• Home
  • About
  • Guest Post

    Another accident at a nuclear facility

    Sheesh. I was just using this revelation the other day as a way to point out, for those who might not have heard, Japan’s history of mismanagement of nuclear facilities and materials. I had no idea the matter would become topical again so soon:


    According to a message received by METI’s Nuclear Power Safety and Security Commission, a steam leak developed (3:30 p.m.) in a turbine in Reactor 3 (82.6 kilowatts…the design is described as being “pressurized water,” which I’m sure has some specialized English term it corresponds to) of Kansai Electric’s Mihama Power Station. According to the Commission, 11 people have been wounded. According to the local Fire Department, of those, the heart and lungs of five have stopped functioning.

    It looks as if the steam contains no radiation, and the Nikkei is reporting that four of the employees mentioned above (all from an outfit called Kiuchi Keisoku, which my cursory search says is, not surprisingly, a machine maintenance service firm) are dead. It’s hard to tell what might have led up to the problem, but one thing is clear: The screens of those monitoring the turbine didn’t pick up any anomalies, and weren’t registering the leak even after the accident. It’s fortunate that the danger to the surrounding community seems non-existent. On the other hand, the number of deaths and injuries is pretty high already, and we still don’t know whether the other seven are okay.

    Added at 18:24: The story’s already on Reuters , which reports that the leak was caused by insufficient coolant.

    Added on 11 August: The pipe that ruptured hadn’t been inspected for 28 years.

    Added on 16 August: J Bowen at No Watermelons Allowed (a sentiment with which I concur heartily) has posted a fuller explanation of the mechanics of the steam pipes and their relation to the reactor at the Mihama plant. It expands on the information in Toren’s comment here.

    5 Responses to “Another accident at a nuclear facility”

    1. Toren says:

      Pressurized water is correct. There are many other types of reactors, but the pressurized water type is the most common worldwide.
      The steam that powers the turbines is created in a heat exchanger and is non-radioactive. In fact, outside of the containment building (where this accident occurred) the machinery is essentially identical to that in a coal or oil-fired power station and no more (or less) dangerous.
      This was not a “nuclear accident,” but a superheated steam accident at a nuclear power station. There was no radioactivity released because that side of the power plant is fundamentally non-radioactive. The Reuters story is (unsurprisingly) deceptive.
      And I’d advise the Japanese to get a grip when it comes to nuclear power, unless they wish to freeze in the dark. It’s not like they could supply their energy needs any other way, unless they brought back feudalism. The US, with its huge untapped reserves of oil and gas, has the luxury of getting all PC on nuclear power…the Japanese don’t (either do the French, for example). Supplying the power needs of Japan with solar would require an area of land the size of Gumma to be covered with 80% efficient photovoltaic cells.
      Not very practical, to say the least.

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      “Supplying the power needs of Japan with solar would require an area of land the size of Gumma to be covered with 80% efficient photovoltaic cells.”
      I’m surprised the governor of Gunma hasn’t proposed that just for the federal money it would get. The solar cells can’t be any more unsightly than the ubiquitous concrete.
      And thanks for reminding me about the deceptive post title. I did notice it myself, actually, but then the washer dinged and I just pushed Publish, as is, before I got up. I’ll fix it.
      As far as getting PC about nuclear power goes, I don’t know that that’s entirely the problem. I mean, sure, you get your Greenham Common types here, but I think that most people’s worry is more practical. The government and large corporations in Japan have a proven record of collusion, cronyism, and cover-ups in the management of nuclear facilities. It’s certainly an immediate comfort that the accident yesterday didn’t release any radiation, but there’s no telling what will happen next time–not because nuclear power is inherently a dangerous affront to Gaia but because you can’t trust the people managing it.

    3. Toren says:

      Good point. Most folks have no concept of the level of cronyism and outright corruption in Japan, and the construction industry is probably the worst affected area.
      It is certainly instructive to note that of the TRUE nuclear power accidents in the last 25 years, over 90% have occurred in two places: Russia and Japan. Even India (!) has a better record than Japan for nuke safety. The US, France, Sweden and Canada lead the pack with zero accidents. Nukes have become incredibly safe and reliable.
      If Japan wants safer nuclear power, they need to build some of the modern “process inherant” safe plants like pebble bed reactors. Their sodium breeders give me the screaming creeblies.
      “I’m surprised the governor of Gunma hasn’t proposed that just for the federal money it would get.”
      Hee hee.

    4. Sean Kinsell says:

      Well, unfortunately, nuclear power isn’t part of the 30% of the economy that’s designated to be the public face of Japanese pride. You don’t hear about this stuff with JR and Toyota and Mori Construction. I mean, sure, occasionally there’s a mishap with a train, but for the most part, the internationally competitive giants and the public transportation sector get all the vaunted Japanese perfectionism because if they screw up, everyone’s going to know.
      Tangent: I’ve always found it darkly interesting that, while they’ve caught up to Japan in many areas of technology, engineering, and manufacturing, Taiwan and Korea still have air carriers whose planes fall out of the sky like acorns. (Compared to the rest of the first world, I mean–they’re not as bad as Interflug was, or anything.) A dear friend who lives in Taiwan thinks that one of the problems is that at a lot of service jobs, you kind of just get credit for showing up and not causing problems. There’s no pressure to maintain near-perfect safety records to impress the rest of the globe, the way there is at JAL and ANA. That’s probably an additional problem at Japanese energy companies.

    5. Oh, what a little knowledge will do!

      Hysteria over nuclear power seems almost axiomatic these days; the thought that we might build new such plants doesn’t seem…