Keith Yost at MIT:
From the information we have, we can draw a conclusion anywhere between “the reactor is undamaged and being cooled” to “the reactor cladding and/or fuel has been partially damaged, but the damage is contained and the reactor is being cooled.” The question that should be asked now is whether the reactor has any future value as an electricity-producing asset. The widely-hyped possibility of some Chernobyl-like event is inconceivable without a new, catastrophic disaster. Coolant flow has been re-established and the public is in no danger. Given the magnitude of the precipitating event — a 9.0 earthquake — and the vast property damage it caused, the events at Fukushima are not a serious reason to re-evaluate our own nuclear policy in the United States.
Is the only way to mitigate the onsite situation to dole out life-threatening or outright lethal doses? Say it’s yes. They can no longer cycle workers in and out and do effective work while keeping dose at 50 rem, or even 100.
They can easily pull back far enough to lower exposure to non-threatening levels. Just pulling back to the site fence gets you down to 50 mrem/hour, if I read that earlier summary correctly. And if it’s not gotten much worse, of course. But then you just back up further. Upwind, of course.
But if you relinquish control then you have to assume everything in play goes bone-dry. All reactor and spent fuels turn to smoldering slag. And exposure to the populace goes far beyond any previous estimate.
That will come mostly from the spent fuel inventory, not the reactors. I’d expect the containment buildings to retain most of the inventory even if it fully melts down.
But retreating from radiation isn’t the same as retreating from ever-expanding contamination. The first is easy. The second is essentially impossible. The ferocious decay heat will continually discharge particles into the atmosphere. Fission products are much denser than most day-to-day materials, but they’ll spread. And winds aren’t constant. The line will creep.
So where do you draw the line? How much increased uptake is acceptable? How much of Nippon do you abandon?
Nuclear triage. Do you accept a relatively small number of certain deaths to avoid a presumably much larger number of statistical deaths?
I wouldn’t. If that is the situation and it was my call, I’d do what they’re doing. Pull back. Explore brute engineering options, automations, even if it takes months to implement them.
No human sacrifice that isn’t voluntary and isn’t saving definite lives.
Statistics be damned.
Vox Day says: Never trust the experts.
Is the map showing radiation spreading to the United States a fraud? Yes.
And, a level-headed man we still miss: