2012 Starts With A Bang, A Quake And A New Scandal At Fukushima

2012 didn’t waste any time being interesting. An unusually widespread quake hit Japan about 2pm New Year’s day. The quake was a 7.0 on the richter scale and about a 4 on the shindo scale in many locations. Many people in Japan said the quake was extremely long. Peter Melzer explains the intensity scales and compares to some recent quakes. An interesting comparison, the US east coast quake this summer was a 5.9 richter but a 6 higher on a shindo scale. The Japan quake on New Year’s was a 7 richter but about a 4 shindo in most places. Details on the quake at Japan Meteorological Agency. The quake was very widespread. It shook the far north island of Hokkaido, the north east area of Honshu, down past Tokyo and as far west as Osaka. The epicenter shows directly south of Tokyo out to sea. This quake could have been stress released on a major plate and holds the possibility of being a pre-quake to a predicted new large quake south of Tokyo where 3 major plates meet.

A new scandal popped up on New Year’s Day. Some of the known Fukushima workers were tweeting about the blow out panels on the units at Fukushima Daiichi. One pointed out that similar panels at Kashiwazaki NPP had fallen out during the 2007 quake. This didn’t cause any sort of damage or risk but NISA officials were concerned that this caused problems. Their  concern was that is stopped the ability for negative air pressure to be kept in the reactor building and allowed for the potential escape of radiation. These blow out panels are in the upper refueling deck area that is not reinforced. NISA demanded that TEPCO weld shut all blow out panels at their reactors, including those at Fukushima.  TEPCO who delays and ignores NISA on a regular basis complied with this request.

Ex-SKF explains the entire incident in great detail here.

A worker wrote in a blog post that workers went into the reactors, risking their lives to attempt to open these welded shut blow out panels at Fukushima Daiichi after the March quake. They were unable to open any of them. The panel (pictured left) at unit 2 fell out when unit 3 exploded. No reason has been given why this panel fell out if it was welded shut.

These blow out panels were likely part of the original building design from the 1970’s when the units were built. They appear to exist to allow hydrogen built up in the building to escape.

In the 1980’s BWR reactor operators voluntarily installed the vent and vent stack systems. These were retrofit after GE realized the reactors could not handle the reactor pressure that build ups in an accident. The vent systems release pressure inside the reactor via the torus and potentially another containment location.  Peter Melzer explains some details of the air and gas handling systems in the reactor buildings.

“In normal operation, the tall stack towers between Units 1 and 2 and Units 3 and 4 at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station are designed to vent filtered, decontaminated off-gases from the main steam turbine [Row TH (1973) Radioactive Waste Systems and Radioactive Effluents]. By contrast, separate shorter stacks attached to the reactor building walls provide venting for uncontaminated effluents from the buildings. If increased levels of radioactivity are detected, the effluents will be routed through the Standby Gas Treatment System to the stack. This system also filters gases from the primary containment. Compared to the towers, the stacks for uncontaminated effluents are short, ending just above the roofline. One is still visibly intact on the Northwest corner of unit 2:

He goes on to explain that the original short stacks attached to the building were seen possibly venting steam before the tsunami hit, indicating potential damage in the reactors and leaking into the building of steam & hydrogen.

The reality is that these blow out panels could have still played a role in preventing the hydrogen explosions had they been allowed to operate as designed. As they were disabled they were taken out of the equation. During the early days of the disaster workers frantically drilled holes in the roofs of units 5 and 6 to avoid similar explosions.

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