Nuclear Crisis Solutions Simple But Not Easy
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Nuclear Crisis Solutions Simple But Not Easy

Time, power, water and people.

That’s all that’s needed to control the deteriorating seaside Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan.

It sounds so simple, yet each presents challenges.

Over the past week, the facility has careened out of control with a bewildering sequence of explosions, malfunctions, fires and, in all likelihood, partial reactor core meltdowns.

Plumes of radioactive steam rise from the site, and satellite photos show heavy damage to three of the facility’s six reactor buildings. Those same photos show fuel tanks and smaller buildings nearest the shore washed away.

The total amount of radiation released by the facility is unknown. But radiation readings at the site have been so high that the operating company, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco), has pulled back most of its emergency workers.

The situation appears uncontrollable, growing more dire each day.

But nuclear experts say that with each passing day, the emergency at Daiichi creeps closer to stability.

That’s because time is on Japan’s side — at least in regard to the reactor cores themselves.

When the earthquake hit last Friday, control rods automatically dropped into the three operating reactors, stopping their nuclear chain reactions. Even so, the tightly bundled fuel rods in the cores are continuing to radioactively decay, throwing off the heat and radiation that crews have so desperately battled.

With each day, though, the energy thrown off by the fuel rods decreases exponentially. They become easier to control with the seawater pumped into them.

The challenge with time is that the facility continues to emit radiation. “People want it fixed yesterday,” said Lake Barrett, a retired nuclear engineer who led emergency operations at Three Mile Island during that Pennsylvania facility’s partial core meltdown in 1979.

Getting electrical power

As for electrical power, restoring it should be “top priority,” said Mark Pierson, a nuclear engineering professor at Virginia Tech.

Restoring power would dramatically enhance the facility’s cooling abilities, nuclear experts said. The total loss of primary, backup and battery power — a blackout state long feared by nuclear plant operators — precipitated the crisis by crippling the facility’s crucial pumps.

It’s unclear how much electricity is now available on site or why Tepco called on General Electric to deliver 10 mobile generators from the United States. A GE spokesman said he did not know when the request from Tepco came in or when GE would be able to deliver the generators.

On Thursday, the International Atomic Energy Agency announced that a half-mile-long power line had been laid to Fukushima Daiichi’s unit 2 reactor building, but it did not say whether power had been restored.

Read more at The Washington Post.