Melted fuel in No. 1 reactor NOT covered with water

Published: May 16th, 2011 at 3:55 am ET


TEPCO: Fuel rods partially exposed above water, NHK, May 16, 2011:

The operator of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant says it believes the melted fuel rods in the No. 1 reactor are partially exposed above the water’s surface.

Tokyo Electric Power Company says the reactor’s fuel rods have melted and fallen to the bottom. It says holes were created and the containment vessel was also damaged. A large amount of highly radioactive water is believed to be leaking into the reactor building. […]

It says it believes that the exposed fuel is generating hot vapor.

Published: May 16th, 2011 at 3:55 am ET


Related Posts

  1. Tepco: 68 tons of nuclear fuel melted at Fukushima Reactor No. 1 December 1, 2011
  2. Nuclear fuel at Reactor No. 1 melted after “full exposure” May 12, 2011
  3. Water level now below BOTTOM of fuel rods in No. 1 — Suggests nuclear fuel is in a molten mass at bottom of reactor (VIDEO) May 12, 2011
  4. Reactor No.1’s fuel rods “completely melted” admits TEPCO May 17, 2011
  5. Asahi: Explosive hydrogen may be coming from melted fuel rods and “accumulating near the top of the containment vessel without being driven out” September 25, 2011

46 comments to Melted fuel in No. 1 reactor NOT covered with water

  • Ted

    Just wanna say thanks to all who is posting the latest updates for us.

  • kx

    and tepco talks like it was the day 4 if the crisis.

  • Dave

    Thank you so much. The virtual news blackout continues, and your site and Fairewinds are two places folks can actually get current updates.

    • Dbug

      Finally updated data on test ban treaty monitoring site.

      This site and the monitoring data on it, operated by a number of nations that signed the nuclear test ban treaty, is probably the the source I would place the highest level of trust in, since it is funded or controlled by any one country, or funded by the nuclear industry. Even universities, which are often well equipped and have skilled experts, may be subject to bias due to their connections to grant money.

      I know a few here thought I was a shill or something when I cited significant declines in airborne concentrations since the peak levels last March. But although still lower now, the site has revealed disturbing variations this month. Around May 3rd it reflects about a ten-fold rise for a day. May theory is that there was a potent steam release, quite possibly as unit 1 saw containment breached by holes to either lower piping or the containment bottom itself by hot fuel.

      But that bump in levels subsided. I was concerned that another rise was shown starting around May 9th, and I didn’t see any data updated for nearly a week… until today. Fortunately it was a spike of similar intensity but shorter duration than that of May 3th. Less area under the curve means lower total release than May 3rd. So we’ve seen two obvious signs of activity even though levels are still way below March (about 1000 times lower for Iodine, over 100 for cesium).

      That data means a few things to me. Firstly, the fact that the Iodine levels have improved more than the cesium means that what’s released is material that’s seen a long time since fission (criticality) and that decay is bringing the iodine down.

      Secondly, the bump/spike in data do indicate two significant changes. I’m not sure that I can account for both, but at least one is likely from the unit 1 piping or containment holes. While that is extremely disturbing and greatly complicates trying to cleanly cool fuel, at least this damage was from decay heat, not criticality (see last paragraph again).

      The story here yesterday about boric acid from South Korea and uses of helicopters to dump it in (mixed in water), looked like a recycled old story at first. But on reading the lasted translated story there from another source, it is clear that indeed more boric acid is coming. I personally saw military cargo helicopters headed towards Diablo Canyon about a week and a half ago. (They’re so loud they are easy to notice). Since were those were the same type I saw when local media reported boric acid being shipped before, I believe it is extremely likely that more is being sent. While I’m not sure I saw confirmation, I believe I saw reports the first time around that France was also a supplier. Each report that I’ve heard involved multiple tens of tons.

      On seeing the last part of it, the story yesterday was shocking to me. It basically said that Tepco had been counting on remaining salt (and I’d wager some boric acid too) from early injection to keep absorbing neutron to suppress criticality. If they were only adding water to replace what was lost in steam, the minerals would remain. If they were adding more water and also raising levels inside, the minerals would again remain but be diluted some.
      (Note that I believe that remove of most decay heat from the water to steam conversion alone is bad for high levels of decay heat because steam carries Iodine with it. That approach strikes me as viable for a fuel pond with lower decay heat but not a recently run reactor. I believe the tent with air filtering coming is to catch much of what is in the steam)

      But, back to the main thing, Tepco was all wrong about the water simply replacing what steamed away and extra to raise levels. It’s been massively leaking. We all knew there was water everywhere and that at least unit 2 had a major rupture of some sort. Anyway, the leaking means that any assumption about minerals remaining to absorb neutrons is invalid. And water alone is what’s called a moderator. By reflecting and slowing neutrons it BOOSTS activity which is exactly the opposite of what is needed. I read estimates that decay heat was 1 or 2 million Watts worth. That’s a huge number, and can certainly melt steel. But to produce 800 million Watts of electricity, a reactor with critical (fission occurring) fuel is producing somewhere around 1200 million Watts worth of heat, (the part not converted usually going to the ocean using pumps swept away by the tsunami).
      The point here is that when critical the fuel can easy generate 1000 times as much heat energy. It’s that very high energy that people fear as having the power to explosively release steam (it would be 1000 times as much) along with burning don through anything.

      Melted fuel is harder to control since there may not be any control rods (boron is used in Japan), and the boron (or salt?) probably can’t get in the middle of it as effectively. From the pictures I’ve seen of some melted down reactors, like Three Mile Island, the fuel isn’t a smooth metallic blob. It’s a messy rough lava like pile with fuel assemblies jutting out of it. So boric acid still gets between some of it, and more importantly would keep water from reflecting neutrons back it it, and should be able to suppress criticality. Reactors use a much lower concentration of isotopes than weapons, so no nuclear explosion is possible. The worst would be explosive steam releases.

      So here we are, some of us (at least me) in shock that there wasn’t a high level of boric acid (what boron becomes when dissolved) in the cooling water. What the hell did thy do with it? Did the run out long ago and not say anything? Did much of it go into the fuel ponds (which certainly needed some)? During when periods did they use it?

      What tests have they done on water coming out to measure the amounts of boric and and salts? Why the hell didn’t they know concentration was falling. Damn near the rest of the planet could tell everything was leaking.

      Let’s wish them luck getting enough boric acid solution into EVERY reactor, along with enough flow to cool things. If they moved enough water through, and cooled it as needed to recycle, then it might reduce or eliminate the steam (and iodine etc in it) getting out. While far less intense than what we saw from fires/explosions, stopping or at least filtering that steam is needed to bring the reduced emission levels down lower. And may (insert favorite deity name here) help them deal with all that water.

      Here again is the link for the test ban treaty site data. Note that what you see locally is heavily influenced by what may already on the ground, most radiation blows right past people and keep going, it is rain that generally brings down far higher amounts than what settle out of the air. Also if measuring rainfall radiation, you may see a spike from radon that is naturally in the upper atmosphere. Radon decays in two hours, so keep samples at least that long and retest to see radiation from Japan or other sources.

      The whole test ban site (major units on left are logarithmic, each major division being 10 times that below it):

      Click on any graph to make it bigger, or here’s the one for Iodine

      I’m not representing anyone but myself, have no connections to government or the industry, I’m just a highly focus guy digging deep to figure out what the hell is going on. While I’ve attempted to be careful in my analysis and find answers to questions that arise, I’m not a nuclear scientist and these are just my personal observations and conclusions.

  • MarcinJ

    “A reactor unit at the quake-and-tsunami-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station in Japan will soon be enveloped in a special “emergency cover”. This would serve as a short-term measure, pending the eventual installation of a long-term “radiation shield”, according to the plant operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco).

    While the preparatory work was being started now, Tepco said the actual installation of the cover for Unit 1 at the multi-reactor plant would begin in June.[..]”

    • Cassie

      Why didn’t they do this sooner instead of just using
      water for two months?

    • Moco

      They are building a circus tent to cover the reactors and then there will be a special appearance by bozo, the mutant clown.

      • Cassie

        I am afraid the clown car is taking us off the cliff.

      • Heart of the Rose

        Free geiger counters…wheee!
        And for every well written essay as to EXACTLY how nuclear fission works and the condition of the reactors …the winner gets a monogrammed (though useless)gas-mask.

        • Cassie

          And color co-ordinated caps and tote bags to match
          our new glow in the dark looks.

        • Heart of the Rose

          Check out the special “Tunnel of Doom”.
          And our newest ride…”CHAOS”.
          Green and glowing peanuts…get yours here..!
          Coming attraction ..”Pestilence”.

  • kx

    trying to save a buck

    • xyzzy

      It is disgusting to think that they actually tried to ‘protect their investment’. These things are exploded piles of junk, they are useless, and extreme measures should have been taken months ago. Now many people will fall ill and some will die because of the greed of the managers. Kurt Vonnegut said ‘we could have saved the world, but we were too cheap.’ He was understating the case.

      • Dbug

        Their investment was likely history from the beyond design limits stress of the earthquake. And injecting salt water pretty much meant giving up. Normally, except for very specific things like boron, water used is extremely pure (and constantly filtered. Contamination causes dangerous corrosion, and when exposed to radiation in the reactor produces isotopes that radiate from small deposits forming in pipes in worker areas, making unsafe worker conditions. When everything works properly there is not much stray radiation even inside a nuclear plant.

        On the subject of safety and water it is interesting to note that that last reactor just shut down not far from Tokyo over earthquake fears, had a problem not discovered until it was shut down. I believe it was an extimated 400 tons of salt water that they reported to be in the coolant. Plants using ocean water for cooling have heat exchangers with big pumps (like those washed away by the tsunami over some of those pits) that pump the ocean water through one loop. The actual reactor coolant or turbine steam being condensed to go back in the reactor, is a separate loop (one that should never see salt).

        It’s a huge issue that the two water flow loops somehow became connected. It means there is a serious rupture or something corroded through, probably in the condenser, other systems exposed to corrosion from the salt, and potential more radiation in the water going into the ocean (although the say it wasn’t a problem, and it certainly a speck in the sea compared to what the other plant has done).
        Also, the fact that it went undetected until now at that plant calls into question the dangers of similar problems at all of the other planets.

        Indeed, one U.S. plant was found to have knowingly decided not to replace pitted pipes, instead waiting for them to leak. Not the sort of thing many would trust for a license extension beyond the original design life.
        The plants are old and many parts are no doubt not off the shelf items. Getting replacement parts made and adequately insuring quality is very expense and a bit harder to trust. With some of the original guys that designed or made things retired or dead, there’s an increased danger that the people that replaced them don’t have a full grasp of what they’re doing.
        A shown by the workers who died from unexpected criticality at a Japanese fuel processing facility in 1999, people are more likely to make deadly mistakes when called on to do something outside of their routine and experience.

        • Cassie

          It is sounds like even if we survive Fuku, it is just a matter
          of time until we face the same problem somewhere else.

    • Cassie

      As I keep saying, the UN should have an agency that goes in with military power in the event of a nuclear accident anywhere in the world and secures the sight. Then brings in the top world talent and expertise to fix the problem.

      Not this nonsense from TEPCO. Just like the Gulf Oil Spill, the crooks who caused the problem are the ones pretending to fix it. And the response is based on maximizing profit and minimizing liability.

      • too true


      • Dbug

        I agree that an adequate response to incidents is essential but for that to happen, very comprehensive plans need to be in place before hand. Adequate preparation is everything, then execute as planned when needed. There often isn’t time to consult people or evaluate what might go wrong with a particular response. Planning and responding as you go just doesn’t work well. A major problem in Japan was that the incident was way outside of the book. All of their training and drills prepared them (hopefully) for a number of things, but what happened was not in the book. They were quite literally in the dark and didn’t know what to do, or were unprepared to do what was need, when time was critical. There should have been adequate cooling before any fuel damage started, hopefully before enough pressure would build to force a steam release. It was outside of the book.

        And if flaws in other plants lead to a direct failure, or to a backup system that will behave unexpectedly when called on, it is BEFORE the event action that was needed.

        This brings to mind a day when I was out walking my dog. A small plane crashed in a field nearby. A while later a woman come. She was very visibly shaken and upset. “I’m a nurse, I want to help, what can I do”. She’d gone to the site and the reality was more than she could accept at the time. She was in shock, severely traumatized. She’d found an arm in the field.

        Sending in more nurses would not help.

        These disasters traumatize us all. Like the nurse we feel an intense need to help, and it is very hard to come to terms with that sometimes being very limited or not being possible.

  • Deep Thought

    There is no need for worry, according to experts at TEPCO, and everything will be OK when Homer Simpson ends his donut break.

    If fuel is buring through metal components within the reactor itself, then the vapors might be more than steam.

    Elemental metal vapors and iodine vapors are black, just like some of the spewing vapors that we all have seen at Fukushima.

  • MarcinJ

    Arnie Gundersen the chief nuclear engineer at Fairwinds Associates says “Fukushima’s gaseous and liquid releases continue unabated. With a meltdown at Unit 1, Unit 4 leaning and facing possible collapse, several units contaminating ground water, and area school children outside the exclusion zone receiving adult occupational radiation doses, the situation continues to worsen. TEPCO needs a cohesive plan and international support to protect against world-wide contamination.”

    • Cassie

      The UN must intervene with military power if necessary to secure the area. Bring in the world experts NOW.

      • mark V

        That would require telling the truth loud and clear, and that would cause losses for stock exchanges and banks. Puppet governments and censored media all sit in the pockets of wold banksta mafia elites. Sadly, this is how the world appears to operate. Sorry can’t escape the sarcastic mood, but please give me single good news.

        • Cassie

          But what good is a stock exchange and money if the planet and its people are poisoned beyond hope or repair? Can they be this greedy and short sighted?

          • Heart of the Rose

            With the size of the military present in the area it is.. impossible for the military not to know what is going.
            The military is a blind instrument of the government and/or for its own designs.
            Japan can’t be invaded. The US already i occupation…the Japanese are not making any moves the US doesn’t know about.
            Its kind of like the Crown was not aware that Scotland was going to release the Lockerbie bomber.

          • mark V

            Their imagination is limited to creating fiat money in exchange for slave labour, and occupying countries. As if it was any different since centuries, remember Hitler? Only this time around very dangerous technology is involved.

          • Cassie

            If humans are this stupid, evil, and greedy, can they survive as a species long term?

          • Heart of the Rose

            Nope..we are destined to be a thin layer of the geological scheme of things.

          • Cassie

            Well HOTR at least Mother Earth will be happy.
            No longer have to put up with us pesky humans.

          • Heart of the Rose

            Humans=evolutionary mistake

          • Cassie

            Looks like the mistake is going to be corrected. 🙁

      • tony wilson

        just think of interventions into countries in the last 20 years.
        america and the uk are pretty good at killing foreign populations for the sake of are beautiful freedoms : ) or should that be economic self interest.
        take libya us run but with the pretense of france,uk and nato led.
        libya has 100s of tons of gold and wanted to make a gold standard and wanted oil payments in gold or a currency other than us dollars.
        it’s oil is one of the purest and finest qualities in the world.
        look how quick we went into that country to protect the people.
        the highest level meetings have and are going on about this nuclear shit.
        another agenda is in play.
        the usa has many bases on the islands of japan some massive.
        tepco are clowns but the other areas including info lock down are going very well.
        the complete lack of foreign intervention physical or diplomatic in japan speaks for itself.
        it is either a government conspiracy which is criminal or criminal Incompetence and panic.

        List of current facilities
        other facilities exist but not listed because of japanese and us secret pact.

        U.S. military bases in Japan
        U.S. military facilities in Okinawa

        The USFJ headquarters is at Yokota Air Base, about 30 km west of central Tokyo.

        The U.S. military installations in Japan and their managing branches are:

        Air Force:

        * Camp Chitose, Chitose, Hokkaido
        * Kadena Air Base, Okinawa Prefecture
        * Kadena Ammunition Storage Area, Okinawa Prefecture
        * Okuma Recreational Facility, Okinawa Prefecture
        * Yaedake Communication Site, Okinawa Prefecture
        * Misawa Air Base, Aomori Prefecture
        * Yokota Air Base, Fussa, Tokyo
        * Fuchu Communications Station, Fuchu, Tokyo
        * Tama Service Annex, Inagi, Tokyo
        * Yugi Communication Site, Hachioji, Tokyo
        * Camp Asaka AFN Transmitter Site, Saitama Prefecture
        * Tokorozawa Transmitter Site, Saitama Prefecture
        * Owada Communication Site, Saitama Prefecture


        * Fort Buckner, Okinawa Prefecture
        * Army POL Depots, Okinawa Prefecture
        * White Beach Area, Okinawa Prefecture
        * Naha Port Facility, Okinawa Prefecture (return after relocation to the Urasoe Pier area)
        * Torii Station, Okinawa Prefecture
        * Tengan Pier, Okinawa Prefecture
        * Camp Zama, Zama, Kanagawa
        * Yokohama North Dock, Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture
        * Sagami General Depot, Sagamihara, Kanagawa
        * Sagamihara Housing Area, Sagamihara, Kanagawa
        * Akizuki Ammunition Depot, Hiroshima Prefecture
        * Hiro Ammunition Depot, Hiroshima Prefecture
        * Kawakami Ammunition Depot, Hiroshima Prefecture
        * Hardy Barracks, Minato, Tokyo

        Marine Corps:

        * Camp Smedley D. Butler, Okinawa Prefecture, Yamaguchi Prefectures. (Although these camps are dispersed throughout Okinawa and the rest of Japan they are all under the heading of Camp Smedley D. Butler):
        o Camp McTureous, Okinawa Prefecture
        o Camp Courtney, Okinawa Prefecture
        o Camp Foster, Okinawa Prefecture
        o Camp Kinser, Okinawa Prefecture
        o Camp Hansen, Okinawa Prefecture
        o Camp Schwab, Okinawa Prefecture
        o Camp Gonsalves (Jungle Warfare Training Center), Okinawa Prefecture
        o Kin Blue Beach Training Area, Okinawa Prefecture
        o Kin Red Beach Training Area, Okinawa Prefecture
        o NSGA Hanza
        o Higashionna Ammunition Storage Point II
        o Henoko Ordnance Ammunition Depot
        * Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa Prefecture (return after the MCAS Futenma relocates to Camp Schwab)
        * Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni
        * Camp Fuji, Shizuoka Prefecture
        * Numazu Training Area, Shizuoka Prefecture
        * Ie Jima Auxiliary Airfield, Okinawa Prefecture
        * Tsuken Jima Training Area, Okinawa Prefecture


        * Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Ayase, Kanagawa
        * United States Fleet Activities Sasebo, Sasebo, Nagasaki
        * United States Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Yokosuka, Kanagawa
        * Urago Ammunition Depot, Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture
        * Tsurumi POL Depot, Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture
        * Naval Housing Annex Negishi, Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture
        * Naval Transmitter Station Totsuka, Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture
        * Naval Support Facility Kamiseya, Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture
        * Tomioka Storage Area, Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture
        * Naval Housing Annex Ikego, Zushi, Kanagawa
        * White Beach Area, Okinawa Prefecture
        * Camp Shields, Okinawa Prefecture
        * Camp Lester, Okinawa Prefecture (return after the Naval Hospital relocates to Camp Foster)
        * Awase Communication Station, Okinawa Prefecture
        * New Sanno Hotel, Tokyo

        JSDF–USFJ Areas:

        * Tori Shima Range, Okinawa Prefecture
        * Kume Jima Range, Okinawa Prefecture
        * Kisarazu Auxiliary Landing Field, Kisarazu, Chiba Prefecture
        * Camp Hansen (small portion in central area of Camp Hansen), Okinawa Prefecture
        * Ukibaru Jima Range, Okinawa Prefecture
        * Kadena Air Base (small areas outside of the base that are supported by Kadena—these areas are located on the southern portion of Okinawa), Okinawa Prefecture
        * Jungle Warfare Training Center (formerly known as Northern Training Area—four thin elongated areas embedded and distributed evenly within JWTC), Okinawa Prefecture

        In Okinawa, U.S. military installations occupy about 10.4 percent of the total land usage. Approximately 74.7 percent of all the U.S. military facilities in Japan are located on the island of Okinawa.

        • Cassie

          What do you think is going on Tony?
          What is the behind the scenes activity?

          We know the US sent a team of military nuclear clean up experts last month and then Hillary Clinton made a visit to Japan a couple of weeks ago. And with all the US military in Japan I would assume the US has a pretty good idea about what is going on.

          What are your thoughts?


        • Cassie

          I also agree with you Heart of the Rose.
          The US knows full well what is going on.
          What is their role in all of this?

  • MarcinJ

    The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant says it may take a number of years to remove damaged nuclear fuel rods from the Number 1 reactor. […]


    Japan says it will shut down reactors at the Fukushima-1 power plant by the end of the year.

    • Cassie

      Months and years to stop the toxins pouring into the world’s air and water? What does that mean for humans on this planet?

    • nyc

      Who ya gonna believe, your own lyin eyes or the Voice of America? 🙂

      In fairness, TEPCO did publish a 9 month plan some time back, and VOA does point out that the latest wrinkles may invalidate it.

  • Dr. Stranglelove

    Water water everywhere, and all too “hot” to drink…