Fukushima – Nuclear Plant, Japan

This is posted as a copy of data from a comment posted to a South African newspaper site. The writer reputedly works in a nuclear plant at Koenberg.

If you have or can make the time, read it. It is a good summary of the problems in Japan following the earthquake and Tsunami.

But as I post this I learn that the nuclear incident has been upgraded to level 5 on the severity scale 0-7. This is not good.

My heart goes out to those on the ground in Japan working with this crisis. Let us hope that they do get this problem under control very soon.

Not withstanding what has happened, I am still an advocate of the use of Nuclear generated power.

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From a Friend of Buff at Koeberg

What happened at Fukushima

I will try to summarize the main facts. The earthquake that hit Japan was 5 times more powerful than the worst earthquake the nuclear power plant was built for (the Richter scale works logarithmically; the difference between the 8.2 that the plants were built for and the 8.9 that happened is 5 times, not 0.7). So the first hooray for Japanese engineering, everything held up.

When the earthquake hit with 8.9, the nuclear reactors all went into automatic shutdown. Within seconds after the earthquake started, the control rods had been inserted into the core and nuclear chain reaction of the uranium stopped. Now, the cooling system has to carry away the residual heat. The residual heat load is about 3% of the heat load under normal operating conditions.

The earthquake destroyed the external power supply of the nuclear reactor. That is one of the most serious accidents for a nuclear power plant, and accordingly, a “plant black out” receives a lot of attention when designing backup systems. The power is needed to keep the coolant pumps working. Since the power plant had been shut down, it cannot produce any electricity by itself any more.

Things were going well for an hour. One set of multiple sets of emergency Diesel power generators kicked in and provided the electricity that was needed. Then the Tsunami came, much bigger than people had expected when building the power plant. The tsunami took out all multiple sets of backup Diesel generators.

When designing a nuclear power plant, engineers follow a philosophy called “Defense of Depth”. That means that you first build everything to withstand the worst catastrophe you can imagine, and then design the plant in such a way that it can still handle one system failure (that you thought could never happen) after the other. A tsunami taking out all backup power in one swift strike is such a scenario. The last line of defense is putting everything into the third containment, that will keep everything, whatever the mess, control rods in our out, core molten or not, inside the reactor.

When the diesel generators were gone, the reactor operators switched to emergency battery power. The batteries were designed as one of the backups to the backups, to provide power for cooling the core for 8 hours. And they did.

Within the 8 hours, another power source had to be found and connected to the power plant. The power grid was down due to the earthquake. The diesel generators were destroyed by the tsunami. So mobile diesel generators were trucked in.

This is where things started to go seriously wrong. The external power generators could not be connected to the power plant (the plugs did not fit). So after the batteries ran out, the residual heat could not be carried away any more.

At this point the plant operators begin to follow emergency procedures that are in place for a “loss of cooling even t”. It is again a step along the “Depth of Defense” lines. The power to the cooling systems should never have failed completely, but it did, so they “retreat” to the next line of defense. All of this, however shocking it seems to us, is part of the day-to-day training you go through as an operator, right through to managing a core meltdown.

It was at this stage that people started to talk about core meltdown.
Because at the end of the day, if cooling cannot be restored, the core will eventually melt (after hours or days), and the last line of defense, the core catcher and third containment, would come into play.

But the goal at this stage was to manage the core while it was heating up, and ensure that the first containment (the Zircaloy tubes that contains the nuclear fuel), as well as the second containment remain intact and operational for as long as possible, to give the engineers time to fix the cooling systems.

Because cooling the core is such a big deal, the reactor has a number of cooling systems, each in multiple versions (the reactor water cleanup system, the decay heat removal, the reactor core isolating cooling, the standby liquid cooling system, and the emergency core cooling system).
Which one failed when or did not fail is not clear at this point in time.

So imagine a pressure cooker on the stove, heat on low, but on. The operators use whatever cooling system capacity they have to get rid of as much heat as possible, but the pressure starts building up. The priority now is to maintain integrity of the first containment (keep temperature of the fuel rods below 2200°C), as well as the second containment, the pressure cooker. In order to maintain integrity of the pressure cooker (the second containment), the pressure has to be released from time to time. Because the ability to do that in an emergency is so important, the reactor has 11 pressure release valves.
The operators now started venting steam from time to time to control the pressure. The temperature at this stage was about 550°C.

This is when the reports about “radiation leakage” starting coming in.
I believe I explained above why venting the steam is theoretically the same as releasing radiation into the environment, but why it was and is not dangerous. The radioactive nitrogen as well as the noble gases do not pose a threat to human health.

At some stage during this venting, the explosion occurred. The explosion took place outside of the third containment (our “last line of defense”), and the reactor building. Remember that the reactor building has no function in keeping the radioactivity contained. It is not entirely clear yet what has happened, but this is the likely scenario:
The operators decided to vent the steam from the pressure vessel not directly into the environment, but into the space between the third containment and the reactor building (to give the radioactivity in the steam more time to subside). The problem is that at the high temperatures that the core had reached at this stage, water molecules can “disassociate” into oxygen and hydrogen – an explosive mixture. And it did explode, outside the third containment, damaging the reactor building around. It was that sort of explosion, but inside the pressure vessel (because it was badly designed and not managed properly by the
operators) that lead to the explosion of Chernobyl. This was never a risk at Fukushima. The problem of hydrogen-oxygen formation is one of the biggies when you design a power plant (if you are not Soviet, that is), so the reactor is built and operated in a way it cannot happen inside the containment. It happened outside, which was not intended but a possible scenario and OK, because it did not pose a risk for the containment.

So the pressure was under control, as steam was vented. Now, if you keep boiling your pot, the problem is that the water level will keep falling and falling. The core is covered by several meters of water in order to allow for some time to pass (hours, days) before it gets exposed. Once the rods start to be exposed at the top, the exposed parts will reach the critical temperature of 2200 °C after about 45 minutes.
This is when the first containment, the Zircaloy tube, would fail.

And this started to happen. The cooling could not be restored before there was some (very limited, but still) damage to the casing of some of the fuel. The nuclear material itself was still intact, but the surrounding Zircaloy shell had started melting. What happened now is that some of the byproducts of the uranium decay – radioactive Cesium and Iodine – started to mix with the steam. The big problem, uranium, was still under control, because the uranium oxide rods were good until 3000 °C. It is confirmed that a very small amount of Cesium and Iodine was measured in the steam that was released into the atmosphere.

It seems this was the “go signal” for a major plan B. The small amounts of Cesium that were measured told the operators that the first containment on one of the rods somewhere was about to give. The Plan A had been to restore one of the regular cooling systems to the core. Why that failed is unclear. One plausible explanation is that the tsunami also took away / polluted all the clean water needed for the regular cooling systems.

The water used in the cooling system is very clean, demineralized (like
distilled) water. The reason to use pure water is the above mentioned activation by the neutrons from the Uranium: Pure water does not get activated much, so stays practically radioactive-free. Dirt or salt in the water will absorb the neutrons quicker, becoming more radioactive.
This has no effect whatsoever on the core – it does not care what it is cooled by. But it makes life more difficult for the operators and mechanics when they have to deal with activated (i.e. slightly
radioactive) water.

But Plan A had failed – cooling systems down or additional clean water unavailable – so Plan B came into effect. This is what it looks like

In order to prevent a core meltdown, the operators started to use sea water to cool the core. I am not quite sure if they flooded our pressure cooker with it (the second containment), or if they flooded the third containment, immersing the pressure cooker. But that is not relevant for us.

The point is that the nuclear fuel has now been cooled down. Because the chain reaction has been stopped a long time ago, there is only very little residual heat being produced now. The large amount of cooling water that has been used is sufficient to take up that heat. Because it is a lot of water, the core does not produce sufficient heat any more to produce any significant pressure. Also, boric acid has been added to the seawater. Boric acid is “liquid control rod”. Whatever decay is still going on, the Boron will capture the neutrons and further speed up the cooling down of the core.

The plant came close to a core meltdown. Here is the worst-case scenario that was avoided: If the seawater could not have been used for treatment, the operators would have continued to vent the water steam to avoid pressure buildup. The third containment would then have been completely sealed to allow the core meltdown to happen without releasing radioactive material. After the meltdown, there would have been a waiting period for the intermediate radioactive materials to decay inside the reactor, and all radioactive particles to settle on a surface inside the containment. The cooling system would have been restored eventually, and the molten core cooled to a manageable temperature. The containment would have been cleaned up on the inside. Then a messy job of removing the molten core from the containment would have begun, packing the (now solid again) fuel bit by bit into transportation containers to be shipped to processing plants. Depending on the damage, the block of the plant would then either be repaired or dismantled.

Now, where does that leave us? My assessment:

The plant is safe now and will stay safe.

Japan is looking at an INES Level 4 Accident: Nuclear accident with local consequences. That is bad for the company that owns the plant, but not for anyone else.

Some radiation was released when the pressure vessel was vented. All radioactive isotopes from the activated steam have gone (decayed). A very small amount of Cesium was released, as well as Iodine. If you were sitting on top of the plants’ chimney when they were venting, you should probably give up smoking to return to your former life expectancy. The Cesium and Iodine isotopes were carried out to the sea and will never be seen again.

There was some limited damage to the first containment. That means that some amounts of radioactive Cesium and Iodine will also be released into the cooling water, but no Uranium or other nasty stuff (the Uranium oxide does not “dissolve” in the water). There are facilities for treating the cooling water inside the third containment. The radioactive Cesium and Iodine will be removed there and eventually stored as radioactive waste in terminal storage.

The seawater used as cooling water will be activated to some degree.
Because the control rods are fully inserted, the Uranium chain reaction is not happening. That means the “main” nuclear reaction is not happening, thus not contributing to the activation. The intermediate radioactive materials (Cesium and Iodine) are also almost gone at this stage, because the Uranium decay was stopped a long time ago. This further reduces the activation. The bottom line is that there will be some low level of activation of the seawater, which will also be removed by the treatment facilities.

The seawater will then be replaced over time with the “normal”
cooling water

The reactor core will then be dismantled and transported to a processing facility, just like during a regular fuel change.

Fuel rods and the entire plant will be checked for potential damage.
This will take about 4-5 years.

The safety systems on all Japanese plants will be upgraded to withstand a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami (or worse)

(Updated) I believe the most significant problem will be a prolonged power shortage. 11 of Japan’s 55 nuclear reactors in different plants were shut down and will have to be inspected, directly reducing the nation’s nuclear power generating capacity by 20%, with nuclear power accounting for about 30% of the national total power generation capacity. I have not looked into possible consequences for other nuclear plants not directly affected. This will probably be covered by running gas power plants that are usually only used for peak loads to cover some of the base load as well. I am not familiar with Japan’s energy supply chain for oil, gas and coal, and what damage the harbors, refinery, storage and transportation networks have suffered, as well as damage to the national distribution grid. All of that will increase your electricity bill, as well as lead to power shortages during peak demand and reconstruction efforts, in Japan.

This all is only part of a much bigger picture. Emergency response has to deal with shelter, drinking water, food and medical care, transportation and communication infrastructure, as well as electricity supply. In a world of lean supply chains, we are looking at some major challenges in all of these areas.

If you want to stay informed, please forget the usual media outlets and consult the following websites:






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Cheyenne Rodeo 2010

In late July, 2010, I attended my first ever Rodeo. It took place in Cheyenne Wyoming. We had been on vacation in Denver Colorado and the Rodeo just happened to be on whilst we were in Colorado.
It was a fun event and I learned a lot about Rodeo. I travelled there with my wife and our grand daughter Ella. We all had a great time.

Here is a Cowboy roping a calf. There was also bull-riding, bare-back horse riding and bucking broncos.


Cheyenne is the capitol of Wyoming, and about a 90 minute drive North of Denver, Colorado, where we were having a summer vacation.

Oil and Gas Well Frac-ing

Recently I was a guest at an oil-gas well frac-ing (Process of fracturing the down-hole rock formations). The location was way out in west Texas not far from a little town of Pyote. This was my first experience at a well during drilling or under development.

I did some preliminary research on what I might see, and that was very helpful in understanding the tour. The tour lasted about one hour, but seemed much shorter. I was amazed at all the infrastructure in place.

If you want to read more on frac-ing, then head on over to frac-ing at Wikipedia. The description there is pretty much spot on.

The well in question is very deep, drilled down about 12,000ft and then out horizontally to about 4,000ft.

The multi step process.


1) a series of explosives located along a special piece of drill pipe are lowered and then pushed (in the horizontal section) to the desired position. This section of drill pipe may be 48ft or longer, and the explosives are grouped in batches along about 12ft. Electric wires to trigger the shots run up to a control center at the surface. Once in place at its lowest position, the lower set of shots are fired, and the drill pipe is raised about 12ft or more to the next target zone. this process continues until all shots are fired, and the pipe is brought back to the surface.

2) a complex plug, about 3ft long, is sent down hole and is locked at the lower point of the area to be fractured.

3) a slurry of water and proppant (tiny balls of Aluminum Oxide – smaller than the ball in a ballpoint pen) is pumped at high pressure down the well. This slurry can contain several other chemicals to improve efficiency (such as surfactant) and measurement (isotope tracers). I don’t think there were any tracers used at the site I visited. The slurry is pumped down at a continuous high pressure. This can be 7,000p.s.i and greater. Once started, it needs to continue until certain flow rates/pressure changes are detected in the elaborate control center at the surface.

The aim of the process is to open up small fissures in the rock formations below, to allow greater flows of hydrocarbons into the well. This can lead to better economies and return on exploration and development investment.

The Site



site Image


The Equipment


Water Tanks


More Water Tanks


Did I mention Water Tanks?


I would estimate there were 60 or more tanks of different shapes and sizes. Water is critical to the process and must not run out during frac-ing. It is stockpiled in readiness to the commencement and then a steady stream of water trucks will deliver more during the process.

The Proppant


The proppant is stockpiled and there were several large tanks loaded with the substance. The tanks were very similar to the water tanks, but are closer to the slurry mixer and pumper trucks.


This shows one of the trucks that delivers the proppant.

The Pumper Trucks




There were about 10 of these monster trucks, parked 5 abreast in two rows, each row backing up to the other row. This area was out-of-bounds due to running machinery and noise.

Shot Firing



This truck is the logging and firing control center.


Here you see the crew arming the explosive charges in the drill pipe, ready to send it down the hole. No cell phones or walkie-talkies in this area!


A partial length of the explosives pipe. It will be more than twice this length when ready for lowering and firing.

Multi Function Pipe Truck



This truck manages a giant spool of 2inch steel piping. The pipe is a single length of about three miles long. One use is to push the bottom plug down the hole and around the bend where the hole heads off horizontally. As mentioned earlier, this horizontal section is about 4000ft long. The well head can be seen to the right of the photo, as well as in the next…


That pretty much ends the tour. There was one other interesting truck which was not photographed. This was the main control center for the mixing and pumping operations. Mounted on another large truck, it housed around four technical operators controlling such things as water transfer pumps, the slurry mixers and ingredient controls, and the ten large pumper trucks. Lots of computers and screens to monitor in the operations room.

Thanks go to David H Arrington Oil and Gas of Midland, Tx and to Halliburton of Houston, Tx and their staff.

John Griffiths

Denver Colorado

We have been in Denver now for our summer break and have been very impressed with the city and surrounding areas. One problem we have noticed is the traffic congestion, but that is pretty much the case in all larger cities these days.

The past couple of weeks we have been entertaining friends from South Carolina. We took a road trip to Moab Ut., Canyon de Chelly Az. and Grand Canyon North Az. We all had a great time but some of the travel distances were more than first thought.

The National Parks around Moab were most fascinating and well worth the visit.


Clarionet in Clarion v6.1

RTF Control in Clarionet.

I have a client who has been running a program across a WAN using Clarionet. System was written several years ago in Clarion for Windows 6.1 and has not been modified for several years.

Recently he wanted an additional feature so that the system would generate some documents.
I was apprehensive in making the changes so built a small additional standa alone program to test with Clarionet. The programs are all Legacy template initially.

I needed to add a window with an RTF text window so the system could open a template .RTF document, and replace some tokens, then produce a print preview of the letter at the client side PC.

I knew that the Clarion for Windows RTF control was not going to behave in a Clarionet screen, so this had to be built to run without showing the RTF window and without any Clarionet code. By starting with a generated procedure, I then placed several OMIT statements to exclude any Clarionet generated calls. Next I added all my INIT, Document Open and KILL statements to right after the OPEN(Window) statement. Then I did the token replacements and saved the finished document as an RTF file.

Back in the calling procedure, I then passed the document’s filename to a report procedure, and placed the RTF file into a detail/text (rtf) control. This report then generated and the preview was auto-magically transferred to the client side PC. Done.

Now that I had got it working in a stand alone EXE, and it all worked OK, I then moved it into the trusty DLL written about 6 years ago. This worked fine and nothing got broken.

John Griffiths

terabytes bite

Oh Boy this hurts…



As an older computer user, this blows my mind.

And I know from talking with many friends, this deal sounds beyond comprehension.
Makes me wonder where things will be in 5 years.
My first PC was a TRS-80 with 16K of ram and an external cassette sound recorder for more permanent storage. I remember I paid over $2000 for it.

Get the drive at frys.com


We Got Hit

Where we live in Australia in the southern summer, we got hot with a massive hail storm last Monday.


Our property sustained significant hail damage, as did out neighbours and surrounding area.

The hail was mostly golf-ball in size, with some the size of hen’s eggs. It all happened at about 3:30pm in the afternoon.

We were sitting outside on a pleasant afternoon and could see a bank of wild rolling cloud approaching from the north. I took some video with by standard Canon digital camera.

Then the storm hit! The hail was sporadic at first, then after about 4 minutes, it was a constant hammering of hail for about 45 minutes. We had to retreat to inside as even under an out-door patio area, the hail was bouncing off everything.

Damages: Flooding inside. Smashed roof tile and sky-lights. Significant denting of heavy metal patio roofing. Lead flashing on roof all holed. TV antennae broken. Garden shed roof holed. Luckily our motor vehicle was undercover. Many vehicles in the path of the storm had broken glass and lots of dents.

The State has declared the event a natural disaster.

Trying to get repairs is hopeless, as all services are stressed to the max. I have managed to put temporary fixes on a few things. Today we removed water laden carpets from one room.

But all in all, we are lucky as we survived and still have a home to live in.



Remote MS-SQL2005 Connection Problem

I have a program I am trying to get ready for potential users to download and test. This is a program developed in Clarion For Windows (6.3). The testing database is a MS-SQL2005 system which is hosted on a shared server at discountasp.net and the server is located in Los Angeles. My users will most likely be located in Australia.

The problem I saw was the initial time it takes to make a connection to the remote database, and then a further delay with each Table I was opening. These turned out to be two separate issues.

Initial Connection:

The time taken to establish the initial connection was in the order of 20+ seconds. The connection was being attempted before the main APPFrame screen was being displayed. So expecting someone to start a program and wait 20+ seconds before the first screen response was not going to work. This lead me to build a separate “Starter” program with just one screen that received staged updates from the main program, and then once the AppFrame opened, the “Starter” program simply closed, or displayed any error applicable. The Starter program also had a Seconds Elapsed display and a notice that they may need to wait 20 seconds to connect to the database.

But why was this initial connection taking so long? I could fire up MS-Studio Express and connect in about 4 seconds. It was only the Clarion program that was very slow to connect. This I would research further and eventually solve. See below.

Slow File Opening:

The time taken to open a Browse/List screen was also slow. It was taking about 5 seconds per table to open. Again, this is just too slow. I solved this by adding the Driver switches /FASTCOLUMNFETCH = TRUE to most tables. That has helped. I also set the program to Keep Files Open and I opened a few of the larger tables (those with more columns, not rows).


After spending several days fiddling with the various Driver switches, I was resigned to the fact that it would take 20+ seconds to connect. I started looking for another closed SQL server that would be hosted in Australia. Then, along came Christmas and I took some time off from the development computer. I was relaxing out-doors and just for kicks, decided to try running the program from a 10″ netbook with an Atom processor and on a local wireless network. I started up the program, which worked just fine, and got connected to my Los Angeles database server in about 4 seconds. Could not believe my eyes! Looked at the data and yes, this was indeed coming from the LA database. This little netbook had no database stuff loaded, no MS-SQL and had very few programs installed. Basically it had IE and Firefox for travelling.

So, back to the development PC which could not be 20 seconds slower than the netbook.

I tried several things… Stop all running MS-Servers, Stop a bunch of system services that were running (pretty much anything that looked like a network service). Still I could not get any faster connection from the PC.

Next I remembered someone on the Clarion Database forum had mentioned SQL Native Client. This certainly was not installed on the netbook. But it was on my PC. I had another notebook PC laying around that did have some SQL stuff installed. It was running MSSQL2005 database. I tried running my program on that notebook and it also would connect in 4 seconds. The laptop also had MS SQL Native Client installed, albeit an older version of SQLNCLI.dll. OK, after backing up my newer SQLNCLI.dll I copied the older one from the Laptop to my Development PC. Testing the program again I was still taking 20+ seconds to connect. Then I renamed the file SQLNCLI.dll (located in \windows\system32 ) and tried again. This time I finally managed to connect in about 4 seconds. I put the original SQLNCLI.dll back and connection time again went out to 20+ seconds.

So there was a problem with the SQLNCLI DLL that was causing the problem. I researched this in several places on the internet and found one other report of this problem. But there was no resolution there.

Next I went to Control Panel, and un-installed SQL Native Client. Now I was back to 4 second connect times. OK, Let’s put the Native Client back in. So I downloaded the latest MSSQL2005 version( which turned out to contain the exact same DLL that I was having problems with, and now I was able to connect in about 4 seconds each time the test program started.

MS SQL Native Client (or a related setting) had been the problem all along. By removing and re-installing I had solved the major connection problem. But I had wasted about 4 days getting to that stage! Oh well, that’s computing.

John Griffiths


Finally I Get To See Snow Falling

Having lived most of my life in Australia, I first saw actual snow about 15 years ago on the Swiss Alps. But it was summer there at the time so I did not see snow falling, and had never seen it fall until last month. We were driving up Mt Rainier (just south of Seattle), and it started to snow as we drove higher.

This was a first for me, but Candace had seen it all before!


Hey! What is all that white stuff falling here?


Airbus A380 Travel

We recently returned from LAX to Sydney an a new Qantas A380. This was a good experience and the very large plane was great to travel on. It was perhaps quieter than the usual Boeing B747 we usually travel on when taking this route.


We were in Cattle-class and the seating was (or seemed to be) a little more spacious than the B747.