Monday, January 22, 2018

Fukushima Unit 2 in the News Again

TEPCO tells us they have identified the remains of "part of a nuclear fuel assembly" scattered at the bottom of unit 2's containment vessel:
CHIKAKO KAWAHARA January 20, 2018 Melted nuclear fuel seen inside No. 2 reactor or at Fukushima plant. The Asahi Shimbun

A remote-controlled camera captured what appears to be melted fuel inside a reactor of the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said. The released footage showed pebble-like nuclear fuel debris and part of a nuclear fuel assembly scattered at the bottom of a containment vessel, located just below the pressure vessel.

Where is the rest of the fuel?  

Fukushima's reactor 2 held quite a bit more than a single fuel assembly. According to a November 16 report by TEPCO titled, ‘Integrity Inspection of Dry Storage Casks and Spent Fuel at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station,’ as of March 2010 the Daini site held 1,060 tons of spent uranium fuel. The total spent uranium fuel inventory at Daiichi in March 2010 was reported as 1,760 tons. The 2010 report asserts that approximately 700 spent fuel assemblies are generated every year. The report specifies that Daiichi’s 3,450 assemblies are stored in each of the six reactor’s spent fuel pools. The common spent fuel pool contains 6291 assemblies.

Unit 2 has been in the news. Last February, Akio Matsumura described a potential catastrophe at Unit 2:
Akio Matsumura (2017, February 11). The Potential Catastrophe of Reactor 2 at Fukushima Daiichi: What Effect for the Pacific and the US? Finding the Missing Link,, accessed November 20, 2017

It can hardly be said that the Fukushima accident is heading toward a solution. The problem of Unit 2, where a large volume of nuclear fuels remain, is particularly crucial. Reactor Unit 2 started its commercial operation in July 1974. It held out severe circumstances of high temperature and high pressure emanating from the March 11, 2011, accident without being destroyed. However, years long use of the pressure vessel must have brought about its weakening due to irradiation. If it should encounter a big earth tremor, it will be destroyed and scatter the remaining nuclear fuel and its debris, making the Tokyo metropolitan area uninhabitable.

Unit 2 has been in the news because of persistent high radiation levels. In Feb 2017, TEPCO reported measuring radiation levels of 530 SIEVERTS AN HOUR (10 will kill you) and described a 2-meter hole in the grating beneath unit 2's reactor pressure vessel (1 meter-square hole found in grating):

Radiation level at Fukushima reactor highest since 2011 disaster; grating hole found. The Mainichi, February 2, 2017,

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The radiation level inside the containment vessel of the No. 2 reactor at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex stood at 530 sieverts per hour at a maximum, the highest since the 2011 disaster, the plant operator said Thursday.

Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. also announced that based on image analysis, a hole measuring 2 meters in diameter has been found on a metal grating beneath the pressure vessel inside the containment vessel and a portion of the grating was distorted.

...The hole could have been caused by nuclear fuel that penetrated the reactor vessel as it overheated and melted due to the loss of reactor cooling functions in the days after a powerful earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011 hit northeastern Japan.

According to the image analysis, about 1 square meter of the grating was missing. 

This extraordinarily high radiation in unit 2 was reported by the Japanese media in January 2017 as presenting a barrier to the decommissioning timeline:

MASANOBU HIGASHIYAMA (January 31, 2017) Images indicate bigger challenge for TEPCO at Fukushima plant. The Asahi Shimbun,

If confirmed, the first images of melted nuclear fuel at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant show that Tokyo Electric Power Co. will have a much more difficult time decommissioning the battered facility.

The condition of what is believed to be melted fuel inside the No. 2 reactor at the plant appears far worse than previously thought.

...High radiation levels have prevented workers from entering the No. 2 reactor, as well as the No. 1 and No. 3 reactors at the plant.


Looking back at testimony by Masao Yoshida, Fukushima's plant manager, and media coverage of that testimony, I see that unit 2 was identified as posing the greatest immediate risk, although the explosion at unit 3 was clearly larger (this discrepancy is perplexing).  Here is an excerpt of the testimony published by the Asahi Shimbun:
Yoshida feared nuclear 'annihilation' of eastern Japan, testimony shows. (September 12, 2014) THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

Plant manager Masao Yoshida envisioned catastrophe for eastern Japan in the days following the outbreak of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, according to his testimony, one of 19 released by the government on Sept. 11. . . .

. . . In his testimony, Yoshida described the condition of the No. 2 reactor at the Fukushima plant between the evening of March 14, 2011, and the next morning: “Despite the nuclear fuel being completely exposed, we’re unable to reduce pressure. Water can’t get in either.”

Yoshida recalled the severity of the situation. “If we continue to be unable to get water in, all of the nuclear fuel will melt and escape from the containment vessel, and radioactive substances from the fuel will spread to the outside,” he said. Fearing a worst-case scenario at the time, Yoshida said, “What we envisioned was that the entire eastern part of Japan would be annihilated.”
You can read more excerpts from the 400-pages of testimony published by the Asahi Shimbun, which both applauds and critiques the panel investigation of the disaster that produced the testimonies:
The Yoshida Testimony: The Fukushima Nuclear Accident as Told by Plant Manager Masao Yoshida The Asahi Shimbun

Although the panel interviewed as many as 772 individuals involved, it failed to dig deep into essential aspects of the disaster because it made it a stated policy that it would not pursue the responsibility of individuals.
What is true about unit 2? Yoshida provides this account from the article cited immediately above:
At around 6:15 a.m. on March 15, 2011, four days after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, a round table presided by Yoshida in an emergency response room on the second floor of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant’s quake-proof control center building heard two important reports, almost simultaneously, from front-line workers.

One said that pressure in the suppression chamber, or the lower part of the containment vessel for the No. 2 reactor, had vanished. The other said an explosive sound had been heard.

Question: Well, this is not necessarily in the No. 2 reactor, but sometime around 6 a.m. or 6:10 a.m. on March 15, pressure in the No. 2 reactor’s suppression chamber, for one thing, fell suddenly to zero. And around the same time, something ...

Yoshida: An explosive sound.



  1. I can't wrap my head around that many fuel rods and that much radiation.

  2. Think how many people got sick or cancer, from the processes in creating all those fuel assemblies. Think of how the waste, generated by their production, is poisoning water and food. Think how much life, is being destroyed now, by what remains of them.