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MOX Fuel: Why Japan’s Dai-ichi Reactor 3 Is A Concern

Sitting here in Tokyo, I find myself cautiously optimistic about the potential for TEPCO to get the reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant under control. Things have not gone well up there, and the folks running the show have done an amazing job of reacting to circumstances for which the plants simply weren’t designed to handle. My hat goes off to them.

So far, it’s unknown whether there’s been a core meltdown, partial or otherwise, in either of the reactors. One hope that there hasn’t been such an event, as a meltdown definitely complicates subsequent cleanup. And despite the apparent containment of any significant radiation, we’re not out of the woods yet with regard to significant aftershocks.

The reactors in question are some 40 years old and were within 10 years of their end-of-life. I use the past tense there because the use of sea water and boron to cool the reactors was an act of desperation that effectively removed the reactors from any hope of future use. The combination of boron and salt water is highly corrosive, so these two cores will be forever silent.

So, yes, I’m cautiously optimistic. I’m not, however, blind to the risks and reality of our situation here.

With the old age of the reactors comes the fact that they’ve lived through a lot of temblors in their day. They were also never designed to handle an earthquake of magnitude 8.9 or tsunami of 7 metres. As such, the risk really does remain that a few really significant aftershocks or another sizable tsunami or two could compromise containment. I don’t expect this, but it is a possibility.

Adding to the complications is the issue of MOX fuel. Dai-ichi #3 uses MOX (mixed oxide) nuclear fuel that is a blend of recycled plutonium and uranium oxides. MOX fuel complicates cooling because it tends to run hotter than a conventional uranium reactor.

Dai-ichi #3 has had the problem of the fuel rods being partially exposed, even with the efforts of operators to fill the core with sea water. Due to the issue of exposure, the hotter rods are more prone to experiencing meltdown. Meltdown is a problem that I hope they’re able to avoid.

If the #3 reactor containment fails, the MOX fuel dispersal will create an extremely dirty environment that is potentially more hazardous than that of a conventional reactor. So, keep your fingers crossed and your hopes up. The more we expect the best, the better the chances of the best transpiring.

My heartfelt best wishes to those on the front lines in helping keep the rest of us safe. Godspeed.

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6 Comments
  1. A problem with waiting for disaster to strike before evacuating the country is that every man and his dog will be trying to get out. The risks are just too high for comfort at this stage.

  2. Get out of Japan now, you will die if you don’t, the media are lying to us AGAIN, you should know better by now that the media establishment cannot be trusted. This IS ******* SERIOUS, get out get out get out. GLOBAL MASS PANIC is COMING!!! you must be in front the herd or you will be trampled or you will die anyway if you stay.

    Nice one humans!!! you ******* retards!!! First the Gulf Oil/Corexit and now tons of weapons grade plutonium and uranium from the Japanese reactors is in the waters and air!!! these will mix and cause an UNIMAGINABLE DEATH TOLL!!! over 3 billion people!!!! that’s BILLION!

    I’d just like to thank you all for ******** this one up, thanks guys!!!!

    • Hi, John.

      First off, let me apologize for editing some of the more creative language out of your post. As I want this site to be a positive source of accurate information for all ages, creeds, colours, sexes, etc., I felt it important to, uhm, “clean” things up a bit.

      Although I can accept and respect that you’re afraid, the truth is that there aren’t tons of plutonium and uranium in the entire country let alone released to the general environment. You would do well to get a lot better informed on how these Boiling Water Reactors operate and how much fuel they use to sustain reactions.

      As it is, you’re merely spreading FUD: Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. Yes, we know the situation is bad, especially those of us who are here and are living through it. But, all that aside, I highly doubt we’re going to see death tolls in the billions.

      Take a nice bath. Relax. Maybe have a herbal tea. It’ll be okay. Things might very well get gnarly, but we’ll figure it out and, in the long run, it’ll be alright.

      In the immortal words of Douglas Adams: DON’T PANIC!

  3. Its too late!!!! Japan must go into the sea, Aliens will level Japan so that it sinks into the ocean, humans will think it was a natural thing or GOD, no, but it doesn’t matter, people in California, you will riot, please please please don’t, California will crumble, not from quakes but from gangbangers, you guys are screwed, we are all screwed, when people fall sick in the streets of L.A, then its on, don’t tell me that everything is OK, as violence as it will get, do not sell your soul to GET OFF, please I beg you, do whats right, even though it will cost you YOUR life, I know that’s hard, but please I beg you all, do what’s right….

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