Monday, November 20, 2017

This NYT Article about Fukushima Daiichi Requires Suspension of Disbelief

In a recent article, the New York Times argued that Fukushima Daiichi is "under control" and that TEPCO is preparing for de-comissioning, after finding the missing reactor fuel from unit 3:
Martin Fackler (NOV. 19, 2017). Six Years After Fukushima, Robots Finally Find Reactors’ Melted Uranium Fuel. The New York Times,

“We have finished the debris cleanup and gotten the plant under control,” said the guide, Daisuke Hirose, a spokesman for Tepco’s subsidiary in charge of decommissioning the plant. “Now, we are finally preparing for decommissioning.” (Fackler 2017)

The strange thing about this story is the LACK OF DETAILS concerning fuel condition at unit 3, where MISSING reactor fuel was allegedly found in convenient clumps within the reactor pedestal (and the location account is also exceedingly vague):
After three days of carefully navigating through a shattered reactor building, the Manbo finally reached the heavily damaged Unit 3 reactor. There, the robot beamed back video of a gaping hole at the bottom of the reactor and, on the floor beneath it, clumps of what looked like solidified lava: the first images ever taken of the plant’s melted uranium fuel. (Fackler 2017)

This article reads to me as a propaganda piece. There is no discussion of reactor 3's fuel conditions beyond what is posted in the excerpt above.

There is no discussion about the fuel in reactor 3's equipment pool. There is no discussion of the melted fuel in reactors 1 and 2 (other than the brief comment that radiation levels in unit 2 reached 70 sieverts an hour, which will fry humans and electronics alike). There is no discussion of ongoing water contamination and the problems of contaminated water storage.

This article has a reassuring tone which is consistent with Abe's efforts to force evacuees to return to the region despite higher radiation levels, up to 20 times pre-Fukushima, and ongoing vulnerabilities at the site due to the threat of collapse from liquefaction and earthquakes. Notice the reassuring tone of the NYT article:
During a recent visit, the mood within the plant was noticeably more relaxed, though movements were still tightly controlled and everyone was required to wear radiation-measuring badges. (Fackler 2017)
The NYT article also implies (albeit indirectly) that the reactor fuel from unit 2 has been located, but that is not consistent with other more authoritative accounts. See how the NYT frames the missing reactor fuel problems from 1 and 2 as resolved through the use of "similar successes":

The discovery in July at Unit 3, and similar successes this year in locating the fuel of the plant’s other two ruined reactors, mark what Japanese officials hope will prove to be a turning point in the worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl. (Fackler 2017)
For a more detailed and evidence-based analysis read Simply Information's report on Fukushima unit 2:
Nancy Foust (2015, Feb 23). Simply report on Fukushima unit 2: Extended Report 2015
 Newer information such as the failure of seawater injections to reach the RPV further ads to the growing body of information that indicates unit 2’s meltdown was far worse than initially assumed. Many early estimates of the extent of unit 2’s meltdowns were dependent on the assumption that water reached the melting fuel in quantities large enough to cool or cover the melted fuel. This newer understanding of the water injection shows those early estimates to be incorrect and that unit 2’s meltdown was much more severe than initially assumed. The timing of major events at the plant that tie to events at unit 2 and TEPCO’s increasing alarm over the degrading conditions of the plant indicates that unit 2 may have posed an even larger threat than the other two units at the plant. The chance event of the blow out panel dislodging early in the series of events may have helped unit 2 avoid a hydrogen explosion as seen at the other units. The actual meltdown and the extent of the damage at unit 2 may have been worse in many ways.
Also see SimplyInfo's updated report here:

I think its safe to say that TEPCO has NOT achieved successes managing reactor 2's missing fuel. In fact, Akio Matsumura posted his concerns about unit 2 and an article by Dr. Shuzo Takemoto — professor of the Department of Geophysics, Graduate School of Science, Kyoto University at his website earlier this year. Here are relevant comments by Dr. Takemoto:-- concerning ongoing dangers at unit 2:
Shuzo Takemoto Potential Global Catastrophe of the Reactor No.2 at Fukushima DaiichFinding 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. The Tokyo Olympics in 2020 will then be utterly out of the question.
Fukushima presents ongoing risks of catastrophic harm and TEPCO has no idea how to extract the highly radioactive fuel as neither humans nor robots can sustain the high radiation levels and fractured reactor pedestals cannot contain water.

The NYT article is describing a parallel universe that doesn't exist on earth.

Another strange thing about this NYT article is that the author - Fackler - seems to be the only one reporting on this amazing story that the entirety of unit 3's fuel has been located and assessed as sitting in a lump at the bottom of the reactor pedestal.

Why did the NYT get to break this story? Discovery of the entirety of unit 3's fuel should be a big story in Japan but The Mainichi, one of Japan's English-language newspapers doesn't have anything available in its search results about the discovery at all.

The Asahi Shimbun isn't covering this story either. Nor is NHK.

I find it very strange that the Japanese news media are not running with this story about the alleged discovery of unit 3 fuel in a nice lump in the pedestal.

I'm not arguing that the entire NYT story is a fabrication. What I am arguing is that the NYT article optimistically frames a discovery at the plant as indicating the plant is under control and yet the details of that discovery are missing and the Japanese news media aren't even touching the story.

It reeks of propaganda.

Here are some recent screenshots from Fukushima Daiichi:

This morning: