The PJ Tatler

STRATFOR report overheated?

Be a little wary about that STRATFOR report.  Here’s recent news:

IWAKI, Japan — An explosion at a nuclear power station Saturday destroyed a building housing the reactor, but a radiation leak was decreasing despite fears of a meltdown from damage caused by a powerful earthquake and tsunami, officials said.

Government spokesman Yukio Edano said the explosion destroyed the exterior walls of the building where the reactor is placed, but not the actual metal housing enveloping the reactor.

The Fukushima Daiichi reactor is wildly different from the Chernobyl reactor, which was an uncontained, graphite-moderated reactor being run outside normal safety limits:

Yaroslov Shtrombakh, a Russian nuclear expert, said a Chornobyl-style meltdown was unlikely.

“It’s not a fast reaction like at Chornobyl,” he said. “I think that everything will be contained within the grounds, and there will be no big catastrophe.”

In 1986, the Chornobyl nuclear reactor exploded and caught fire, sending a cloud of radiation over much of Europe. That reactor — unlike the Fukushima one — was not housed in a sealed container, so there was no way to contain the radiation once the reactor exploded.

The reactor in trouble has already leaked some radiation: Before the explosion, operators had detected eight times the normal radiation levels outside the facility and 1,000 times normal inside Unit 1’s control room.

“Eight times normal” in this context would be around average background radiation in Colorado.  More recent reports put the dose rate at 620 millirem/hour, which is certainly not good, and justifies evacuation but not panic.

One of the workers exposed to radiation is reported to have been exposed to 106.3 millSieverts, or about 10 Röntgen — again, that’s a significant exposure, but only about 20 CT scans.

There are some other questionable points in the STRATFOR piece, for example the mention of “burning concrete.”  When exposed to high temperatures, concrete doesn’t “burn”; it loses strength and eventually breaks down and melts, but it doesn’t burn.  In any case, white “smoke” is almost always steam — which is much more what you would expect from a reactor being cooled with water anyway.

Oh, one other thing: I just heard Neil Cavuto hyperventilating about “nuclear explosions” in the power plant, so let’s try to stamp that one out right now: any explosions at these nuclear plants are regular old thermal explosions, from burning hydrogen or steam pressure, not atomic-bomb nuclear explosions.

Update

By the way, keep your eyes open for this photo or closely similar ones:

I’ve already seen pictures of this explosion being used Fukuoka Daiichi stories.  The only problem — that’s a natural gas explosion from a storage facility.