What is going on in Japan with the Nuclear power plants?

Damage to Reactor 1 as of March 13th morning



Being glued to the TV all weekend seeing what has happened in Japan has captivated me as well as many people. I cannot help but worry about the nuclear reactors in Fukushima. There are alot of conflicting reports about how serious the situation is and how much radiation may or may not have been emitted before or after the explosion at the plant on Saturday afternoon. *As I was writing this there are reports of an explosion at reactor 3 and new smoke coming from reactor 1!

Here are some facts

Fukushima nuclear power plant is one of the 20 largest nuclear power plants in the world. Reactor 1 (the one that had an explosion and is missing part of its outer wall) went into service in March 26, 1971. All the reactors were designed by General Electric (GE) and GE built reactor 1 and Toshiba built reactor 3 (also suspected to be compromised). The plant is built on 865 acres and it is built on solid bedrock

Just last month the Japanese regulators granted a 10 year extension for the operation of the entire plant. There were two additional reactors planned to be added in 2016 and 2017 making the total number of reactors at the plant to eight.

This was not the first earthquake to affect the area of the Fukushima in 1978 there was another significant earthquake and the reactors were deemed undamaged. The nuclear reactor was built to withstand a 8.2 earthquake and this was an 9.0 (which is 8 times more powerful than what it was built for). *note the earthquake was upgraded to a 9.0 on March 14th.

Japan has 55 nuclear power plants that provide 20% of the country’s power (the US has 104 plants providing 20% of the country’s power).

How do nuclear reactors work: click here for some information. Note that this blogger does add some editorial comments about how he has little concern for what will happen but I think there are alot of easy to understand facts about how reactors work and what is actually happening there right now.

How much radiation: Japanese officials state that is has been minor exposure, equal to one year of natural radiation (or 30-40 chest x-rays, which sound like alot for “natural” and “minor” exposure). Over 160 people have already been reported as being treated with radiation exposure.

Health concerns: Iodine pills are being handled out in Japan, these pills help the body, specifically the thyroid, to NOT absorb the bad radioactive radiation by flooding the thyroid with good/neutral radiation. These pills will NOT work if the person has already been exposed to radiation and will not protect against some of the other effects of radiation exposure like skin discoloration and nausea. All cells that replicate quickly like blood, hair, bone marrow…etc. will have effects in the short-term and there are long-term effects like cancer, fertility issues…etc. are ones that should not be ignored.

Evacuations: There have been 170,000 people evacuated in the 12.4 mile radius around Fukushima Daichi plant and 30,000 in a 6.2 miles around Fukushima Daini.

What is Happening: While reports are not clear, some reports indicate it is under control while many are reporting that a top unnamed Japanese official said that there was meltdown at reactor 1 while other reports say it is imminent. I have not heard or read any reports from people who are NOT concerned. Many are very concerned and many are down playing the issue. The hard part for everyone is that it will take several days for the reactor be cooled to a point where it could be giving an all clear. The most popular report is “partial meltdown” of two reactors that has not been confirmed.

What are they doing: They are pumping sea water into the reactor to keep the core cool. This is a worst case scenario solution because the reactor is officially broken and can never be used again. Usually fresh water is the best coolant so to hear that they are using sea water it means they are out of options and this is the best one available at this time. Sea water has many more impurities that makes it use unstable and keeps potential reactions less controlled or able to anticipate.

What does this mean for disaster relief: Many of the relief organizations that I have seen on the news are stating that they are sending their worked with iodine pills and other precautionary measures. They also state that they will monitor it closely and move their staff as accordingly. I imagine that there will be some issues recruiting volunteers to go to the areas by the nuclear power plants who are close to the areas affected by the earthquake and the tsunami.


Sites used for information:








***Posted on March 13th at 10:41 EST


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