclear reactor was burning for ten days. The people who were trying to extinguish the fire were referred to as 'biorobots' because they were working in the places where machines turned out to be useless. Thirty of Chernobyl liquidators died on the spot, hundreds of others suffered from cancer afterwards. Almost 18,000 people, including children, died within the 20 years after the tragedy."
So 18,000 deaths from Chernobyl is the official Russian number. Which is contrary to the small numbers usually cited by passionate nuclear power advocates. I'm a nuclear advocate myself but somewhat more measured. So is the 18,000 number credible? Who can say? However this article explains why it might be correct. And why the Soviets might have tried to cover up the truth at least until now.

That was history. My friend Eric of Classical Values sent me this article on the Japanese Plans for cleaning up Fukushima.
"We will not bury the site while radioactive materials remain. We will definitely remove the fuel," Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) adviser Toshiaki Enomoto told the Mainichi in an interview, stressing that the company would not bury the reactors in concrete in a "stone tomb" approach like the one adopted at Chernobyl.

TEPCO chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata has announced plans to decommission the plant's No. 1 through 4 reactors. Normally it takes 20 to 30 years to decommission a reactor, but the process at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant is expected to take even longer as workers must start by developing specialized equipment to remove damaged fuel.
That equipment will have to be radiation hardened which means shielding and special radhard electronics. The Japanese build satellites and anyone who builds satellites has experience with radhard electronics. The electronics will need to be modular because even radhard electronics fail with enough radiation exposure. What radhardening does is give you more time. In fact everything that uses electricity on the robots will have to be modular because radiation even attacks most electrical insulation. Teflon insulated wires (more expensive and more susceptible to mechanical stress) are used in high radiation environments for that very reason. I first learned how to use and solder Teflon wire during my stint in the Nuke Navy.

Back to the article on Japan. They think they will have a handle on the current cooling problems in a few months.
Enomoto said that for the time being the ongoing process of injecting water into the No. 1, 2 and 3 reactors at the plant was essential.

"There is no other option but to inject water. We want the fuel to stop melting," he said.

The plant's residual heat removal system could take a month to get up and running again, Enomoto said. An additional cooling system will also be constructed but it is expected to take several months before the reactors can be brought to a cold stop.

A facility to purify contaminated water responsible for radioactive leaks to a level where it can be released will be constructed from this month. At the same time measures will proceed to have radioactive material contained within the reactor buildings within a few months, Enomoto said. At this stage, evacuation orders applying to local bodies around the plant are expected to be reviewed.
Let me see if I can translate the above. Yes they must keep cooling the plants to limit the amount of radiation in the air. On the other hand they must find a place to store all that radioactive water. So far I have seen no plan for that. No plan to erect a tank farm. No plan for barges and tankers which might have problems from future tsunamis as would a tank farm. So where is a months worth of water going to go? And that assumes they keep to their proposed time line. If it takes longer they will have more water waiting for disposal.

And a residual heat removal system presupposes intact pluming to circulate the fluids. That is probably not something you can count on for reactors #1, #2, and #3. Plus spent rod pools #1, #2, #3 and #4. So he may be blowing some smoke with that little story.
Enomoto said nuclear fuel at the plant could not be removed using conventional methods for two reasons: The reactor buildings are damaged, and measures are needed to prevent the spread of radiation; and 25 to 70 percent damage has occurred to the fuel rods in the No. 1, 2 and 3 reactors. New methods to remove the fuel must be developed, and it will take 10 years before workers can start removing fuel, he said.

Commenting on TEPCO's response to the disaster, Enomoto said, "Problems that we had not predicted happened one after another. Even inspecting the site has been difficult, and this accumulation of events has been responsible for the work not going as we have hoped."
I'm reminded of what the Emperor of Japan said at the end of WW2. "...the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage..." Ah. Yup. If they had used a design something like this one they could have avoided this mess. So when he says the accident was unforseen all he means is - "we were not looking".

They are going to have to develop the special robots and that is going to take time. For one thing radhard components in the quantities needed may not be available off the shelf. Especially true given the current shut down of a LOT of the Japanese semiconductor industry. And everything will need to be designed to be hosed down to get the externals of the robots sufficiently cleaned to perform maintenance. Or else they will have to design robots to maintain the robots. The problems could multiply as they get experience.

Essentially what the Japanese are doing is exchanging land for people and time. The longer Fukushima remains a spewer of radiation the more land that will have to be declared an exclusion zone. Is it a good trade off? Only time will tell. But one thing is for sure the masses of people who would otherwise have been drafted as biorobots will live a lot longer.

Cross Posted at Classical Values

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