Resnikoff reader - nuclear meltdown
G. S. 
initial posting 22 March 2011- last update 22 March 2011


      Marvin Resnikoff is a friend of many years, probably about a half century. He’s the best, most straightforward source I know of for honest, moderately clear information for the non-specialist about the unfolding Japanese chapter of the ongoing human catastrophe engulfing almost the entire world. He writes in ordinary everyday language with less jargon than most specialists to make his message and his analyses understandable to normal mortals. It was only because of Marvin that I surrendered and subscribed to the Huffington Post, on the 16th of this month, in order to correct, so I naïvely imagined, some garbage that was dumped on Marvin. But there’s no shortage of garbage on the Huffington Post — as I quickly discovered. This posting is for folks who would rather avoid the nonsense and just get the info. Resnikoff is Senior Associate, Radioactive Waste Management Associates (RWMA). The RWMA website is at

      For those interested to gain some evidence of how effective Marvin’s “propaganda” is — and it is propaganda, but honest - much-needed propaganda, a glance at a pathetic attempted smear job gives an idea of the threat that some nuclear energy advocates see in his work. [1]

      Marvin Resnikoff’s Paper 1,
Posted: March 15, 2011 11:03 AM

Doomsday Scenario at Fukushima [2]

      The slow motion events occurring at Japan’s (or G[eneral] E[lectric]’s) Fukushima reactor cannot be sugar-coated. It is a doomsday scenario unfolding. Nuclear reactors are not the same as coal/oil/gas electricity plants. Unlike conventional plants, they cannot be turned off. So while brave workers were tending to Units 1, 2 and 3 reactors, attempting against all odds to keep the reactor from overheating, the fuel pool at Unit 4 was left untended; without makeup water to cool them, the fuel rods overheated. Above 1800 ºF [Farenheit], an exothermic [heat releasing] reaction, a fire, took place with the zirconium cladding around the uranium pellets. Zirconium burned, forming zirconium oxide and hydrogen gas, which then exploded and released radioactive cesium, a semi-volatile metal, to the atmosphere.

      Near the plant, the radiation levels dangerously escalated to 400 milliseiverts/hour (or 40 rems/hour in U.S. parlance). Considering background is on the order of 1 milliseivert per YEAR, this means a yearly background dose every 9 seconds. Put plainly, workers at the Fukushima reactors are putting their lives in immediate jeopardy.

      What is a fuel pool?
Each year a commercial reactor operates, approximately 30 tons of fuel are irradiated. Every year or year and a half, this fuel is moved to a fuel pool for safe storage. Under 20 feet of circulating and replenished water, the fuel is stored. Water shields the radioactivity and cools the fuel, which still gives off heat. If water is not resupplied, which apparently was the case at unit 4, the water levels decline, the fuel is uncovered and it overheats, leading to a hydrogen explosion.

      How much cesium-137 is contained in a fuel pool?
The amount of cesium contained in the fuel pool is typically measured in curies or becquerels, but these assessments are meaningless unless you are a physicist. An easier way to look at it is in relation to the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima at the end of World War II, where 100,000 Japanese where killed. Cesium is a semi-volatile material that has been detected in the air downwind of the Fukushima reactors. How many Hiroshima bombs worth of cesium-137 are contained in the fuel pool?

      In work for the State of Nevada, we estimated that 10 tons of irradiated (what the industry calls "spent") nuclear fuel was equivalent to 240 times the amount of cesium-137 released by the Hiroshima bomb. Ten tons is the amount of irradiated fuel that would be contained in a shipping container or cask used to transport the fuel. Why so much more cesium than the Hiroshima bomb? Because an atomic explosion occurs in milliseconds, but a nuclear reactor operates continuously for years. Many more fissions means much more fission products, including cesium You do the math. If Unit 4 operated for 35 years and produced 30 tons of irradiated fuel per year and each ton is equivalent to 24 times the amount of cesium-137 produced by the Hiroshima bomb, then each fuel pool could contain on the order of 24,000 times the amount of cesium-137 produced by the Hiroshima bomb, if all the produced irradiated fuel remains in the fuel pool.

      This is not to say all this material will be released to the atmosphere or ocean. This is the maximum cesium-137 possible inventory at each Fukushima reactor. Each fuel pool at each Fukushima reactor also contains approximately the same amount of strontium-90 and other cancer causing materials. In addition to the fuel pools at each Fukushima reactor, a larger common fuel pool sits at ground level between two reactors in a building with windows. The damage the tsunami caused to this independent fuel pool has not been discussed by the media.

      Iodine, cesium and other radionuclides can be carried downwind and inhaled. Radionuclides that land in the sea may be taken up by fish and eaten. When these cancer-causing materials are taken into the body by inhalation or ingestion, they concentrate in different organs. Cesium concentrates in muscle, strontium (like calcium) in bones, iodine in the thyroid. Once in the body, these radioactive materials continue to decay, releasing harmful gamma and beta radiation. Plutonium, also present, gives off alpha radiation. Rearranging the DNA in the human body leads to cancer. To put this in another way, a BWR reactor boils water to produce electricity by generating cancer-causing materials.

      Take this out of the nuclear realm. Imagine another harmful poison, botulism. Imagine a botulism reactor, reproducing botuli fast enough to produce heat and steam to turn turbines. Then imagine having to contain these billions of botuli so the public is not harmed. This is essentially the friendly atom that has now come full circle in Japan and that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will relicense for an additional 20 years at Vermont Yankee and at 30 other Fukushima-type reactors in the United States. Fortunately, the State of Vermont has taken matters into its own hands and has decided not to allow Vermont Yankee to run past 2012.

      Marvin Resnikoff’s Paper 2,
Posted: March 18, 2011 04:15 PM

Conflicting Stories Surround Fukushima Fuel Pool #4 [3]

      The tragedy at the Fukushima reactors and the misery in Japan continues to unfold. We can only feel sorrow for our brothers and sisters in Japan. The media frenzy in the U.S. is reaching new heights and has started to take leave of its senses. Consider the fuel pool at reactor #4. This sits 70 to 80 feet above the ground, near the top of the reactor. Is it dry, as NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] Chairman Jaczko has stated in Congress on Thursday? Is the zirconium fuel cladding on fire, as CNN has graphically shown? To this and more, I say, no.

      Earthquake and Tsunami of Biblical Proportions
When the 9.0 earthquake struck off shore, and 30 foot waves washed out ten thousand lives and tens of thousands of homes, Fukushima reactors 1, 2 and 3 were operating, and reactors 4, 5 and 6 were shut down for maintenance, and had been since the end of November. The fuel in those reactors had been transferred to the fuel pools. When the tsunami washed out off-site power and backup power from diesel generators, nuclear fuel from reactors 4, 5 and 6 had already cooled for 100 days. But now, all pumps and water circulation ceased.

      Heroic Workers and Measures
The immediate problem was the three operating reactors 1, 2 and 3. On immediate shutdown, the fuel in those reactors was more than 100 times more heat-generating than the fuel in pools, 4, 5 and 6. Without pumps, workers had to pump water into the reactors, and let the pressure out before more water could be pumped. “Feed and bleed” it was called, likened to pumping water into a balloon. But hydrogen was created in the process; the bleed exploded. Over 2 dozen workers have been injured, while the radiation fields continued to rise. Cesium, a semi-volatile metal and gaseous iodine, were released. At one point, only 50 workers remained on the site. Tokyo Electric (TEPCO) acknowledges that reactors 1, 2 and 3 had partial meltdowns. TEPCO is in the process of bringing in external power and pumps to begin properly circulating cooling water. But the melted fuel will likely not allow unfettered cooling.

      Fuel Pool at #4 Reactor
Meanwhile, two fires occurred at reactor #4, partially destroying the roof and side panels of the building. The fuel pool is a deep pool of water, approximately 40 feet deep, with a lattice work to hold the fuel assemblies that are approximately 12 feet long. The water cover is 20ft, enough to cool and shield the fuel. The International Atomic Energy Agency says the water had reached 84 ºC, about 1½ days after the accident. My calculations show that it would take almost 3 days for the water to reach 100 ºC. Steam has been seen emanating from the pool. It would then take less than two weeks for the fuel to become uncovered. As the water levels declined and the vaporization increased, the radiation dose rate above the pool would increase. When five feet of cover remained, the dose rate would begin to increase precipitously. When the fuel becomes uncovered, a zirconium fire would ensue. The heat and radiation levels, including released radioactivity, would be enormous. I estimate, using the standard software, Microshield, dose rates on the order of 3000 rems/hour, 200 meters above the fuel pool. Less than one minute in this dose field would be grave.

      Conflicting Reports
The New York Times acknowledges Friday afternoon that there are conflicting versions of what is taking place. On the one hand, Union of Concerned Scientists and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission claim that fuel pool #4 is dry and that zirconium fires have taken place, releasing cesium and iodine to the environment. On the other hand, TEPCO says the #4 fuel pool has water. Who's right? The NRC is right, if the fuel pool had a leak and water drained out. But if the steel liner and concrete walls remained intact, TEPCO is right and there is time to bring the #4 pool situation under control. In this conflict, I agree with TEPCO, and hope that the company quickly resolves the problem. The alternative is unthinkable.

[1] Criticism of Resnikoff by nuclear engineers.

[2] Doomsday Scenario at Fukushima, Paper 1 at

[3] Conflicting Stories Surround Fukushima Fuel Pool #4, Paper 2 at

George Salzman is a former American Jew living in Oaxaca, Mexico, an Emeritus Prof of Physics, Univ of Massachusetts-Boston.
All comments and criticisms are welcome.  <>

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Initial posting of this page: 22 March 2011.
Last update: 22 March 2011