Japan: cooling system pump has stopped at yet another nuclear power plant


(IMAGE: Before and after shots of structures that house nuclear reactors at the Fukushima power plant in Japan, where an explosion occurred on Friday—blowing the roof off the building shown at right. This is one of four nuclear power plants in Japan now in trouble, after a devastating 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami.)

Kyodo News service, Japan: "The Fire and Disaster Management Agency said a cooling system pump stopped operating at Tokai No. 2 Power Station, a nuclear power plant, in the village of Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture."

Related: Japan's nuclear safety agency says the Onagawa plant that reported higher than normal radioactivity levels is said to be "functioning properly." The increased levels are believed to have been caused by leakage at nearby Fukushima.

An updated NYT overview of the rapidly unfolding nuclear crisis here. A total of four nuclear plants in Japan are in crisis, and the government reports that up to 141 people are confirmed to have been exposed to radiation, three of whom have radiation sickness.


  1. #
    1702: The Japan Atomic Power Company has said the cooling system of a reactor at its Tokai nuclear power plant is working, although two of the three diesel power generators used for cooling are out of order, the Reuters news agency reports. The plant, about 120km (75 miles) north of Tokyo in Ibaraki prefecture, was automatically shut down after Friday’s earthquake.

    BBC live

    time stamp 7 mins ago Japan time

  2. I find it interesting that while I’m also fallowing NHK live I’m getting more information about what actually’s going on from the BBC live twitter feed

  3. So here’s a question I have not found an answer for: In ideal/non-diastaster conditions how long does it take to fully shut down a reactor like this? There are clearly reactors shut down for maintenance prior to the quake hitting. Were they shut down in days? Weeks? Months?

    1. Scramming the reactor (stopping the chain reaction) is a matter of seconds, you only drive in the control rods. Right now there is residual heat from short-lived isotopes. Its a matter of days until the residual heat has sufficiently died down to defuel the reactor. Though under the current circumstances the operator will probably wait longer to open it up.

      1. Though under the current circumstances the operator will probably wait longer to open it up.

        This sentence is confusing in context; sentence missing?

        1. >> Though under the current circumstances the operator will probably wait longer to open it up.
          > This sentence is confusing in context; sentence missing?

          There is nothing missing. After a couple of days the residual heat has sufficiently died down that its safe enough to open the reactor vessel and pull out the fuel rods.

          But given that they are just recovering from earthquake + tsunami + possibly a partial core melt, TEPCO will wait a lot longer before defueling the now-defunct reactor. They need stable power and water supply, clear roads, safe interim storage, run lots of tests,…

  4. @Jack
    The reactor are shut down – the problem is the nucelear waste in the fuel rods which keep producing heat.

    @Xeni – what are your sources for the figures on radiation contact? The Japanese media have been stressing only 22 people have been contaminated and as yet no reports of radiation sickness.

  5. 1721: More on the Tokai nuclear power plant: A report submitted to the Ibaraki prefectural government by the Japan Atomic Power Company said that one of the two pumps being used to cool the water of a suppression pool for the plant’s nuclear reactor had stopped working, according to the Kyodo news agency. However, the other pump was still working and there was no problem with cooling the reactor, the prefectural government said. All control rods were set in completely at the reactor, it added

    BBC live

    timestamp 10 mins ago approx Japan time

  6. Nuclear power, in general, reminds me of Cory’s take on DRM; it works pretty well, but fails miserably.

  7. #
    1749: A spokesman for the Japan Atomic Power Company has explained that one of the cooling system pumps at its Tokai nuclear power plant failed because of the tsunami. “We then manually stopped one of our cooling systems,” Masao Nakano told the AFP news agency. “But the other cooling systems and other pumps are working well, and temperatures of the reactor have continued to fall smoothly.”
    BBC live

    time stamp 11 minutes ago Japan time

  8. I also forgot to add the people showing signs of contamination have come from near the Fukushima plant and have been found to have external contaminants, ie radioactive iodine and caesium on their clothing or skin.

  9. So much scaremongering bullshit. This is not going to be another Chernobyl and the world is not going to end. A huge petrochemical refinery has been burning in Chiba since Day 1, releasing thousands of tons of pollutants which will eventually contaminate soil and groundwater and cause untold sickness and suffering, but no one’s blogging about that because OMG NUKES.

    Anyone who uses Chernobyl as a reference to the current crisis has just admitted that they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.

    1. A huge petrochemical refinery has been burning in Chiba since Day 1, releasing thousands of tons of pollutants which will eventually contaminate soil and groundwater and cause untold sickness and suffering, but no one’s blogging about that because OMG NUKES.

      Whatever chemical pollutant was released in the atmosphere in Chiba, it won’t last thousands of years and probably won’t produce disabled babies for generations. Maybe, just maybe, that’s why people don’t care as much.

      1. Stop buying into the manufactured doomsday scenarioes being pushed by ratings-hungry media outlets. This is not Chernobyl. It’s not even Three Mile Island yet, by any account.

        The reporting on this situation has been disgraceful across the board, BB included.

        1. I’m not buying into anything; I’ve lived the Chernobyl scare in Europe, I’ve seen the documentaries and stats following the shit that happened there. I live not far from Sellafield, UK, where they’re “only” dumping radioactive waste underground, and they have cancer rates at incredible levels among children. I still live here, but I have my strong doubts about the consequences of this supposedly cheap energy being worth the risks.

          To quote, “the trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent full of doubt”.

          1. I have my doubts about it too, but what exactly are we supposed to do in the face of dwindling fossil fuel reserves? There’s no such thing as 100% safe and environmentally sound energy production on a mass scale, and I see no evidence that so-called green alternatives are ready to pick up the load.

            Flip out over this all you want, but I’d suggest you compare the cancers and pollution caused by the last 50 years of fossil fuel use to the last 50 years of nuclear power generation (let’s not even get into the Deepwater Horizon spill, a calamity that is easily equal to Chernobyl if not worse) and then ask yourself which has been the more destructive of the two.

            Regardless, with tens of thousands dead, towns and industry wiped from the map, burst dams, massive fires, shattered infrastucture, and a near-unprecedented social and economic disaster in the offing, I think the possibility of increased cancers near the reactor sites is literally one of Japan’s least worries right now.

      2. ALTERNATELY, maybe the products of incomplete petroleum chemical combustion (dioxins, at least) ARE dangerous and long lived in the environment. maybe? maybe?

        If I sound flippant, you might check your own tone.

  10. It seems Fukushima unit 3 is the one to watch. They are pumping water into it as fast as possible though.

  11. So this all happened because the cooling systems lost power.

    Power plants need outside sources of electricity?

    1. The kind at Fukishima yes, they need AC power supplies to work pumps that circulate the water in the reactor core.

      Good explanation of the plant layout by the NYT here

    2. The problem is that the water pumps that fill the reactor were offline during the period of the quake and tsunami. So more water was steamed off/evaporated from the core than expected. So what is happening now is they have to pump in MORE water to compensate for the downtime and bring it all to a stable level.

    3. @jaytkay: Nuclear power plants generate power much more power than they consume, but they require electricity to operate their control systems, cooling systems,and all ancillary systems. If the plant is shutting down it is no longer producing it’s own power and will still require electricity from some other source; the power grid it usually feeds into.
      In the event the nuclear plant cannot produce it’s own operating power,and the grid is also not available, plants have a series of diesel generators and batteries as back-ups. These were planned as as worst case scenario back-up systems.

      As an example: A few years ago there was the big blackout in the N.E. US and pretty much all the Eastern and Midwestern nuclear plants automatically went offline as a safety precaution due to the loss of back-up power from the grid, and restarting them took weeks to months.

    4. The cooling system needs to pump water. Normally a portion of the plant’s output runs the pumps. If the plant must shut down, the power for the pumps comes from the grid, or from backup diesel generators. In this case, the backup generators were disabled by the tsunami.

      Side note: this reactor is quite old. Modern reactor designs move coolant with gravity; a generator failure would not have led to loss of coolant.

  12. for some reason this made me laugh – things must be really serious if NHK is cancelling its samurai dramas

    1827: In a sign of the seriousness of the disaster, NHK did not air its period drama, Go, on Sunday night for the first time since January 1989, when Emperor Hirohito passed away. The broadcaster instead opted for rolling news coverage, the Kyodo news agency reports.

    BBC live

    tv blurb about the prog in question

  13. just a side note here – would it be possible to add a timezone stamp to postings. Especially when dealing with quickly changing events seeing that this was originally posted at 9:30 AM doesn’t tell as much as I’d like to know. Or is there somewhere that you could reasonably prominently post what time zone all posts are made in. Thank you.

    1. if you mean my posts you can see what time I post them and I am tying everything to Japan local time which is GMT +9

  14. I’m curious if anyone knows the likelyhood and extent a meltdown in japan would have on california, as the tsunami waves reached here, could we need to take the same precautions of iodide tablets and whatnot or would most already sink into the ocean before it could reach here?

    I have friends already linking to tablets and radiation suits, but haven’t seen any real sources on the matter.

  15. The levels at Onagawa are reported to be ‘about 400 times as high as in normal times’ (background??).


    Tohoku Electric Power is blaming these levels on Fukushima. Fukushima is 60 miles from Onagawa. Considering that the last report I saw said that 3 meters of fuel rod are exposed in Fukushima’s reactor, that could be.

    Minimizing this real-world result in a country so conscious of quake safety is foolish. While nuclear industry employees are out working social networks … an interesting phenomenon … many sources (some now redacted) reported yesterday that “Several experts, in a conference call with reporters, also predicted that regardless of the outcome of the atomic plant crisis, the accident will seriously damage the nuclear power renaissance.”

  16. this from around 1 hour ago – 03:45 Japan time

    1839: World Nuclear News has more information on the situation at the Onagawa nuclear power plant: It says a “technical emergency” was declared at 1250 after radiation levels at the site reached 21 microSieverts per hour. Within just 10 minutes, however, the level had dropped to 10 microSieverts per hour, WNN adds. The plant’s three reactors remain in a safe shutdown condition at below 100C and the Tohoku Electric Power Company has reported no other issues.

    BBC live

    As to what caused these plants to fail, comment #30:


  17. “A huge petrochemical refinery has been burning in Chiba since Day 1, releasing thousands of tons of pollutants which will eventually contaminate soil and groundwater and cause untold sickness and suffering, but no one’s blogging about that because OMG NUKES.”

    -The amount of fossil fuel burnt is a fraction of what is used in the world daily.
    -There have only been a couple of nuc disasters, each one is an OMG situation.

  18. #
    2011: A former adviser on radiation to the UK government, Dr Christopher Busby, has told the BBC the situation at the nuclear plants is extremely serious. “Particularly concerning is the [Fukushima] number three reactor which I understand is in trouble now, because… it runs on a different sort of fuel; it doesn’t run on uranium, it runs on a mixed uranium plutonium fuel, and plutonium is an extremely serious hazard so if this stuff comes out then it’s going to make what’s happened so far, in terms of the tsunami damage, look a little bit like an entrée to the real course.”

    BBC live

  19. #
    2042: Professor Patrick Regan, radiation and environmental protection expert from Surrey University, has told the BBC that it appears none of the secure vessels holding radioactive material at the reactors in Japan has broken, and “it looks like the worst is over”.

    BBC live

    originally posted 5:42 Japan time

    That said the quake on Friday was a magnitude 9, experts say there is an 80% chance of an aftershock of 1 magnitude less within the next 2-3 days.

  20. While I am not a structural engineer, I have closed my front door quickly and observed the window drapes bulge outwards. “Blowing the roof” (cladding) off a semi-sealed building like this probably wouldn’t take much explosive power at all. Note how the structural steel is relatively intact.

  21. I’ll just add that while there are worst-case scenarios applicable to this situation which could result in some really bad shit happening, the chances of these coming to pass are (according to the people who actually know what they’re talking about) astronomically low.

    But hey, by all means, let’s just keep freaking the fuck out over it, that’s really going to help matters.

    1. I have a better idea, lets berate everyone we disagree with, that should calm things down.

      At least I’m owning my agenda.

  22. am i the only one who thinks that the ‘after’ picture looks more like ‘under construction’ ?

    It is hard for me to believe that an explosion would have left those nice wooden support beams … or that they managed to get something like that up again within 24 h …

    But then again … I don;t know anything about nuclear powerplants …

    1. I totally hear what you are practically having to scream. My first thought when I saw the media images of the facility after the explosion was so obviously a “under construction” “before” picture of a facility without smoke? beams intact? it was enough to know we are believed to be fools to all those who are presenting this bulls#it so-called info to us(the assumed mentally incompetent) I feel a fool but what can be done about it? I truly feel helpless with that blatent presentation that was given by the media. capital WTF????

  23. Bimmi:
    > It’s not even Three Mile Island yet

    Well even JAEA says this accident is INES 4, only one short of Three Mile Island. And Fukujima had _two_ problematic reactors and what seems to be a hydrogen explosion. Its virtually certain that this accident will eventually be classified as INES 5+.

    > It is hard for me to believe that an explosion would have left those nice wooden support beams …

    These are steel girders. We are talking about a nuclear power plant here, not some barn. The cube-like structure its sitting on is the secondary containment whose walls are 1-3 feet of concrete. Inside is the primary containment, whose walls are significantly thicker. Having said that, this design is rather old and nowadays not considered sturdy enough to contain the reactor core in a worst case accident.

    1. Key word here being “yet”. I’ve no doubt this will be rated as a serious incident even if the worst has passed, but it still does not rate the sheer amount of panic and hyperbole being vomited forth at the moment. Three Mile Island, bad as it was, produced a body count of exactly zero.

      The real fallout from this situation is going to be economic, and that’s what should REALLY be scaring people.

  24. When the panic is over and they have a chance to get cameras inside the reactor vessels there will be, “OMG! the destruction exceeds all expectations,” reactions. There will lots of congratulations for perventing a disaster of magnitude that will only be evident after trhe fact. Rest assured reality will be far worse than our imaginations.

  25. Sorry for the thread-jack, but they only need 3500 more “likes” for the $200K and I know the awesome power of the Boing will easily push ’em over…

    From Mashable.com…

    As you read this, victims of the tragic earthquake in Japan are waiting to be rescued under piles of rubble. Here’s a way for you to help them, and you barely have to lift a finger.

    Explore.org founder Charlie Annenberg Weingarten, who’s also Director of the Annenberg Foundation, challenged the interactive community from the floor of the SXSW convention center, saying Explore.org will donate up to $100,000 to the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation. Its dog rescue team is on its way to Japan to help with earthquake search and rescue operations.

    “Search and rescue dogs are a critical resource for emergency situations” says Weingarten. “There are many bootstrapped start-ups down here in Austin and plenty of people across America who want to help Japan in some way but don’t have the resources; we’re giving those people a chance to support with a simple social action”

    Here’s where you come in: For every “Like” of the “Dog Bless You” Facebook page (#dogblessyou, #dogs4japan), Explore will donate a dollar up to $100,000. Get this: If the page gets 100,000 Likes by Sunday, March 13 at 2 a.m. EST, that dollar figure doubles, and Explore will donate $200,000. C’mon people, let’s help those quake victims!


    1. So uhm, are they going to cash the chequue, buy dogs, train them in very complicated procedures, then ship them to Japan… in less than a week? Because that’s about the window of opportunity for this sort of thing.

      I’d rather donate to a fund to rebuild the place. And knowing the Japanese (my mother-in-law is from Kanazawa), they’ll probably spit on my money and rebuild it themselves anyway, if necessary by reusing the bones of your fancy dogs.

  26. Odd. The LA County Urban Search and Rescue teams that just took off for Japan didn’t take their dogs with them. They said that was because (a) Japan has strict quarantine procedures on incoming canines; and (b) Japan already has plenty of trained search and rescue dogs of their own.

    1. From SDF web site:
      Six Canine Disaster Search Teams trained by the Search Dog Foundation have been deployed to Japan as part of Los Angeles County Task Force 2. The 72-member L. A. Task Force was mobilized by USAID and is being sent into the disaster zone along with Virginia Task Force 2. Per USAID, some 75 tons of rescue supplies and equipment for each Task Force are being delivered to the devastated region via military transport.


      Twitter – @searchrescuedog

  27. The japanese should switch to burning coal. No one ever dies
    mining it, and the exhaust is just like fresh air, plus some
    mercury, which is fnord harmless right?

    But they have no coal and no land for solar.

    Hey Xeni (in Socal), one out of every five minutes of your online time is powered by nuclear. Just give it up and go amish for a day now and then.

    And if you want to get rid of malware, just disconnect your computers from a network.

    “the first woodpecker to come along would destroy civilization” — DIG?

    What is stuxnet-2 just fries every PLC it finds? Got Cholera?

  28. How dare you all be worried about multiple possible nuclear meltdowns?

    Let’s change the subject to OOOIIILLL!!!

  29. Wow, for a site that tailors to a supposedly intelligent crowd, there sure are a lot of ignorant posts here.

    I think toyg takes the cake with this little gem:
    Whatever chemical pollutant was released in the atmosphere in Chiba, it won’t last thousands of years and probably won’t produce disabled babies for generations. Maybe, just maybe, that’s why people don’t care as much.

    You obviously don’t have an understanding of nuclear physics and should probably avoid comments that require one.

    Xeni, please vet your sources, I find your statement of reported radiation sickness far less than plausible.

    So far there are no reports of a core or primary loop breach at any of the plants. What has happened is degassing of hydrogen, which is what caused the explosion that we’ve all seen clips of. I’m sure that some of that hydrogen would be deuterium or tritium (which is radioactive, if barely) which is so light that it’s going to rise away from the ground RAPIDLY. The major issue with outgassing is nitrogen16, which is highly radioactive, but has a half-life of 7 seconds (which is why it’s so dangerous) and decays to stable oxygen16 leaving no residual measurable radiation in 15-20 minutes.

    Sheesh, you anti-nuke zealots sound like tea-tards screaming about Obamacare. Educate yourselves before proving your wilful ignorance. In a couple hours of careful googling you could easily learn which of your fears are unfounded (which appears to be “the vast majority”).

    1. You forgot to add “stay off my lawn”.

      Seriously, if you wish to improve the tone and content of the conversation, begin by at least improving the tone of the conversation? Perhaps then your content will get through the noise of your (my opinion) rampant know-it-all-ism? Just a suggestion. Trying to be helpful. Like you are.

      1. You’re right, and let me add that my “rampant know-it-all-ism” is a product of having been trained and having worked in the field in question.

        1. no no, your informed opinion comes from your experience. As does mine.

          Your attitude, however, where your experience trumps everyone else’s because most everyone else a dumb plebe…. that is another matter entirely.

          Maybe you don’t realize you’ve come across that way, and that having information that you’re only going to use to prove your superiority is every bit as rude as being simply uniformed?

          1. A better attitude – where you’re informing people with your information – rather than snidely positioning yourself relative to other commenters through it, would be productive towards the end you claim to work towards. I don;t think your penance comment moved anything forward, and that was your primary complaint about this thread? no?

    2. daev – Sheesh, you anti-nuke zealots sound like tea-tards screaming about Obamacare.

      Sooo, a nuclear powerplant has exploded, Japanese officials have acknowledged at least one meltdown, the Prime Minister is calling it the worst crisis since WWII, Cesium-137 and Iodine-121 are in the air (meaning the nuclear core is exposed) – and you are the expert telling us move along, nothing to see here?

      Does your PR firm work for GE? Or just the nuclear industry in general?

      1. You have a citation for the meltdown comment? Google returns nothing that I can find about anyone acknowledging a meltdown (not that I think it’s impossible). And what makes you believe that isotopes in the air equals an exposed core? Blowing the roof off the reactor building does not equate to a containment breach…the shell of the structure is essentially a tin shed, keeping the elements off of the supporting machinery. The primary loop, reactor vessel, turbines and heat exchangers are all inside the containment vessel.

        Detectable isotopes in the air are cause for concern (and rightly so), but detectable does not mean the area is under a blanket of hot fallout.

        As to your PR comment, I was a nuclear plant operator in the US Navy and simply hate to see all this misinformation and panic. Now I push electrons and photons around for a living, nuclear power was the most boring job I’ve ever had.

  30. Totally unrelated to the fact-based bickering rampant in this thread:

    Is the designer who covered those things in confetti aware of the irony?

  31. Unfortunately another huge chunk of Japan is about to be screwed with a massive release of radiation within a day or so.

  32. Just a question, but since I’m not a nuclear physicist I’ll have to hope I’m not out of my depth here.

    How many of you folks are willing to bet your life that there’s nobody in the nuclear industry like the ones whose arrogance and profit-driven corner-cutting gave us the Deepwater Horizon blowout?

  33. The before and after shots are of two different *but*identical* buildings. The Reactor 1 building used to look exactly like Reactor 3 building. Now it doesn’t. Which the two photos – taken from the same orientation – make abundantly clear.

  34. First off like the 1st reactor what got blown off was metal cladding the reactor and containment areas are below that.

    Thee caesium and iodine are in the air from the hydrogen which caused the explosion as it has come from the core – it is caused by the fuel rod coating reacting with a water air mix, the reactor core in reactor 3 was exposed up to 2 meters for 2 hours yesterday.

    The authorities stated yesterday that the core was deformed slightly – meaning it has partially melted.

    1. if nobody else says this, let me say it: thank you. You’re doing a lot of good work, sticking to facts, and all without being petulant or oversensitive. Thank You.

  35. when I said the reactor was exposed I meant the fuel rods were out of the water cooling them – rather than the reactor was open to the elements.

    1. I meant the fuel rods were out of the water cooling them – rather than the reactor was open to the elements.

      I was going to point that out, but you beat me to it.

      Even though the core has been shut down for a couple days, there are still a lot of short half-life elements decaying inside generating heat. If they can keep it cool for another few days, those reactions will be done with and the possibility of a meltdown won’t be an issue.

      Even if it melts down, it will still be inside the containment vessel. This won’t turn into another Chernobyl (which didn’t even have a containment vessel), the two plants are completely different core designs and function in fundamentally different ways.

  36. #
    0351: Full quotes from Yukio Edano on the explosion: “We believe that there is a low possibility that a massive amount of radiation has been leaked. But it is similar to the time when the hydrogen explosion took place in number 1 reactor (which exploded on Saturday). In the case of number 3 reactor, we can see higher level of radiation. We are now collecting information for the concentration of the radiation and the dose.”

    BBC live

    datestamp 12:51 Japanese local time

    1. That’s potentially bad news… the quote leaves lots of wiggle room, but at least they’re being open about it.

  37. #
    0409: The Japanese government has just said there was no marked change in the radiation level after the blast at Reactor 3. According to an article in the New York Times, the US aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan, which is sailing in the Pacific, passed through a radioactive cloud from Japan’s stricken reactors on Sunday. Crew members received a month’s worth of radiation in about an hour, government officials were quoted as saying.

    0405: The central control room of Reactor 3 remains intact after the blast, the Japanese government says.

    BBC live

    timestamp 13:09, 13:05 Japan time

  38. #
    0453: John Keeley from the Nuclear Energy Institute in Washington has told the BBC the hydrogen explosion was similar to the first blast at the plant: “Japanese officials to their credit have come out here quite quickly and suggested that at least at this moment they don’t believe there has been any significant radiological release – we will cross our fingers and hope that’s the case. It appears that was the case with Unit 1’s explosion, we’ll hope that’s certainly the case with Unit 3.”

    BBC live

  39. Can we please start telling the difference between facts and sexing up to sell news – this includes any headline containing “Chernobyl” and/or “Meltdown”.

    @jphilby NYT has its paywall up – what actual data is in that article?

    wind direction, levels of contamination in measurable amounts?

  40. #
    0629: Urgent news: Cooling functions have stopped and water levels are falling in Reactor 2 at the Fukushima 1 nuclear plant – Jiji news agency, quoted by Reuters.

    0625: A fuel tank at Tohoku Electric’s thermal plant in Fukushima has exploded – Kyoto.

    BBC live

    time stamps 15:29, 15:25 Japan time

  41. NYT has its paywall up – what actual data is in that article?

    It’s a free login, not a paywall.

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