A view inside a nuclear reactor

This is not a metaphorical view inside a nuclear reactor. This is for real-real.

This month, the good folks at TEPCO sent a remote-controlled endoscope and thermometer into the containment vessel of Fukishima's crippled reactor #2, hoping to learn something about the level of cooling water, the state of the fuel rods, and the temperature in the reactor. The view is obscured by steam, the effects of radiation, and (are you sitting down) actual goddam gamma rays just whizzing by. According to the PBS Frontline blog, those are the little streaks and flashes that you see in this video.

The probe revealed corroded piping and dripping humidity, but did not reveal the water’s surface level, which TEPCO had expected to be as high as four meters. The containment vessel was flooded with seawater during the reactor meltdown when other attempts to cool it failed. Current water levels inside the reactor remain unknown.

The probe’s thermometer function proved more revealing; it recorded the interior temperature at 44.7 degrees centigrade (112 degrees Farenheit), demonstrating that the unit’s own thermometer, thought to be off by as many as 20 degrees, is still functioning accurately.

Video Link


  1. I kinda want to know what the first-person viewpoint would look and feel like.  But only theoretically.  I suspect that even at a balmy 112 degrees F, it would probably start to feel bad pretty quickly.

    Probably smells bad, too.

      1. As funny as that Hulk joke is, I am still more concerned about real things like Chernobyl Heart and other birth defects occurring in the future, even if the accident wasn’t the same as Chernobyl. See: Chernobyl Heart (the movie)

        I hate to be a downer, but I really don’t see this video as awesome, either.
        (Interesting in a tragic sort of way, I suppose, so that we can learn from human myopia.)

    1. A couple months ago the was a big controversy in Japan about where to bury their sewage treatment plant sludge because it is now radioactive waste, due to cesium concentration due to runoff.

    1. I would expect Ridley Scott to be splicing this into Aliens VI

      Looks like somebody bagged one of Bella Swan’s bad guys.

  2. I didn’t think that radiation would cause actual streaks in the air like that, but then I realized that with the steam and the heat, THE ENTIRE ROOM IS A CLOUD CHAMBER, one of the first particle detection techniques devised by physicists. Just get into Youtube, run a search for cloud chambers, and you can see pretty much the same phenomenon.  What would be interesting is to take a big magnet into the TEPCO reactor chamber and see if any of those streaks curve in response to the field.

    1. Its more like the gamma rays hitting the cherinkov limit and leaving a little sonic boom I suspect.

      . . . speaking of which I would love a little light that uses that.

    2. I believe the streaks in the air are actually water droplets whizzing by. The gamma rays are visible here as static and noise on the camera’s sensor, not as trails in three-dimensional space.

      1. elricky is right.  The gamma rays are the “snow” in the image.  The big streaks are water droplets.  Notice that they are all coming from the same direction.  The gamma radiation will come from a broad distribution and is detected as noise on the camera sensor.

      2. Yup, what elricky said. Gamma rays don’t make visible cloud-chamber trails. The colored disco sparkly noise is the gamma rays.

          1. You would see bright blue/white flashes as the gamma radiation briefly interacts with your vitreous humour.

          2. Shortly before said vitreous humour makes like a marshmallow peep in the microwave?  Or would your retinas burn out first?
            Anyone know what immediate physical damage (if any) would ensue?  I like to know these things.

      3. It’s appears to be a hot cloud chamber. If they were water droplets why to some of the come from different directions and some of them curve?

        My vote is for a whole host ionizing particles leaving a vapor trails in a nearly saturated environment.

        Sparkles and vapor trails here are both effects of radioactivity.

        1. It does look a lot like the other cloud chamber videos online. Plus you can freeze it at spots and see the ‘droplets’ whiz by at different angles, spin around, etc. Plus it’s way cooler to tell your friends and coworkers that those are radiation beams shooting past the camera.

          1.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=aR–2dASoJA
            This is another video, perhaps an unedited version. Halfway through, you can see as one of the “cloud chamber gamma rays” hits the lens, liquefies and stays there for the rest of the piece. I put my money on the water droplets.

    1. I don’t think endoscopes can be anything but creepy. Like you could point one at a puppy and you’d see gritty teeth and skin flaps.

  3. According to the video’s own description on the youtube page, the streaks are just droplets of water. The little flashing specks, those are the gamma rays striking the light sensor.

    Gamma rays seem unlikely to cause streaks like that under any conditions. In a cloud chamber, you observe streaks because a subatomic particle has left a trail through the vapor. Gamma rays, being photons, are not strictly particles (instead being both wave and particle, this being the introductory mindfuck of quantum mechanics).

    However I’m more versed in chemistry than physics so to anyone more qualified: please correct me if I’m mistaken.

    1. Electrons are also “both wave and particle”, or more accurately, are particles which disperse much of the time like a wave does. The same is true also of protons and neutrons. That (and the measurement problem, which is why we’re inclined to call them particles at all) is the true mindfuck of quantum mechanics.

      1. Gamma rays by themselves don’t leave visible tracks in a cloud chamber, because they aren’t charged particles (they’re photons). They might produce secondary ionization, and you’d see tracks from those elections, but that doesn’t happen too often in air.

    1. Really? You think that any substantial amount of radioactive contaminants will reach the US undiluted to the point of near non existence across the Pacific ocean?

      1. What I think is not so relevant, who I read is what matters in this instance. I read the NYT and Japan Times as my MSM bellweathers on the Fukushima tragedy. I also read Arnie Gunderson’s vlog  http://www. fairewinds.com and follow the updates on the above enenews.com link. I also read http://enformable.com/ and for Japan details I read http://ex-skf.blogspot.com/.  The above links are all the more base level alternative news sources with the most dependable and reputable source and reference citings. There are many more blog rolls and random Gieger Counter wielding youtube folks out there if your interested. Another couple of useful sites to know exactly when to KEEP YOUR KIDS OUT OF THE RAIN are an animated map of particle distribution from Fukushima @ http://urlin.it/237e2 and an animated jetstream map with adjustable time frames @ http://virga.sfsu.edu/crws/jetstream.html. I have been studying this meltdown of four reactors since 3/11 and can only say that I am under the impression that it is not nearly over. Having two young children I have with my partner revised the family diet to limit exposure to bio accumulating foods such as cream and meat. Avoided all food products from Japan including seaweed and fish from the Pacific Northwest and South Asian seas. We filter our water to eliminate particles to the best of our ability. We feel a bit fringe but better safe than sorry.

        1. We feel a bit fringe but better safe than sorry.

          Well, you sound a bit fringe, but I expect I’ll start glowing long before you do.  As you say, better safe than sorry.

          1. Cautionary diets for children who are far more vulnerable to low level radiation exposure in both gamma and particle form should be the norm in the Jet Stream path across the USA post 3/11. To feel fringe for simply taking basic precautions is meant more as a reflection on the state of America than my actions as an individual. The reality is the majority of the American masses are uneducated and brain washed to the point of being unable to separate out the complexities of the Fukushima fallout issue from the soundbites of CNN or PBS of Everything is ok or Elevated levels of radiation are not a serious health threat. If anyone does the research at the very least they will discover that there is no way of confirming an absolute as the unknowns and contested nature of events make it impossible.

  4. I heard they have the Hulk’s proctologist on hand to help interpret the footage. Apparently, video of Hulk’s colonoscopy is similar. That is, when Hulk cooperates.

    “Hulk smash butt camera!”

  5. WOW! Those gamma-radiation sparks were so bumped up I felt like I could get cancer just by watching them!

  6. I guess I’m the first to register my objection to the phrase “the good folks at TEPCO”. At best they displayed criminal negligence that almost certainly sent entire towns full of people into lethal danger. I get that they made an ooh sparkles video, but I don’t recall anyone talking about “the good folks at BP,” without any further embellishment, when they released all those underwater-pipeline videos.


      1. Ah, the ever-malleable Internet, where if the perspective you don’t want is missing, you can just paste it on. No, I’ve never heard of sarcasm, what’s that? More to the point, where is there ANY indication in this post that TEPCO was criminally negligent? Sarcasm is not a substitute for information. The way this is written it’s just copy for Frontline.

        1. I’m sorry, but there is not room in every single post that mentions the name TEPCO to go back and talk about the entire history of how fucked up TEPCO was in this situation. That history is in the FRONTLINE documentary. It’s been in multiple BoingBoing posts about Fukushima. I figured I could make sarcastic comments about them now and most people would get the context. 

          But apparently that’s not the case. 

          1. Fine, fine! I guess I need a copy of your Style Manual. But more excoriation would be nice. Can’t do it too much, in my opinion. Thanks for the link to the documentary.

    1. I guess I’m the first to register my objection to the phrase “the good folks at TEPCO”.

      Maggie must have lost her Boing Boing Style Manual; it should read “the good ladies and gentlemen at TEPCO.”

      1. Just like the crooks are unlikely to be the ones still running Wall Street. When they remain unpunished – when they’re actively protected by politicians, why should crooks run anywhere?

  7. Why didn’t they use a long fiber optic instead of a camera? That way they could avoid the static caused by the gamma rays. Gamma rays wouldn’t travel down the cable would they?

    1. You’d get large flashes saturating the entire region : a CCD is a flat plane, fibers are a volume. Lots more visual noise as the gamma rays hit all along the fiber’s length.

  8. At the beginning of the clip, there aren’t very many rainbow grid sparkles.  But when the scope rounds the bend, they get more intense as it moves towards the melted down area.  This is the gamma radiation interacting with the electronics.

    The white streaks are water droplets whizzing by.   It’s so hot that they don’t form condensation.

  9. I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around the jocular comments.  Is the subject matter so psychologically threatening to boing-boingers that they have to resort to 9th-grade humor to relieve their anxiety?  Or is it just simple apathy? 

    1. We did expend a significant number of keystrokes gnashing our teeth, tearing our hair, and oh-the-humanitying about this last year.  I don’t really mean to imply that the time for sober reflection and solemn introspection is ever finished, but give us a bit of time to enjoy the result of those most unfortunate circumstances: most of us have never before had occasion to get a glimpse inside a hot reactor.

      What hath God wrought, and all that.

  10. BB had my balls in their hands, this was the perfect time to scare the shit out of me, I was waiting for some kind of nuclear zombie baby to gnash it’s teeth and swallow the camera. Very spooky stuff. 

    1. The scarier prospect is that there are no monsters.  It’s empty, except for the destruction we have caused and inflicted on each other… making us the… monsters.

  11. Excuze me, looks like my septic tank after I dropped some poop eating bacteria tablets.
    Algae and bacteria can eat radiation too.

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