Daiichi #2

Posted on Monday, March 14th, 2011 at 11:50 pm

Watching the news and reading online about the Japanese nuclear problem, cranking up all my old physics skills. The #3 unit has gone to worst case, spilling out uranium 235 and weapon grade plutonium 239, known as MOX, along with a lot of other very hot fission isotope byproducts (cesium, strontium, iodine, et al). Most of these are in oxide form.
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After the Monday explosion, seawater was introduced to unit #2. The reactor water level did not rise. The reactor temperature did not drop. The reactor pressure did not increase. The radiation count outside containment rose sharply to very dangerous levels. The workers were quickly evacuated from around unit #2, and then from the site.
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The units #1 and #2 use LEU, which is standard uranium 235. This is pretty nasty stuff, but it is shadowed severely by plutonium 239 when it comes to damage to the human body. Plutonium 239 is the most toxic naturally occurring isotope on the chart. It is the nightmare of dirty bombs. In fact, MOX was invented to dispose of Russia weapon grade plutonium in a safe manner. (Selling it to the Tokyo Electric Power Co. was probably as bad a move as would have been simply giving it away to the terrorists. It will certainly do more damage this way.)
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This is not to say that there will be a mushroom cloud over the site. It will just be one of the most poisonous places on Earth, perhaps even equalling or surpassing Chernobyl, which was not at sea level or anywhere close to the ocean. Japan will not be able to trust its saltwater fish supply, for one thing.
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One thing that has bothered me so much is the arrogance online of those who kept insisting that nothing bad could happen. I have a strong rational background in physics and know quantum mechanics and nuclear physics rather well. Yet I must admit that I view nuclear electrical generation as a waste of resources, a financially inviable option (considering the cost of safe shutdown of a site), and simply a matter of overkill with very high risks. There are so many better uses for nuclear power than generating electricity. But many of the self-appointed expert supporters of nuclear electric power will be eating crow, a lot of crow.
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Japan is rich in geothermal resources (remember all those volcanos?) The earth produces far more heat than nuclear fission, is much safer, and far more cost effective. The only drawback is that no one can sell fuel to the generating plants, so there is not nearly the profit margin in it.
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All I can feel about this is very sad that so many put their trust in the Tokyo Electric Power Co, on top of sadness for all those who lost family, friends, loved ones, home, everything.

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