I came across an excellent article about the Fukushima nuclear accident (courtesy @edyong209) that recounts the first 24 hours of the emergency. It’s fascinating to find out what they did right and why it all went so wrong in 24 Hours at Fukushima by Eliza Strickland for the November 2011 issue of IEEE Spectrum (published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers [IEEE]). Excerpted from the article,
True, the antinuclear forces will find plenty in the Fukushima saga to bolster their arguments. The interlocked and cascading chain of mishaps seems to be a textbook validation of the “normal accidents” hypothesis developed by Charles Perrow after Three Mile Island. Perrow, a Yale University sociologist, identified the nuclear power plant as the canonical tightly coupled system, in which the occasional catastrophic failure is inevitable.
On the other hand, close study of the disaster’s first 24 hours, before the cascade of failures carried reactor 1 beyond any hope of salvation, reveals clear inflection points where minor differences would have prevented events from spiraling out of control. Some of these are astonishingly simple: If the emergency generators had been installed on upper floors rather than in basements, for example, the disaster would have stopped before it began. And if workers had been able to vent gases in reactor 1 sooner, the rest of the plant’s destruction might well have been averted.
Strickland provides some historical context (Three Mile Island and Chernobyl nuclear accidents) in the addition to the 24 hour overview which provides details such as the fact that workers at the plant pulled the batteries out of their cars to generate some form of power after the plant generators failed.
Whether or not you believe we should be using nuclear, there can’t be any question that we have to deal with radioactive waste. From the Strickland article,
… So far, the cost of Fukushima is a dozen dead towns ringing the broken power station, more than 80 000 refugees, and a traumatized Japan.
On that note, the Nov. 2, 2011 news item (Nanotechnology makes storing radioactive waste safer) takes on some urgency. From the news item on Nanowerk,
Queensland University of Technology (QUT) researchers have developed new technology capable of removing radioactive material from contaminated water and aiding clean-up efforts following nuclear disasters.
The technology, which was developed in collaboration with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and Pennsylvania State University in America, works by running the contaminated water through the fine nanotubes and fibres, which trap the radioactive Cesium (Cs+) ions through a structural change.
By adding silver oxide nanocrystals to the outer surface, the nanostructures are able to capture and immobilise radioactive iodine (I-) ions used in treatments for thyroid cancer, in probes and markers for medical diagnosis, as well as found in leaks of nuclear accidents.
“It is our view that just taking the radioactive material in the adsorbents isn’t good enough. We should make it safe before disposing it,” he [Professor Huai-Yong Zhu] said.
“The same goes for Australian sites where we mine nuclear products. We need a solution before we have a problem, rather than looking for fixes when it could be too late.”
“In France, 75 per cent of electricity is produced by nuclear power and in Belgium, which has a population of 10 million people there are six nuclear power stations,” he said.
“Even if we decide that nuclear energy is not the way we want to go, we will still need to clean-up what’s been produced so far and store it safely,” he said.
There’s no mention of commercializing this means of dealing with radioactive waste but I hope they manage it, or something better, soon (from the news item),
“One gram of the nanofibres can effectively purify at least one tonne of polluted water,” Professor Zhu said.