Fukushima's toxic legacy: Ignorance and fear

Hysteria rages unchecked as minor incident winds down


Events at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear powerplant in Japan continue to unfold, with workers there steadily restoring redundancy and containment measures across the site. It remains highly unlikely that the workers themselves will suffer any measurable health consequences from radiation, and – continued media scaremongering notwithstanding – effects on the public look set to be nil.

Operations at the plant itself continued yesterday, with powerful mobile pumping equipment set up at both the No 3 and No 4 reactors there to refill the spent-fuel pools at those buildings.

Water levels in those pools were thought to be at low levels last week, raising the possibility of damage to the spent rods from their own internal heating – though this is hugely less than that present in a reactor core, and experts have differed on the point of whether such damage would actually be significant. All sides agree, however, that with the three damaged cores effectively stabilised using seawater cooling the pools had become the greatest potential source of radiation at the site. Efforts to restore a deep layer of water over the spent rods have been the main focus of operations at Fukushima Daiichi since the middle of last week.

Both pools are now being continually topped up using mobile vehicles capable of squirting large amounts of water into the pools from 20m+ heights, the vehicles left running unattended to reduce the radiation doses sustained by their operators. At first a vehicle (and mobile Super Pump Trucks) supplied by Tokyo fire department's elite Hyper Rescue unit was employed, but some reports indicate that this was damaged by being left running for 13 hours at the weekend. Additional vehicles normally used to pump concrete at high-rise construction sites are now in play and cooling of the pools continues.

Personnel were briefly evacuated from the area of No 3 during the afternoon yesterday (UK time), when white smoke was seen coming from the reactor building. This could have been a sign of hydrogen being emitted, presaging a hydrogen explosion of the sort which wracked the site in the days following the quake. However the smoke – which could equally have been steam resulting from pool cooling water pouring down through the building – then declined. Radiation levels and pressure/temperature readings from the No 3 core remained steady and workers returned to No 3 as the smoke emissions ceased.

Meanwhile efforts to restore grid power from off site continued, with power provided at all reactors as of the latest reports. Nos 5 and 6 are now considered fully safe, with cores at cold shutdown status and spent-fuel pools running normally. Engineers are still restoring services including instruments and cooling at 1 and 2: it has been reported that the spent-fuel pool at No 2 is now being topped up using water from a fire engine connected to its usual cooling pipework. External power lines have been connected to switching equipment serving Nos 3 and 4 but plant operator TEPCO doesn't expect to fully restore power there until later in the week.

Radiation levels measured inside the plant continue to be such as to require workers there to carefully manage their dose rates, but not such as to mean any long-term health worries. Workers are permitted to sustain a total annual dose of 250 millisievert before being withdrawn from the operation, which is not such as to cause them or their families any concern. As only small numbers of personnel are involved, and cancer is a very common cause of death, future investigations decades from now will almost certainly not be able to attribute any cases of cancer among the workers to service during the current incident.


Other stories you might like

  • Despite global uncertainty, $500m hit doesn't rattle Nvidia execs
    CEO acknowledges impact of war, pandemic but says fundamentals ‘are really good’

    Nvidia is expecting a $500 million hit to its global datacenter and consumer business in the second quarter due to COVID lockdowns in China and Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Despite those and other macroeconomic concerns, executives are still optimistic about future prospects.

    "The full impact and duration of the war in Ukraine and COVID lockdowns in China is difficult to predict. However, the impact of our technology and our market opportunities remain unchanged," said Jensen Huang, Nvidia's CEO and co-founder, during the company's first-quarter earnings call.

    Those two statements might sound a little contradictory, including to some investors, particularly following the stock selloff yesterday after concerns over Russia and China prompted Nvidia to issue lower-than-expected guidance for second-quarter revenue.

    Continue reading
  • Another AI supercomputer from HPE: Champollion lands in France
    That's the second in a week following similar system in Munich also aimed at researchers

    HPE is lifting the lid on a new AI supercomputer – the second this week – aimed at building and training larger machine learning models to underpin research.

    Based at HPE's Center of Excellence in Grenoble, France, the new supercomputer is to be named Champollion after the French scholar who made advances in deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs in the 19th century. It was built in partnership with Nvidia using AMD-based Apollo computer nodes fitted with Nvidia's A100 GPUs.

    Champollion brings together HPC and purpose-built AI technologies to train machine learning models at scale and unlock results faster, HPE said. HPE already provides HPC and AI resources from its Grenoble facilities for customers, and the broader research community to access, and said it plans to provide access to Champollion for scientists and engineers globally to accelerate testing of their AI models and research.

    Continue reading
  • Workday nearly doubles losses as waves of deals pushed back
    Figures disappoint analysts as SaaSy HR and finance application vendor navigates economic uncertainty

    HR and finance application vendor Workday's CEO, Aneel Bhusri, confirmed deal wins expected for the three-month period ending April 30 were being pushed back until later in 2022.

    The SaaS company boss was speaking as Workday recorded an operating loss of $72.8 million in its first quarter [PDF] of fiscal '23, nearly double the $38.3 million loss recorded for the same period a year earlier. Workday also saw revenue increase to $1.43 billion in the period, up 22 percent year-on-year.

    However, the company increased its revenue guidance for the full financial year. It said revenues would be between $5.537 billion and $5.557 billion, an increase of 22 percent on earlier estimates.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022