Top nuclear scientists help Japan with nuke calculations

March 14, 2011 11:50:33 PM PDT
Some of the top nuclear scientists and engineers reside in the Bay Area and they are monitoring the nuclear facility in Japan after last week's 9.0 earthquake. Some from UC Berkeley have been helping the situation in Japan.

The third explosion at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant was no surprise to local nuclear engineers because they knew that the second explosion of Unit 3 had destabilized Unit 2. The engineers have a pretty tight relationship with the Japanese scientists there and that's how they helped solve a critical problem.

After the first explosion the scientists at UC Berkeley started crunching numbers. They figured out how much sea water was needed to cool off the reactors.

"We calculated yesterday, as you can see on our board, about 40 gallons of water per minute to remove this decay heat from the reactor," said Professor Jasmina Vujic.

They relayed the information straight to the engineers at ground zero.

"So based on this information we can extract how much water and how much time you have in terms of what point clotting will degrade," said Vujic.

Despite three hydrogen explosions, nuclear engineering Vujic, has been downplaying the potential danger.

"We have probably degradation of fuels and some melting, but it is contained within this structure," said Vujic.

She points to the containment vessel surrounding the reactor. It's 8 inches of steel surrounded by 7 inches of concrete.

"It certainly hasn't gotten through the pressure vessel which is the key," said Professor Bob Olander.

Olander also played down Monday's radiation spike saying it reached 800 mili-rems per hour. In comparison, the average CT scan exposes a patient to 1,000 mili-rems.

"They talk about radiation levels which are several times allowable. Well that's still very low," said Olander.

Still, several pharmacies in the Bay Area say they're getting 10 to 20 calls a day for potassium iodide -- pills used to prevent radiation poisoning. A lot of pharmacies that carry them say they've sold out, but most pharmacies say they don't even have them on their shelves.

Potassium iodide tablets cost about $10 for a pack of them, but now they're going for as much as $60 on eBay.

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