March 2011
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The World Turned Upside Down

I have been watching the events unfold in Japan.  It is truly astounding the power of Mother Nature.  While several US networks seem to be tempering their coverage of the nuclear fuel melt, and yes, there are multiple reactor fuel melts in progress, other sources are forthright.  The BBC seems to be on top of things, as well as Russia Today.

Thus far:

  1. No fewer than four hydrogen explosions have taken place in all four reactors at the Fukushima-1 Power plant.  The after the third explosion yesterday in unit 2, there are two major concerns; breach of the reactor vessel(s) and run away nuclear fission.  After that explosion, the pressure in the unit 2 reactor suppression chamber dropped from three atmospheres to one atmosphere, indicating the suppression ring had breached.  Currently the nuclear disaster is categorized as a 6/7, surpassing Three Mile Island.  The worst case scenario:  Reactor Unit #2 completely breaches, this unit contains Mox fuel Note: unit #3 contains the Mox fuel. (mixed plutonium/uranium oxide), which is far more dangerous than the fuels in the other reactor vessels.  Mox fuel has a lower melting point and could potentially melt into a pool at the bottom of the reactor vessel resuming fission.  Criticality?  Yes, but not the high order type as seen in a nuclear weapon.
  2. The root cause of the disaster is loss of cooling after the reactors where shut down.  The nuclear fuel cores require cooling for at least two to four weeks after shutdown.  The backup diesel generators went off line approximately one hour after the units were automatically shut down during the earth quake.  Three probable causes for this have been proposed;  the electrical switch gear for the generators was in the basement of the generator building, which was flooded by the tsunami, fuel contamination/fuel loss, and submergence of the GENSETs by sea water.  All of three of these scenarios points to a design flaw.
  3. Radiation levels have varied but are elevated, peaking at various times before and after each explosion.  Until this morning, the major radiation plumes were being blown off shore.  The wind has become variable, causing the down wind zones to shift.
  4. Prevailing east winds could blow some of the contamination to the west coast of the US within 36-48 hours, east coast by 48-72 hours and in 7-10 days there will likely be a band of radioactive particles in the jet stream that circles the globe in the northern high latitudes.

Good explanations: MIT NSE Nuclear Information Hub

I never though I’d recommend a Russian News media source, but they seem to be nailing it.  There is also some coverage on NHK shortwave frequencies:

All times UTC / target areas: af (Africa) as (Asia) eu (Europe) na (North America) pa (Pacific)

0500-0530: 5, 975 KHz (eu) 6,110 KHz (na) 9,770 KHz (af) 15,205 KHz (as) 17,810 KHz (as)
1000-1030: 9,605 KHz (as) 9,625 KHz (pa) 9,840 KHz (pa) 11,780  KHz (as)
1200-1230: 6,120 KHz (na) 9,625 KHz (pa) 9,790 KHz (eu)
1200-1300: 9,695 KHz (as)
1300-1330: 9,875 KHz (as)
1400-1430: 5,955 KHz (as) 9,875 KHz (as) 21,560 KHz (af)

But not to worry, everything is okay.  There will be no detrimental effects of this, whatsoever.

Regardless, I have headed down to the basement and dug up my CD V-700 RAD meter.  I salvaged this from the dumpster at WPTR after one of the contract engineers threw it away in the early 1990’s.  I believe I used this meter to measure the radiation from the tubes in the BT-25A and the MW50B transmitters.

According to the “Operational Check Source” on the side of the meter, it still works and is pretty close to calibration level.  Even if it is not totally accurate, it will still indicated an increase of radiation.

Anton Model 6 CD V-700 radiation meter

Anton Model 6 CD V-700 radiation meter

This is a Anton Model 6, which is the most sensitive of the V-700 series meters.  It can be used to check background radiation levels and/or contamination of food or clothing.  The best plan is not to ingest radioactive particles in food and water.  Why wonder about it, when you can know?

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14 comments to The World Turned Upside Down

  • Rob

    I remember a something like that we had at school that had dekatron tubes that spun as it ticked away. It was in a grey hammer tone painted steel box and looked very cold war era. I have to wonder if they are dusting it off about now too.

  • Paul Thurst

    @Rob, if nothing else, it was fun to fire this unit up and test it today. It is a well built piece of gear.

  • J. Aegerter

    Unbelievable that anyone would toss such a valuable instrument into a dumpster! I am curious if you are reading anything higher than normal background radiation with that unit. The GE plants that exploded in Japan were BWR’s. They are the worst from a safety standpoint. The Westinghouse PWR’s are the best, but like all nukes, a ticking time bomb with a gigantic HLW disposal problem. I prefer Hydro as the ultimate most safe and cost-effective source for electrical power.

  • Paul Thurst

    @John, that’s what I thought. When I recovered it, the batteries had been left inside and they leaked, so I took a couple of hours to clean all the contacts, otherwise the unit was in good shape. Regarding background radiation, nothing in the gamma range, small amounts of beta, which is normal, especially in the soil. I was in California during Chernobyl, as I recall it took about 16 days for the base radiation meters to register an increase, then it went up slightly everyday for months. My main concern is the west coast food that gets shipped east this time of year.

    Of course, GE partly owns NBC. GE is also pushing hard to restart the commercial nuclear program in this country, which makes me suspicious of US “news” coverage. Anyway, you correct that Hydro is the best way to generate electricity.

  • marquitos

    I have been reading what I can and watching everything there is to be seen here in argentina. And there is no information on what’s going on in there, anywhere. Those volunteers at the plant deserve at list to be recognized by their work I think, not to mention humanity. GE design is to be applauded (sarcasm). It seems that the generators were placed in the subfloor of the reactor, and they were flattered and all the electrical controls were soaked. I guess they didn’t know about tsunamis in the ´70s.

    I have my fingers crossed. I hope it’s enough.

  • Paul Thurst

    NPR also has some good diagrams of the reactor buildings: http://www.npr.org/2011/03/16/130915882/tracking-the-latest-at-the-fukushima-nuclear-plant

    Those guys that stayed behind are true heroes in every sense of the word. They know what they are dealing with and put their own safety aside to try and save their country and truly, the rest of us as well. I hope the situation stabilizes, but issue still hangs in the balance.

    Around here, I took several radiation readings today; soil, rain water, potatoes, milk, a banana etc. The background radiation is about 0.02 Millirem/hr (00 UTC, 17 March 2011). (0.2 u/SV, if I did the math right) This falls right in the normal range.

  • marquitos

    This is from TEPCO Electric. At list you can read some sort of chronicle of what happened at the plant. Reactor by reactor, 1-6. There is a list of the causality’s too; no losses, but…

    http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/11031719-e.html

  • J. Aegerter

    I am really surprised that the Passamaquoddy Project has not been re-visited during the past 20 years. Today, this would be a very low cost, effective, safe, almost eternal alternative to Nuke and a good investment for the future. Sometimes it amazes me how quickly people forget good ideas in science and engineering, and follow many roads to dangerous destruction.

  • Lisa

    Is there any one in Minnesota who is streaming their radiation detector online for us to see.

    The Diggs, Idaho detector on ustream is showing spikes of 100-125 of gamma!

  • Paul Thurst

    Okay, a couple of things. The only ustream radiation detector I could find is this one, in Driggs, Idaho:

    http://www.ustream.tv/channel/radiation-detection—driggs-idaho

    When I looked at it, it was showing 80-95 CPM.

    As far as what it is measuring, the info says: “The detector is measuring Gamma above 12 keV and beta above 200 keV.” Seems the meter is measuring both gamma and beta. I-131 and Cs-137 are both gamma emitters, so that is not surprising. What would be interesting is the radiation levels. I have noted during windy periods, I get much more beta and I am see almost no gamma at all. I don’t expect to see elevated levels around here until at least Monday. BTW, Denver appears to have the highest readings at the moment.

  • Don Perkins

    Those radiation detectors are in lots of old radio station attics. They were passed out during the CONELRAD days so that radio people could monitor the aftermath of a nuke bomb. I think I’ve still got a couple at one of my stations.

  • J. Aegerter

    It seems our government (or somebody) has changed the units on the meter scales of modern Geiger Counters to “Sieverts” and gotten away from “REMS”, probably confusing many people. On the link mentioned above, I don’t see any units displayed on the meter face, so how could anyone determine a dangerous level?

  • Paul Thurst

    The Sievert is an SI unit, fortunately it is base 10 and converts easily to Roentgen, REM or Rad. 1 REM = 0.01 Sv. I think that meter has a CPM (which is Counts Per Minute), but without a reference level, it is sort of meaning less.

    On a somewhat related note; my background radiation is varying day to day, but I have noticed increased Gamma, whereas before it was mostly Beta. Scratch that, background levels noticeably higher on a moderate NW wind today.

  • J. Aegerter

    I would expect to see more on-line monitors that would actually use industry standard units so the citizenry could discuss and thereby learn more about ionizing radiation. But, I suppose it is largely ignorance rather than censorship.

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