Fukushima 1 unit 5 water pump fails

A failure of a sea water pump at unit 5 of the Fukushima 1 Nuclear Power Plant demonstrated the still volatile situation at the reactors. It allowed water temperatures inside the reactor (which had officially been in “cold shutdown” since March 20) to climb as high as 93 degrees C again before a replacement pump restored the water flow and allowed temperatures to drop again. Unlike the heavily damaged units 1 through 3, units 5 and 6 (along with unit 4) had been shut down for maintenance when the quake and tsunami hit. Due to their slightly higher elevation they escaped the worst of the tsunami. A single backup diesel generator for units 5 and 6 survived. So far TEPCO has not announced any plans yet to permanently decommissioning the two units, although the government of Prime Minister Kan pushed for that.

The failed temporary pump provides cool sea water to the heat exchanger of the Residual Heat Removal System (RHRS). TEPCO reports:

At 9:14 pm on May 28th, we found that one temporary residual heat removal system seawater pump of Unit 5 stopped. At 8:12 am on May 29th, replacement work to the spare pump started. After finishing the replacement work, we started the pump at 12:31 pm, and restarted cooling from 12:49 pm.

The RHRS is a cooling system that is used whenever the reactor does not drive a steam turbine, where heat is removed via the attached condenser unit. It is also used to cool the water in the spent fuel pools. Both a loaded reactor core and fuel elements in the pool produce decay heat that needs to be removed for months and years after a shutdown. Both the condenser and the RHRS require a steady flow of seawater to carry away heat.

According to a diagram at the NISA website Units 5 and 6 had been using a temporary pump near their regular cooling water intake channels, which suggests that the normal pumps of the RHRS had been damaged in the tsunami. TEPCO has now set up a new pump (as well as a spare next to it) halfway between the cooling water intake channel and the RHRS and cooling water circulation pumps. For the last two months there had been no spare in place.

Unit 1 dry well radiation levels

There have been some online discussions about spiking radiation level figures in the dry well (primary containment) of unit 1. Here is a graph from atmc.jp:

The original data for this graph are figures published by TEPCO/NISA of the CAMS radiation monitor readings for the three units. Until May 25 this data was available in daily updates on the NISA website under “Seismic Damage Information(the nnnth Release)(As of hh:mm May dd, 2011″, document “Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station Major Parameters of the Plant (As of h:mm, May dd)”. Since then NISA no longer seems to publish those figures. It can still be found vi the “Status of Fukushima Daiichi and Fukushima Daini Nuclear Power Stations after Great East Japan Earthquake” page on the TEPCO website though: Look for “The parameters related to the plants in Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station”, which has a link to the latest document and a ling to an archive page with previous daily data sets. “CAMS radiation monitor” has entries for D/W A and B, S/C aA and B. The D/W B sensor is the one in the above chart. Strangely, the numbers on the atmc.jp do not always match the data on the NISA/TEPCO sites:

5/18: NISA: 25.4 Sv/h / atmc.jp: 45.4
5/19: NISA: 36.3 Sv/h / atmc.jp: 36.3
5/20: NISA: 46.5 Sv/h / atmc.jp: 46.5
5/21: NISA: 36.2 Sv/h / atmc.jp: 36.2
5/22: NISA: 196 Sv/h / atmc.jp: 196
5/23: NISA: 33.1 Sv/h / atmc.jp: 201
5/24: NISA: 30.5 Sv/h / atmc.jp: 192
5/25: NISA: 204 Sv/h / atmc.jp: 215
5/26: TEPCO: 39.3 Sv/h / atmc.jp: 43.7
5/27: TEPCO: 53.5 Sv/h / atmc.jp: 63.8
5/28: TEPCO: 215 Sv/h / atmc.jp: 215
5/29: TEPCO: 225 Sv/h / atmc.jp: 225
5/30: TEPCO: 41.8 Sv/h / atmc.jp: n/a

The source of the discrepancy between the two sources is unclear as ultimately TEPCO must be the only source of data on the reactor.

Some people have speculated that the sudden increase in the graph indicates that a large amount of fuel melted through the pressure vessel and leaked onto the floor of the dry well. However, that would not explain why the values significantly dropped again and then shot back up again.

TEPCO states that they think the radiation sensors are malfunctioning. I suspect their explanation is the correct one, but how reassuring is that?

Trying to manage a badly damaged nuclear reactor (actually, 3 of them!) and the 4 loaded spent fuel pools next to them with broken instruments whose readings can not be trusted any more is a bit like trying to drive a car without a speedometer and with a shattered windscreen that prevents you from seeing the road, going only by the directions of your passenger who sticks his head out of the window to keep you on the road.

Gateway M-6750 with Intel Ultimate-N 6300 under Ubuntu and Vista

My Gateway M-6750 laptop uses a Marvell MC85 wireless card, for which there is no native Linux driver. Previously I got it working with Ubuntu 9.10 using an NDIS driver for Windows XP. Recently I installed Ubuntu 11.04 from scratch on this machine (i.e. wiping the Linux ext4 partition) and consequently lost wireless access again.

Instead of trying to locate, extract and install the XP NDIS driver again, this time I decided to solve the problem in hardware. Intel’s network hardware has good Linux support. I ordered an Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 half-size mini PCIE networking card, which cost me about $35. Here is how I installed it.

Here is a picture of the bottom of the laptop. Remove the three screws on the cover closest to you (the one with a hard disk icon and “miniPCI” written on it) and open the cover. Use a non-magnetic screwdriver because the hard disk is under that cover too. As a matter of caution, use only non-magnetic tools near hard disks or risk losing your data.

Remove the screw that holds the MC85 card in the mini PCI slot on the right. Remove the network card. Carefully unplug the three antenna wires. Connect those wires to the corresponding locations on the Intel card. Insert the Intel card into the socket on the left. Note: I had first tried the Intel card in the socket on the right but in that case it always behaved as if the Wireless On/Off switch was in the Off position, regardless of its actual state. Even rebooting didn’t make it recognize the switch state. The left mini PCI socket did not have this problem 🙂

Because the Intel card is a half size card you will also need a half size to full size miniPCI adapter to be able to screw down the card to secure it. Instead I simply used a stiff piece of cardboard (an old business card) to hold it in place and closed the cover again. If you take your laptop PC on road a lot I recommend doing it properly (don’t sue me if the cardboard trick melts your motherboard or burns down your house).

Download the Intel driver and utility set for Windows from the Intel website using a wired connection. Under Ubuntu the card seemed to work first time I rebooted into it. I just had to connect to the WLAN.


I fixed it properly using a half size to full size Mini PCI-E (PCI Express) adapter converter bracket by Shenzhen Fenvi Technology Co., Ltd. in Guangdong. I had found it on Alibaba. I paid $9.50 by Paypal and a bit over a week later five sets of brackets and matching screws arrived by mail from Hong Kong (one set is only $1.90 but the minimum order was 5, so that’s what I ordered). The brackets come with about a dozen each of two kinds of screws. Four of the smaller screws worked fine for me.

VIA PC3500 board revives old eMachines PC

Last September one of my desktop machines died and I bought a new Windows 7 machine to replace it. Today I brought it back to life again by transplanting a motherboard from an old case that I had been using as my previous Linux server. The replacement board is a VIA MM3500 (also known as VIA PC3500), with a 1.5 GHz VIA C7 CPU, 2 GB of DDR2 RAM and on-board video. It still has two IDE connectors as well as two SATA connectors, allowing me to use both my old DVD and parallel ATA HD drives, as well as newer high capacity SATA drives.

After the motherboard swap I had to reactivate Windows XP because it detected a major change in hardware. Most of the hardware of the new board worked immediately, I could boot and had Internet access without any reconfiguration. When I started with the new machine. I just had to increase video resolution from the default 640×480 to get some dialogs working.

I then downloaded drivers for the mother board and video from the VIA website. I now have the proper CN896 (Chrome IGP9) video driver working too.

When I tested the board as a server with dual 1 TB drives (RAID1), it was drawing 41W at idle. Running in my eMachines T6212 case with a single PATA hard drive it draws 38W at idle.

Before removing the old motherboard I made a note of all the cable connections on both motherboards. The front-mounted USB ports and card reader have corresponding internal cables, which connected to spare on-board USB connectors. The analog sound connectors connect to the motherboard too. The only port at the front left unconnected was the IEEE-1394 (FireWire / iLink) port, which has no counterpart on the VIA board.

It feels great to have my old, fully configured machine with all its data and applications back thanks to a cheap motherboard that works flawlessly.

Fukushima had new vents, but system failed

The New York Times reports that the reactors at the Fukushima 1 nuclear power plant were equipped with an improved system for venting steam in an emergency, but it failed to work. Originally it had been reported that TEPCO did not retrofit the units that had been online since 1970s with the new designs introduced in the US in the 1980s. However, it appears to have done so between 1998 and 2001.

The problem was, the improved system relied on the same sources of electricity to operate valves as the cooling system, so when the cooling system stopped working as diesel generators failed and dangerous levels of steam pressures built up, the venting system designed to protect the containment wasn’t working properly either. Instead of one system protecting the public if the other system failed, both had a single point of failure, their dependence on diesel generators in the flooded turbine hall basements.

The executives did not give the order to begin venting until Saturday — more than 17 hours after the tsunami struck and six hours after the government order to vent.

As workers scrambled to comply with their new directive, they faced a cascading series of complications.

The venting system is designed to be operated from the control room, but operators’ attempts to turn it on failed, most likely because the power to open a critical valve was out. The valves are designed so they can also be opened manually, but by that time, workers found radiation levels near the venting system at Reactor No. 1 were already too high to approach, according to Tokyo Electric’s records from the accident’s early days.

At Reactor No. 2, workers tried to manually open the safety valves, but pressure did not fall inside the reactor, making it unclear whether venting was successful, the records show. At Reactor No. 3, workers tried seven times to manually open the valve, but it kept closing, the records say.

The results of the failed venting were disastrous.

Reactor No. 1 exploded first, on Saturday, the day after the earthquake. Reactor No. 3 came next, on Monday. And No. 2 exploded early Tuesday morning.

The venting system could also have been damaged by the earthquake.

According to the NYT, the new venting system bypasses filters that hold back much of the radioactivity.

When TEPCO was talking about venting the reactors, before the spectacular hydrogen explosions, they reassured the public that the release of gas would be “filtered”. Either they were misleading the public, or they were talking about the old venting system, which was suspected of not being able to cope with the pressure of an emergency release, which is the very reason the new system had been introduced.

See also:

Fukushima cooling system switched off 10 minutes after quake

Data released by TEPCO on May 16 shows that apparently the isolation condenser, a cooling system that is supposed to protect the reactor after a shutdown, was manually shut down in unit 1 within 10 minutes of the earthquake.

When the quake hit at 14:46 on 2011-03-11, the power station lost its grid connection. Diesel generators sprang into life to provide backup power for the Residual Heat Removal System (RHR). Around 15:00 someone manually shut down the isolation condensor. About half an hour later tsunami hit the station. Within minutes the diesel generators failed and the RHR stopped. At that point the battery-operated pumps for the isolation condenser were the only system still able to remove heat from the reactor core, but the valve for this system had been closed by operators. From that point onwards the reactor core was entirely without cooling. Records show that at 18:10 the valve was open again. At 18:25 it was closed again and 21:30 it was open again. The isolation condenser finally failed at 01:48 on 2011-03-12, perhaps because its batteries ran out.

According to the AREVA presentation from 2011-04-07, the isolation condenser in unit 1 stopped at 16:36 on 2011-03-11, but perhaps that was based on incomplete or bad data from TEPCO.

See also:

Fukushima reactor damaged before tsunami

According to a Kyodo news report, extremely high radiation levels were measured in unit 1 of Fukushima 1 nuclear power station the night after the quake, hours before radioactive steam was first vented from the containment vessel at 04:00 the next morning (2011-03-12).

Workers entered the No. 1 reactor building during the night to assess the damage only to hear their dosimeter alarms go off a few seconds later, sources at Tokyo Electric Power Co. said. Since they thought the building was filled with highly radioactive steam, the workers decided to evacuate.

Based on the dosimeter readings, the radiation level was about 300 millisieverts per hour, the source said, suggesting that a large amount of radioactive material had already been released from the core.

The source of the steam was believed to be the No. 1 reactor’s overheated pressure vessel.

But for that scenario to hold, the pressure in the reactor would have to have reached enormous levels — damaging the piping and other connected facilities. It should have taken much more time to fill the entire building with steam.

A source at Tepco admitted it was possible that key facilities were compromised before the tsunami.

(Japan Times, 2011-05-16)

According to the AREVA presentation by Dr Matthias Braun, the reactor isolation condensor in unit 1 stopped working at 16:36 on 2011-03-11, 55 minutes after the diesel generators had been knocked out by the tsunami. After that, pressure from boiling water built up in the reactor pressure vessel, from where it was vented into the containment via water held in the pressure suppression chamber.

It was only when pressure in the containment had built up far beyond its design limit that steam was first vented from it at 04:00 on Saturday, March 12. Radiation levels of hundreds of millisieverts per hour in the building hours before that suggest that steam from the pressure vessel or containment escaped hours before it was supposed to have come out.

Direct seismic damage to pipes, valves or other components from the quake at 14:46 is a plausible explanation for a premature radiation release while the containment was supposedly still serving its function of holding back radioactivity from the environment. The local intensity of the quake was either close to or in excess of the design specification the reactors had been built to. For example, maximum seismic acceleration at unit 3 was measured at 507 gal in East-West direction, versus the 441 gal it was designed for.

So how does it matter if parts of Fukushima prefecture became uninhabitable because of broken steam pipes or because of flooded diesel generators? Isn’t the outcome the same? It’s actually a very important difference: Nuclear power companies in Japan are now taking measures to evaluate tsunami risks in plants around the country. Units 4 and 5 of Hamaoka NPP in Shizuoka were recently shut down because they’re located right on top of a quake fault line, but the plan is to restart them around 2014, after tsunami defenses have been beefed up around them. The problem is, even if — thanks to raised sea walls — the diesel generators were not knocked out by sea water, but the violent shaking were to destroy some other vital part of reactor such as cooling pipes, the outcome could still be the same.

Unit 4 blown up by leak from adjacent unit 3

The Wall Street Journal reports that TEPCO now think the hydrogen explosion that destroyed the service floor above the spent fuel pool in unit 4 was caused by hydrogen leaking from the adjacent unit 3, which also exploded:

Tepco also released its analysis of a hydrogen explosion that occurred at unit No. 4, despite the fact that the unit was in maintenance and that nuclear fuel stored in the storage pool was largely intact.

According to Tepco, hyrogen produced in the overheating of the reactor core at unit 3 flowed through a gas-treatment line and entered unit No. 4 because of a breakdown of valves. Hydrogen leaked from ducts in the second, third and fourth floors of the reactor building at unit No. 4 and ignited a massive explosion.

Adjacent units 3 and 4 are connected, for example by sharing a venting tower for the release of radioactive gases, which is located between them.

Nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen believes it is plausible that the particularly violent explosion that destroyed the top of unit 3 may have involved a criticality event (i.e. a chain reaction) triggered by the well-publicised hydrogen explosion.

See also:

TEPCO’s new cooling plan for Fukushima 1

After finding no water at all in the section of the reactor core of Fukushima 1 unit 1 that normally holds the fuel rods but instead finding 3000 tons of leaked water in the basement of the unit, TEPCO has abandoned its original plan and come up with a different plan to cool the reactor core.

Instead of trying to raise the water level inside the light bulb-shaped containment that surrounds the pressure vessel, which has not succeeded, it will spray water on to the reactor pressure vessel from above. The water will be pumped from the basement of the reactor, into which it appears to have been leaking and where it currently stands 4 m deep. It will be decontaminated to make it less radioactive before being recycled for cooling. A water decontamination unit built for TEPCO by French nuclear company AREVA is expected to arrive on Tuesday.

Reactors to be covered under tents

Meanwhile TEPCO has announced plans to cover units 1, 3 and 4 under tent-like polyester fabric sheets supported by a steel frame. The reactor building of unit 2 did not suffer a hydrogen explosion and therefore does not need covering. The tents may make it possible to filter radioactive steam and other emissions still rising from the reactor buildings whose cores are still beyond the boiling point and whose spent fuel pools are being cooled through water evaporation. Before the structure can be erected the vicinity of the blocks needs to be cleared of debris to make space for cranes and other construction equipment.

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Uphill struggle to cool Fukushima 1 unit 1

After pumping increased amounts of water into the reactor core of Fukushima 1 unit 1 with the aim of bringing it to a “cold shutdown”, TEPCO had to conclude that the water level in both the reactor core and the containment is much lower than expected and their plan appears not to be succeeding.

Previously it was believed that the lower half of the fuel rods in the reactor pressure vessel (RPV) was covered in water. Now it appears that part of the RPV is dry and the fuel rods (or what’s left of them) are fully exposed. However, due to the damage to the rods much of the uranium pellets inside may already have spilled into the bottom portion of the RPV and may thus receive some cooling after all. TEPCO had only recently revised its estimate of core damage for unit 1 down from 70% to 55%.

The plan to provide ouside cooling to the RPV by flooding the dry well of the containment surrounding it with enough water to raise the water level to above the top of the fuel rods has not worked yet. Even after pumping more than 10,000 m3 of water, the water level in the 7,400 m3 containment is still below half, not even reaching the bottom of the RPV, let alone its top.

If the water level doesn’t rise further because of leaks then it seems quite unlikely that it will be possible to repair those leaks using manual labour, especially at dose levels of 10 millisievert and more per hour. Even when it looked like the plan might work for unit 1, it was questionable if the same procedure could then be applied to unit 2 or 3, which were already assumed to have a leaky containment.

TEPCO has not yet discussed any alternative plan if flooding the containment won’t work for some or all of the units.

See also:

TEPCO sends workers into unit 1 of Fukushima I

TEPCO has taken the first step towards installing new heat exchangers in wrecked reactors at its Fukushima 1 nuclear power plant that have suffered core damage after a cooling system failure. The objective is to achieve “cold shutdown”, which means that cooling water in the reactor remains below 100 degrees C and the pressure is at atmospheric level. Currently the water inside units 1, 2 and 3 is still boiling.

During normal operation, sea water cools steam coming out of the power turbine that generates electricity. It condenses it back to water, which goes back into the reactor core to be turned into setam again. After a shutdown, electric pumps and a separate heat exchanger, known as the residual heat removal system (RHR), take over the core cooling function. TEPCO had been aiming to restore the RHR since about March 20, when it reestablished a grid connection into the turbine hall, but found that the pumps are no longer usable.

The new system will not cool the core directly, which after the fuel rods partially melted is highly contaminated, but instead will circulate water to the containment vessel that surrounds the core, cooling the central part of the reactor from the outside rather than from inside. To that purpose, water will be pumped from a pipe connected to the containment to a heat exchanger, which passes the heat to an external water cycle that will be cooled using air. The original cooling system depended on sea water for condensing steam in the inner cycle, but the sea water intake system was flooded and destroyed by the tsunami, along with most of the diesel generators that provided power to all emergency pumps.

Before any work can be performed inside the reactor building, which no human had entered since the hydrogen explosions around March 12-15, the level of radiation there has to be brought down considerably. To that purpose a pair of hose pipes has been laid through the airlock and hooked up to a filter. Until at least May 16 air will be pumped through a filter set up outside the building. US-made robots sent into units 1 and 3 measured radiation levels of up to 49 mSv/h in unit 1 and up to 57 mSv/h in unit 3 on April 18. The dose inside the airlock of unit 1 was 270 mSv/h, in unit 3 it was 170 mSv/h. The typical background radiation dose for a civilian is 2-3 mSv per year. TEPCO hopes to be able to reduce radiation inside the building by a factor of 20.

Work will start with unit 1, because unlike unit 2 and 3 its containment vessel is assumed to be intact. Unit 2 and 3 are at atmospheric pressure. If they can’t maintain steam pressure they may also not hold water once they’re flooded. Also, because of a damaged torus (pressure suppression chamber), a lot more radioactivity has been leaking from unit 2 than from unit 1 and 3. That makes unit 1 by far the best candidate for trying out ideas on how to regain control and limiting further damage to the environment. However, there is no guarantee that, even if everything were to go perfectly on unit 1, any of the lessons learnt could be applied to the other units, since they may be too badly damaged to be repaired this way. The worst “patient” probably will be unit 2, which seemed to be leaking the most water. It isn’t clear how TEPCO is planning to deal with the leaking containments or the damaged torus. One approach might be to pump leaking water from the basement of the building back into the cooling system. TEPCO estimates 6 to 9 months for its “cold shutdown” plan.

Fallout prediction system went blind

Meanwhile it was reported that two systems meant to collect data from nuclear reactors and make predictions for nuclear fallout in Japan have failed to perform as intended. The Emergency Response Support System (ERSS) was supposed feed data from reactors into the System for Prediction of Envionmental Emergency Dose Information (SPEEDI). Both systems combined cost JPY 28 billion (about US$350 million), but ERSS failed along with everything else in Fukushima 1 when power was lost. It has yet to gather any data on the damaged units.

Radiation found on ocean floor

Caesium levels about 1000 times higher than normal have been found on the ocean floor 15-20 km from the Fukushima power plant, NHK reports:

The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, conducted its first contamination analysis of the seabed near the plant using samples from 2 points 20 to 30 meters deep on Friday.

Samples collected about 15 kilometers north of the plant contained 1,400 becquerels of cesium-137 per kilogram and 1,300 becquerels of cesium-134.

Samples taken around 20 kilometers south of the plant contained 1,200 becquerels each of cesium-137 and cesium-134 per kilogram.

The samples from the 2 points were also found to be contaminated with iodine-131.

TEPCO says it’s difficult to evaluate the readings as there are no official limits for these substances, but it will continue monitoring the radiation levels and their impact on seafood.

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Al Qaeda, the public domain franchise

Millions of people will have cheered today when they heard the news of Osama bin Laden’s death. The leader of Al Qaeda had been on the FBI’s most wanted list since the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and became even even more infamous after the 9/11 attacks.

Bin Ladin’s death is by no means “Mission accomplished” in the struggle against terrorism in countries around the world. More likely his death will make little difference.

For the last ten years he’s been little more than a figurehead for the movement he founded. “Al Qaeda in Iraq” picked up the brand name for its guaranteed headline value, but had different roots. Likewise the terrorist attacks in London and Madrid were organised independently. Bin Laden needed the Taliban and their paymasters at the ISI in Pakistan more than they needed him.

Other than its name recognition value, there was little in Bin Laden’s “brand” that couldn’t be found elsewhere by those who shared his world view and goals. Al Qaeda’s franchise manual is not proprietary information, it has been in the public domain for years.

To me the most hopeful news this year came not through the death of this evil man but through the courage of young men and women in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere, who boldly stood up against corrupt despots in their own countries. When young people in the Middle East have a stake in running their own countries, when they no longer feel powerless and abused then the likes of Al Qaeda will find it much harder to find new recruits amongst them.