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UPDATE: Explosion at Fukushima #3 Reactor.

Despite the frantic efforts of nuclear engineers, there has been a second explosion in the Fukujima Nuclear Power Station as an explosion has taken place in the third of the six reactors in the system. It is not yet known exactly what caused the explosion or what sort of radiation release, if any, is involved. While some of the radioactive fuel rods in the cores of the reactors have been damaged, there is as yet no evidence of a core meltdown with its consequent massive radiation release. So far, there radiation danger is not high except within the immediate area of the reactor station.

Engineers are pumping seawater and boron into the facility in order to absorb radioactive emissions, cool down two reactors, and prevent a meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 (Daiichi) plant. Should a meltdown take place, there will be a substantial radiation release, much of it consisting of Iodine 131. The plume of radioactive material will cross northern Japan, and move into western Canada and the US Pacific Northwest. Because Iodine 131 has a half life of 8 days, the threat will not linger, but the plume could reach populated west coast areas four to six days after any emission. Adults including breastfeeding women should take 130mg of potassium iodide per day. Children between 3 and 18 should use 65 mg unless they are of adult size. Children between 1 month and 3 years should receive 32 mgs per day, and babies should receive 16mg.

If an acute exposure is announced in your area, you should begin taking iodine within 24 hours of the arrival of the irradiated plume. Bear in mind that there is no evidence at this time of any radiation plumes being emitted by an Japanese reactor, and it appears that meltdown will be averted. There is no reason to start taking iodine at this time. Excess idodine is expelled by the body within 24 to 72 hours, but older adults especially are at the risk of allergic reactions. Read about iodine (KI) safety here.

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  • Image Credit:
  • Satellite view of reactor facility.

If the reactor pressure vessel has indeed exploded, this is actually very bad. Fukushima is a light-water, boiling water reactor system, and unless the designers had decided to build these reactors differently, then this means that the reactor vessel is quite probably exposed to the air, albeit buried under debris from the collapsed pressure vessel. Light-water BWR reactors use light (regular) water as a moderator to enable the fission reaction in the core (and is thus exposed to the reactor vessel), of which is brought to a boil by the heat from the reaction, then the steam resulting from this directly drives the turbines to produce electricity. An explosion in this system would mean the release of, at the very least, mildly radioactive steam, with quite probably the majority of the volume of the water escaping. Officials are reporting that the reactor vessel is still intact: If this is true, then at least the fuel and it's by-products are still contained.
This type of reactor is actually not the safest on the planet, although BWRs are somewhat safer than pressurized water reactors (PWR), due to their lower operating pressure. These are actually fairly cheap to build and maintain, because of the reduced number of systems.
Fukushima wiki entry:
Light Water Reactor wiki:
Boiling Water Reactor wiki entry:
Video of the explosion:

Thanks, Matt!

No problem, but don't thank me yet: It looks like I was premature in saying that it was the pressure vessel that blew. The explosion in building #1 resulted from a hydrogen that was leaking out of the pressure vessel and had collected in the housing building. Ordinarily there would be systems to burn off any excess H2 that would accumulate, but those failed along with the cooling equipment. The pressure vessel is leaking to some extent, although it's structure is quite probably mostly intact, due to their efforts to pump seawater into it as a last-ditch effort to cool the reactor core. Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary said earlier that reactor #1's fuel rods may be deforming (a precursor to a meltdown), but later retracted the statement.
Reactors #2 and #3 have suffered the same coolant failure as #1, and all three are being flooded with seawater in efforts to cool their cores. There's little news about #2, however #3 is worrisome, as it's fuel mix contains plutonium oxide, of which could cause even worse radioactive/toxic effects if the core suffers a catastrophic breach. Exposed plutonium oxide could also act as an unwanted neutron source, of which could cause the fuel in the other reactors to increase their fission rates.
Reactors #4, #5, and #6 at the Fukushima I facility were shut down for maintenance, so they're not being considered a problem. For clarity, there is also a second nuclear plant in Fukushima prefecture, the Fukushima II Nuclear Power Plant, of which is 7 miles to the south of Fukushima I and houses four similar reactors, of which also suffered an similar failure of it's cooling systems as it's sister plant. Engineers at this plant haven't had to resort to steam venting to reduce pressure as of yet, of which is a good sign.

Details update:
Reactor #2 is now in trouble: The explosion of the building housing reactor #3 has damaged pressure valves on #2's pressure vessel, causing the halting of cooling efforts with seawater in that reactor. Filling efforts had stopped about halfway and the water level is dropping, meaning the fuel is partially exposed to air in the vessel, further limiting cooling efforts.
There's little new that I can find regarding reactors #1 & #3. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano says that the fuel may be melting in all three reactors, although they have no way of confirming this. Fuel melting will mean that the uranium (and possibly the plutonium in #3) will flow out of their casings and pool at the bottom of the reactor vessel. This doesn't necessarily mean that the vessel will be breached, as uranium's melting point is lower than that of stainless steel. A full meltdown could occur if the reactions in the fuel continue to heat the melted material past the melting point of the vessel.

I'd like to re-post a visualization video that Whitley posted the other day in regards to this, as a meditation target:
While it's natural to feel bad over what's happening, those of us not directly involved in rescue and recovery efforts have the luxury of being able to alter our states-of-being to project clarity, hope, courage... whatever we feel those in trouble most need right now. Feeling bad for someone can only project more negativity into their situation: Try to feel positive for them. And, of course, projecting a cooling feeling toward the stricken reactors won't hurt in the slightest.

Interesting in the chat room a couple of weeks ago there was talk about a major event occurring on March 11th (quake which came to pass), and other talk about something on March 15th (nuclear melt-down?). Prayers and light to the folks in Japan, and indeed for all of us on the blue marble.

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