The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Bad to Worse: Third Explosion at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant UPDATE: Japanese Officials ‘Freaked Out’

Posted on | March 14, 2011 | 55 Comments

OK, while I’m trying hard to avoid the Shep Smith Calamity-Disaster-Catastrophe School of Dramatic Sensationalism, the Chip Diller Remain-Calm-All-Is-Well Motif is also becoming increasingly non-operational:

Japan faced the likelihood of a catastrophic nuclear accident Tuesday morning, as an explosion at the most crippled of three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station damaged its crucial steel containment structure, emergency workers were withdrawn from the plant, and a fire at a fourth reactor spewed large amounts of radioactive material into the air, according to official statements and industry executives informed about the developments.

(Via Memeorandum.) As Ace said in declaring an early open thread: “I’m not lovin’ the news today.” Let’s stipulate that situations like this generally come in two types:

Type A. Disaster strikes, things seem very bad at first; some people panic, invoking worst-case scenarios; however, once the initial scare is over, things don’t turn out nearly so bad as first feared.
Type B. Disaster strikes, and most people don’t really grasp how bad the potential outcome could be; however, events steadily shift toward a worst-case scenario that few people originally imagined.

This one is definitely beginning to look a lot more like Type B.

UPDATE: “Tens of thousands” have already been evacuated from a zone with a 20-kilometer radius of the plant. Officials are telling people within 30 kilometers to stay indoors to avoid radiation exposure. Meanwhile, note the highly technical language in this ABC News story:

The explosion at unit 2 and the fire at unit 4 of the plant, where units 1 and 3 also have exploded since the powerful earthquake and tsunami hit Japan on Friday, have Japanese officials “freaked out,” a senior U.S. official said.

So, we have explosions at units 1, 2, and 3, plus a fire at unit 4. While many of the safety issues surrounding nuclear power are difficult for layment to comprehend, you don’t have to be a senior U.S. official to understand what “freaked out” means.

More details from the Wall Street  Journal:

Japan’s nuclear crisis showed signs of spinning out of control Tuesday, after officials reported a third explosion and warned of possible damage to a critical part of the cooling system at the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear-power complex. . . .
Even before the reported explosion, officials were becoming increasingly worried about No. 2 reactor, due to a problem in the cooling system that hasn’t occurred in the others. Now all three appear to be experiencing a degree of melting of the fuel rods in their cores—a condition that, if it worsens, could lead to dangerous radiation leaks.
In a surprise turn of events, Monday saw a sharp deterioration in the condition of the No. 2 reactor, which had previously been stable. By late Monday night, No. 2 had become the most problematic of the three reactors, with all its fuel rods fully exposed, making them highly vulnerable to significant damage.

Someone sent me an e-mail Saturday night with this prediction:

Stacy, mark my words. We’ll all be heaving a collective sigh of relief on Monday or Tuesday when we learn that the Japanese have the situation well under control. And you can quote me on that.

OK, my friend, it’s Monday night and I’m thinking this “collective sigh of relief” is very unlikely in the next 24 hours. Do you want to own that quote with a link to me, and an admission that the best-case scenario hasn’t materialized?

UPDATE II:  In the comments below, an accusation:

You might as well drop the act, you were in this to promote hysteria from the start so you could “prove” how “balanced” and “impartial” you are.

Horseshit. What I’ve been trying to do from the start is to separate facts from spin and hype. Go back to my multi-updated Saturday post: I woke up (and you’ll have to scroll down to the sequence beginning at 11:57 a.m. ET) to the news of the first explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, a situation that Stratfor was already calling a “meltdown.”

Japanese officials denied that there was a meltdown, and the Economist wrote: “There was a momentary sense of relief on Saturday evening when the government assured the public that the explosion had not been caused by the meltdown of the reactor.”

Freely admitting my own ignorance of what exactly constitutes a “meltdown” — which I’m told is a colloquial term, rather than a scientific one — what I recognized was that official sources had an interest in minimizing the severity of the situation in their public statements. And so, when asked about a Christian Science Monitor story that conveyed the official “all-is-well” reassurances, I responded:

OK? I mean, sure, “officials say” everything’s just hunky-dory with the reactor itself, but when there’s a massive explosion that destroys the building that houses the reactor, excuse me for suspecting that the “officials say” version of the story might be a bit too sunny-side-up.

Call that a gut hunch, common sense, whatever. But it has nothing to do with any effort to appear “balanced” or “impartial” — as I said this morning, I was surprised when bloggers began taking sides on this story — and everything to do with detecting the distinct aroma of bovine excrement in those official assurances that the situation at Fukushima Daiichi was hunky-dory.

UPDATE III: I’m trying to calm down after being forced to defend myself against the bogus charge of having some kind of hidden agenda about the Japanese nuke-plant situation. I’m just a dude aggregating the news. If you want to see somebody pushing an agenda, check out the university psychology professor taking cheap shots at Milton Friedman. (Hat-tip: Insty.)

Left Bank of the Charles says Fukushima Daiichi is now his favorite cussword. Don’t know about that, but it did occur to me that “Fukushima Meltdown” would be a great name for a punk-rock band. And speaking of meltdowns:

Japan’s benchmark Nikkei average plummeted 14 percent on Tuesday, after the country’s prime minister Naoto Kan warned of an increasing possibility of a radioactive leakage.

Japan is the world’s third-largest economy, so a 14-pecent loss on their stock market is very bad news, generating economic ripples that could affect our own economy.

Am I trying to “promote hysteria”? No, but watch this video interview with “independent nuclear energy consultant” Shaun Burnie:

“One of the nuclear industry’s worst nightmares,” he says. And he has an entire column about the “nightmare scenario.” The most interesting part of that column? The thumbnail bio at the end:

Shaun Burnie is the former nuclear co-ordinator for Greenpeace and is now a nuclear consultant.

Greenpeace. No bias there, I’m sure. “Independent consultant,” my ass.

Please give to the American Red Cross. I did.


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