Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster and Japan’s New Energy Strategies.

Fukushima Daiichi was once the 15 largest nuclear reactor station in the world. The plant, consisted of 6 boiling water reactors that were designed by General Electric that would generate energy to fulfill the electricity needs of the citizens in the region. The reactor is split into two groups, on the picture below we can see: on the left, containing units 4,3,2, and 1 going from left to right; on the right, we have the newest, 5 and 6 units.

The Fukushima reactor was plugged into a power grid by four lines. These lines, according to wikipedia.com, were ”the 500 kV Futaba Line, the two 275 kV Ōkuma Lines, and the 66 kV Yonomori line”.

In March 2011, Japan was about to enter a radiation nightmare. Measured by the Japanese Meteorological station a 9.0 earthquake shook the whole country. Skyscrapers were shaking and buildings collapsed, the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan. Even though the epicenter was 130 kilometers of the sea, devastation began instantly in the north of the country, with buildings collapsing, explosions, and more catastrophic events, such as people dying very fast. More devastating than that, a massive tsunami was approaching the coast of japan very rapidly. The devastation caused by both the tsunami and the earthquake was tremendous: these are some pictures of what was occurring:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What happened in the Fukushima Reactors?

The Fukushima nuclear power station bares the full force of the tsunami. It began flooding and almost all power was lost along with workers getting killed instantly while the water began entering the station. Unfortunately, the cooling system failed, and they needed power very quickly to cool the reactors down because the radiation levels were beginning to rise (this may have happened due to cracks in the reactors caused by the earthquake). In the damaged control room, workers were trying to figure out what was happening inside the factor number 1, by using car batteries (used as the primary source of energy due to shortage of power) connected to the computers, they found out that the pressure levels were increasing and so they had to find a way to bring the pressure down.

All reactors have pressure release valves that are used to release pressure, and so, according to the Prime minister of Japan, in a youtube documentary ”He ordered the valves to be open so that pressure would be released into the air”. However, inside the plant, scientists opposed this plan because they argued that if steam was to be released into the air, this steam would bring along radioactive material. Under orders, they have to do what the Minister says and so they go on to find the valves which was not an easy task because there was no power and they only had lanterns to guide them. A post-quake, makes reactor number one explode, and  radiation levels increased dramatically (1,000 times higher than usual around reactor 1). Two days later, an even larger explosion blows reactor number 3 causing radiation levels to rise even higher. Clearly, there was no control over the reactors. On the next day, reactor 4 explodes, everything was melting down.

What really happened inside the reactors:

According to Akira Omoto (engineer involved in the construction of the Fukushima power plant) who was featured in a video on youtube (Fukushima Nuclear Reactor Explained) said that ”the water that was used to cool down the fuel rods leaked out the reactors due to cracks caused by the earthquake, allowing high temperatures to rise in the reactors”. As one of the safety measures, control rods entered to stop fission so the reactor stopped operating; however, water, that should have been circulated to sopped the heating was not circulated because of the power outage caused by the earthquake. A second safety system would spray water to cool down the rods, but at this time, the tsunami hit the power plant, causing the safety generator fail. After that, a third safety system began which converts steam, traveling from the pipe, into water. This cooled the rods, but the water levels went down so it was not sufficient and the temperature continued to rise. All three safety measures failed. The following image shows the reactor’s melted core:

 

 

 

 

 

 

According to fukushimaupdate.com ”Fukushima fish may be indible for a decade”, the post effects are devastating. Unfortunately, radiation takes a very long time to disappear, causing serious contamination to the wildlife, water, and residents of the region affected. Another article featured on this website mentions that ”The EU began restricting Japanese food imports in late March last year after the start of the nuclear crisis triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake”, so what happened here was a very serious disaster that affected not only infrastructure, and lives of the Japanese people, but also the entire economy of Japan.

Japan’s New Energy Strategies:

The number one strategy is to decrease reliance on nuclear energy, however:

According to an article in the NY Times on Japan’s crisis ”The government had been considering several options: whether to close all the plants over time or to maintain enough reactors to provide a smaller but still substantial percentage of the country’s electricity needs. Before the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, Japan depended on its reactors for about 30 percent of its electricity and had planned to raise that share to more than 50 percent by 2030”, it seems that the citizens became traumatized from this event. I do not understand how Japan, being an high earthquake zone, would allow companies to build nuclear power plants. The Government, in order to regain the trust of its citizens, replaced the whole nuclear energy commission, but this topic is still very delicate, and any decision could cause problems. Also, according to yomiuri.co.jp ”If the nation abolishes nuclear power generation, it would likely find itself at a disadvantage in negotiations with resource-rich nations to purchase resources such as liquefied natural gas for thermal power generation”. Because 30% of its energy is from nuclear sources, it is very difficult to know what the future of Japan will look like if they decide to shut down all the nuclear energy facilities. If they do so, what is going to happen with all the reactors? will they be a threat for future natural disasters? or will they still be operated regarding the Fukushima Disaster?, the future will tell.

Sources:

“Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 25 Oct. 2012. Web. 27 Oct. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fukushima_Daiichi_Nuclear_Power_Plant>.

Kanashima, Hironori, and Yomiuri Shimbun. “Govt Energy Strategy Causes New Concerns.” Daily Yomiuri Online. The Yomiuri Shimbum, n.d. Web. <http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T120915002677.htm>.

“Seconds From Disaster – Fukushima [Documentary].” Seconds From Disaster – Fukushima. Youtube. 6 July 2012. YouTube. YouTube, 06 July 2012. Web. 27 Oct. 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_NeOhd_Z3LA>.

Tabuchi, Hiroko. “Japan Sets Policy to Phase out Nuclear Power Plants by 2040.”The New York Times. N.p., 14 Sept. 2012. Web. 27 Oct. 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/15/world/asia/japan-will-try-to-halt-nuclear-power-by-the-end-of-the-2030s.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0>.

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