Monday, March 14, 2011

Well We Got Nuked Again


Today is quite so far an interesting day for me. 

I was earlier on the phone with some few guys I know; some are in the engineering field, some are in the scientific field and the rest come from various others. Mostly, the issues being discussed were the possibility of the meltdown of the reactor core of the recently washed-up Japan's Fukushima Daiichi thermal nuclear power plant by a monstrous wave from the open sea best known as tsunami.

Coincidentally, the word tsunami originated from Japan. 

The issues discussed was pretty simple - will, or will not the reactor explode?

The main concerns for this particular issue in question were the flying concrete roof of reactor no. 1 of the power plant, released steam into the air due to this explosion and the ever-rising reactor temperature that could lead to a possible meltdown. There are three main reactor core in the power plant, where 2 of them, reactor no. 1 and 3 received the most attention, whereby reactor no. 2 remained docile for the current being. 

The explosion was due to the rising temperature and pressure of the trapped water and hydrogen mixture within the concrete structure of the plant, where after some time the superheated steam generated from the trapped liquid at elevated temperature caused pressure to build up and later sent the concrete roof of the reactor flying from quite an explosion. 

Soon when the aftermath smoothed off, it was realized that due to the tsunami the cooling water circulatory system was down due to electrical issues and damage pipelines from the previously rampaging tsunami. So now the plant has no power to keep the cooling water circulation to cool down the heating-up cores, and even if they did, the pipelines to channel this cooling medium were fatally damaged that no water could simply pass through. And this has caused a lot of Japs to be rather nervous.

Then they found a solution - channel in the brine or saltwater from the neighboring sea to cool down the reactors before they finally decided to explode from extreme temperature hike. The good nature of this selection of the classical way of heat transferring is that brine has pretty decent properties as effective heat transporter. Another attempt to mix the incoming brine with boron, chemical element #5, made the choice became even better, since the formation of the acidic compound of boron, best known as boric acid, will greatly help to reduce further chain reactions at the time dynamically occurring in the fuel rods. 

However, there is a catch to this. Everything does, actually.

The saltwater that circulates into the reactors might bring with them traces of radioactive materials with them, and due to no water treatment system whatsoever, this thing will be back in the sea as soon as they make it out of the reactors components. Furthermore, the formation of steam from this cooling effort will cause radioactive vapor to freely being distributed in the ambient without any pre-cleaning method whatsoever. As to add more insult to the injury, boron does not come naturally in its prime state. It has to be produced in industry through some major pain-in-the-ass production manner. To supply this fission-halter element too introduced a major headache, where the shoreline has been washed up with so many things that landing party might find it inaccessible at the immediate, whereby land roads too could be facing the same problem. Considering air transport could quite make it, but by the look of it we are not talking about a handful, or boxful, or bagful of boron. 

We are talking about hundreds of kilograms, or worst, tons of boron. And if it ever could be transported to the main site, the production of boric acid might be just another time-consuming event. If a decision is made to transport a whole bunch of boric acid, well, then more provocative measures are to be taken up, because the reactivity of boric acid towards carbonic formations of elements are pretty undeniable. 

This, however critical, may be obliged for the sake of preventing larger scale of catastrophic and major nuclear disaster. 

So these close friends of mine were discussing among ourselves and we gained pretty much of very technical knowledge on the matter. This is of course not the hardest part since I myself have been indulged in the thermoenergy field for almost 5 years, whereas the guys are respectively from the fields of particle physics, advanced fluid mechanics, nanoparticles, advanced material, thermal engineering, heat and combustion field, pure and statistical mathematician and other related fields that may appear to be relatively relevant to this case of probable nuclear disaster. Few of them are doctorate holders, and one of them are currently in the possession of the title of professorship in his particular area. 

In a layman term, these guys are no bullshitters, and they know what they are talking about.

The way we see this is simple. There were predictions that they reactor may have been affected, despite all the claim that there are no leakages of radioactive elements from the reactor even when it had been shaken by an 8.9 Richter scale earthquake, got washed up by a giant wave, had a roof flown off and currently at the time had rising temperature as we spoke.  

As to cut things short, it is fine that I'd say we talked so much of boring technical things that it was so boring that if I ever going to write it down here this blog will evolve to become so boring that the readers will find themselves to be so bored that the boredom sparked from the boring technical stuffs may somewhat appear to be less boring than what they cause. 

Interestingly, I and a few friends who were in my room discussing online with some chaps we know all the way in the land of the rising sun and other energy experts from some academical establishment while getting ourselves updated with technical information from the disaster, I saw a Facebook update that said the melting of the reactor may appear to be higher than ever anticipated. One came and commented that the problem has somewhat been resolved. So simply I came and said my thought that, 'there is no way a nuclear-related disaster could be handled in a matter of hours'.

One thing led to another that the argument somewhat went quite into a heated one, matching the temperature of the melting rector no. 3 of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, with added amplification from the heated debate going on behind me at the time between my postgraduate friends who one of them is a pure mathematician, fluid expert and a statistical-oriented researcher, while another is a high temperature and high pressure catalyst expert from the Chemical Engineering department of UTP, best associated with one of the most highly-profiled professor in the mentioned department for many years. 

One thing I learned today is that, do not interfere with undergraduate students while they are in their process of learning. It will be a grave mistake. Despite that this may sound underestimating, it does not - the main reason why interference are to be avoided is that the gap of the level of knowledge, understanding, wisdom and perception on certain things in the undergraduate students and postgraduate researchers like us and other friends who have been in the academic and research fields for so long are so wide that it may exceed the exceptionally wide butt crack of Mr Joseph Harrington of Essex (sorry Harrington, we all still love you despite that very disturbing fact of yours). 

Picture this: how do you teach to a small child simple arithmetic when he (or she, again, to answer the cry from anti-sexist movement) keeps of getting it wrong, and you for certain reason is a professor of mathematics with defined capabilities in correcting the major error in the first derivation of the first general theory of relativity and has the fundamental of logic at the back of your hand. Over time, frustration will grow over you, and sooner or later you will find yourself struggling in making the child understand of why the hell 1 + 4 = 5 and 5 x 6 = 30. 

Even worst, we (because the two bastard friends o' mine and I were looking at the same status update on the same monitor) were seen as idiots. Can you imagine that? We all have our expertise on our own fields, and we were seen as idiots, by someone who is not even close to the pure engineering field, let alone posses an engineering degree. This does not mean that we are all proud bastards who practice holier-than-thou attitude nor we see others as pure lunatic idiots who worth not even a single molecule of oxygen on this earth. No, we are not the kind of people. I mean, hey, sometimes we were wrong too, see. And we admit it. We were kids too. But when we were kids, we dared not to fuck with anyone with higher scholar title than us. 

But to be trashed by someone who's not even in the field, and some more with inaccurate information, well what can we say? It's like telling your mom that she cooked the most elaborated pasta ever wrongly, when you yourself cannot even have the slight possibility to fry a goddamn egg without setting the whole kitchen on fire. 

Well maybe time has changed. Today, even Spongebob can obtain an honorary degree from Wikipedia, your online encyclopedia. Today, everyone is a genius behind the computer. This is what we call information at a mouse scroll and touch of a button. 

We were however lived our childhood without a computer. Computer was so alien to us just like a kangaroo is so alien to the penguin in the arctic circle. We spent our childhood reading from books and articles and newspapers and everything else on hard copy edition. Even until today, we still do the old school way of reading by the hard copy, and even posses our own huge collection of books on wit and wisdom, philosophy and knowledge, when other people have been reading from ebooks and stored them in their hard drives rather in dusty book racks like we do. We are just way too old school I guess.

But there's a catch to this: -

"During a power outbreak best exampled by the offline Fukushima Daiichi power plant and a computer may not be available for information, we'd still have our books easily accessible in our hands." - T.S.B., as told to the writer, March 13th 2011.

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