March 18th, 2011

Not really what I wanted to hear:

Amid widening alarm in the United States and elsewhere about Japan’s nuclear crisis, military fire trucks began spraying cooling water on spent fuel rods at the country’s stricken nuclear power station late Thursday after earlier efforts to cool the rods failed, Japanese officials said.

The United States’ top nuclear official followed up his bleak appraisal of the grave situation at the plant the day before with a caution that it would “take some time, possibly weeks,” to resolve.

That would, of course, be bad on so many levels, especially if it means that the current level of uncertainty, that things could get much worse, continues for that length of time. People here are waiting for some sign that things will be all right, that normalcy has a chance to return. The situation as it is is akin to having a loaded gun pointed at you by an unstable individual. Maintaining that for days has been stressful; for weeks would be, well, not fun.

Personally, also not the best time–we are smack in the middle of a home purchase here in Tokyo, with contractual obligations that demand we commit to a half-million dollar purchase within two weeks–or forfeit about $30,000 in lost deposits and realtor commissions. I’m willing to drop the thirty grand if necessary, of course. It’s the uncertainty that makes it a bit more difficult. I’d love to talk to a legal expert about this sort of thing–are there extenuating circumstances in the face of a nuclear crisis that allows for such things to be put on hold?

  1. Troy
    March 18th, 2011 at 07:43 | #1

    yeah, this was the story that scared me more than I already am.

    I also saw two stories on fire crews being deployed from Tokyo. One late at night and one (with a hook & ladder truck) this morning I think.

    Both had highly militaristic send-off ceremonies that had the seriousness of those filmed kamikaze send offs in 1944.

    I wouldn’t worry about the house — in for a penny in for a pound. You’ve got to live somewhere and if Tokyo has to be evacuated or whatever you’re going to have bigger problems than having a recourse loan with the bank I think.

  2. Troy
    March 18th, 2011 at 07:59 | #2

    Watching NHK I see somebody stole 8l of gas from a school storeroom.

    If the gasoline situation gets bad thieves will start punching gas tanks.

    Cars have anti-siphon gates now, but a screwdriver can punch the tank pretty easily.

  3. Troy
    March 18th, 2011 at 08:17 | #3

    Oh great:



  4. Troy
    March 18th, 2011 at 09:02 | #4

    This was funny:


    though I think the truth is more on the former . . .

  5. Troy
    March 18th, 2011 at 09:28 | #5

    According to press conference going on now, common spent fuel pool is OK, only down 10-15cm, temperature around 50 deg.

  6. z
    March 18th, 2011 at 12:24 | #6

    Linked in the NTY article, but if anyone missed it.

    Here’s the more conservative 50 mile radius proposed by the US with additional data:


  7. Troy
    March 18th, 2011 at 13:14 | #7

    Not much difference between 20km and 80km.

    The situation hasn’t seemed to escalate today.

    The fate of Japan maybe rests with these guys now:

    This is too much like a disaster movie.

    Things are supposed to get resolved now that we are seemingly coming to the crux.

  8. Ken sensei
    March 18th, 2011 at 13:25 | #8

    Yes, it’s distressing to have the threat of a major nuclear accident looming. We all can relate to your pain because we felt it here in the States during the Gulf spill.

    But I believe you need to visualize the ‘big picture’. You and the missus are planning to live in your new house a good twenty or thirty years, right? And you said yourself that the house showed little sign of earthquake damage. Moreover, you guys spent all that time searching for the perfect location. It would be a shame to give that up now.

    So let’s not let a little nuclear accident, massive earthquake and tsunami ruin your dream!

    OK, all kidding aside, you gotta accept the fact that Japan is earthquake country, so no matter where you go, it’s gonna shake and rattle. I am certain that one day this event will be just a memory once you get settled in. Don’t let it take your eyes off the prize, so to speak.

    This too shall pass!

    My 2 cents,


    March 18th, 2011 at 14:27 | #9

    I fully agree with Kensensei.

  10. Troy
    March 18th, 2011 at 15:08 | #10

    Well, here’s a really “oh-shit” update from the LA Times:


    I think this is entirely correct. The pictures of unit 4 are just horrifying.

    NHK just announced they stopped the JASDF water delivery to unit 3 after only 3 shots out of the 7 scheduled. I think they’re going to try with the real rescue pump trucks next?

    I guess they weren’t reaching the pool and the dosage was too much for the effect they were having.

  11. Troy
    March 18th, 2011 at 16:15 | #11

    Maybe I’m wrong about the SDF water shooting. NHK is saying there were 6, I guess they were shooting in pairs.

    Pretty diffident effort. Just spraying water on the rods just causes the metal cladding to react with the air. These things need to be immersed under 10+ feet of water.

  12. Troy
    March 18th, 2011 at 16:54 | #12

    it’s astounding to me that the first three questions to the Chief Cabinet Minister’s press conference are stupid politics about adding a cabinet minister to handle rebuilding.

  13. Troy
    March 18th, 2011 at 17:15 | #13

    Have you seen this:


    Rachel Maddow on fuel rods.

  14. z
    March 18th, 2011 at 20:14 | #14

    The water spraying operations look more and more like “photo ops” for the media unfortunately – and endangering the pilots and firefighters.

    I don’t like where this is going, let’s hope for the new power line and some intact pumps on Sat / Sun.

  15. Tim Kane
    March 19th, 2011 at 00:24 | #15

    In the law of contracts there is a concept of Force Majeure or Acts of God.

    This is similar to mistake of fact in contract. If I am selling you a painting, and you believe it is a Picasso, and I believe it is a Picasso but it is not a Picasso, then we have a mutual mistake of fact. In that condition a contract is voided – because contracts are based upon “mutual agreement of minds”. In such a condition, the mutual minds is not achieved.

    In the case of an act of god or Force Majeure, you have a situation where both parties operated under similar expectation of conditions in the future… This is a good basis for changing student loans for recent college graduates: the contracts they signed, back, say in 2002, both the loaning party and the student assumed that they would be graduating into a normal or semi-normal economy (perhaps a recession where jobs are difficult to get, but not a great recession where gainful employment is near impossible to get). However we are in a Great Recession – neither party foresaw these conditions as even remotely possible back in 2002 (if either party had, that party would not have entered into the agreement). This creates a theoretical basis for rewriting these contracts – though not so clean in the real world. Most well written contracts should have an act of god clause built into them.

    The situation is more debatable in cases of unilateral mistake of fact. If I am selling you a paiting, you think its a picasso, I know it is not, then the contract is normally still binding. There is an exception: If I know about your mistake of fact – meaning I know it is not a Picasso, AND I know you actually think it is a Picasso – in such a scenario the contract is void as it is basically a fraud or passing off.

    I doubt if any of this helps, but there’s some background for you to consider as you look back again at the contracts you have entered into in regard to buying your house. You also have to consider that the law of Japan in regard to these matters – I studied Japanese law in law school, but I don’t remember much concerning their idiosyncrasies in contracts. My guess is that the general trend is not to allow current events upset existing contracts or at least as little as possible because of a desire to maintain normalcy, but that’s just a guess.

    Good luck either way. The way things look to me, is, like Chernoble, like soldiers dying, some poor souls are going to have to be the heros and go in and put the issue to rest for the sake of the rest of us and especially the 125 million people of Japan. This is, of course, a terrible stituation but your investment is sheilded first by the brave souls and second by the other 125 million people of Japan who’s lives are ultimately at risk if this situation isn’t resolved. I say us, because those plumes are heading this way (to America).

  16. rockhead
    March 19th, 2011 at 04:02 | #16

    Some thoughts on your real estate transaction:

    Current damage is very large, I have read number ranges
    of 500billion to 2 trillion$ This is in the 1 5% GDP range

    Electric generation has been reduced 5% for the country,
    and maybe 20% of Tokyo ( This will probably get replaced by LNG )

    Scenario 1 – Worst case
    – It takes a long time to get the radiation under control ( > 4 weeks ? )
    – At least once, there is a weather change and a large radiation emission that is
    percieved to be dangerous and causes disruption in Tokyo, i.e. some evacuations,
    people have to hunker down indoors, …
    – Japan economy takes a BIG hit- recession, equity markets decline > 20%, lots of bankruptcies
    and increase in unemployment …

    Scenario 2 – Middle case
    – A clear path emerges for controlling the radiation – but it will take a while (2-4 weeks) to implement
    – Tokyo gets some radiation but the levels are percieved as not serious
    – Japan economy fluctuates, but in a stable way, equity markets correct, but recovery efforts
    are also put underway, and economy slowly gets stable.

    Scenario 3 – ‘Lets get lucky’
    – Power is restored to nuke plants this weekend, all cooling systems start working
    – Radiation levels go way down, such that radiation emissions are small and controlled,
    and a clear plan for cleanup begins
    – Japan economy starts big snap back- all the people who left tokyo start returning

    What are the consequences that would make it absolutely certain you should NOT
    do this real estate deal ?
    – You lose your job OR
    – Real estate values decline MORE than the percent of money you would
    have to surrender to get out of this deal OR
    – Life in Tokyo becomes so miserable that you don’t want to live there anymore.

    Scenario 1 seems like it would trigger all these consequences. My guess is
    that maybe you and your brother think this scenario probability are about 1/1000, I
    would put these chances as not likely, but significant, say at 1/20 or something.

    Something like scenario 2 actually seems pretty likely to me, say about 50 to 80%,
    and in this scenario the consequences above are less likely, but still may occur.

    If scenario 3 occurs, I don’t think the consequences will happen.

    What actions can you take right now on this ?
    Monitor the situation closely ( like you are not gonna do that ! ).

    Dont commit to the real estate deal till the last moment, to see if you
    can tell which scenario becomes more likely.

    See if you can get an extension on the commit date.
    See if there is some ‘Act of God’ clauses in the documents you have signed.
    Talk to a lawyer, one who specializes in this sort of thing – this is perhaps
    the most immediate step to take – spend some money to get some real good advice.

  17. Troy
    March 19th, 2011 at 04:19 | #17

    ^ rockhead above has better advice than my above to gamble on things being OK.

    I’m in his #2 camp, I can’t rule out #3 on the Fukushima front but I do know there’s going to be no easy economic recovery from this.


    NHK has been running excellent human interest stories on the survivors.

    One guy had his fishing boat construction business wiped out. He says he can’t do anything for a year.

    The government is going to have to figure out how to get hundreds of thousands of people back on their feet.

    Yesterday some idiot in the press conference with Edano said why don’t you close the Shizuoka nuclear plant since it too is in danger from the Tokai fault.

    From this awesome video on the Hyper Rescue Force:


    I learned that Disneyland is closing for the foreseeable future.

    Japan’s economy runs on electricity and diesel. Both are constrained and these are simply immense hits to productivity, in terms of both industrial processes and agriculture.

    This is wartime now.

  18. Troy
    March 19th, 2011 at 05:32 | #18

    I was beginning to think the doom about the spent fuel pools is over-done . . .

    then I watched this:


  19. z
    March 19th, 2011 at 05:44 | #19

    Some good news. Saturday:

    An external transmission line has been connected to Japan’s stricken nuclear power plant and authorities say electricity can be supplied.

    In a statement Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) said it “planned to supply Unit 2 [reactor No. 2] first, followed by Unit 1, Unit 3 and Unit 4 … because Unit 2 is expected to be less damaged”.

    Of course, you can’t simply switch on power due to the damages. But even if just unit 2 can be connected with some pumps working, there is one unit less to worry about for the operators.

  20. Troy
    March 19th, 2011 at 05:51 | #20

    Don’t watch part two of that if you want to stay in Japan . . .


    I don’t know if he’s just a old crackpot with an anti-nuke axe to grind.

    Nuclear people say Chernobyl hasn’t poisoned Europe the way he says radioactive particles will poison Japan.

    I do feel he is more in touch with the facts than the nuclear apologists we’ve seen come out trying to minimize the danger this week.

  21. Troy
    March 19th, 2011 at 06:13 | #21

    there is one unit less to worry about for the operators.

    actually part 1 of above:


    gets into that. Just getting AC to the plants may not in fact help in that they all look like Al Qaeda fired a truckload of RPG-7s into them now.

    I think he’s on to something here since the official story is the cores of 1 & 2 aren’t fully immersed yet. If they had external pumping going through a functional cooling system there should be no problem cooling the cores in 1, 2, 3.

    At the start he’s saying even in days after stopping there’s still 1 MW of power being generated by the cores for a very long time . . . over a year that’s the equivalent of about a 1500 tons of burning coal being stuck inside the reactor.

    The Spent Fuel Pool of Unit 4 has about 4500 tons of coal in it by this measure.

    Note: these calculations may be useless and utterly wrong. Corrections welcome.

    1000 KW x 365 days x 24 hrs/day = 8.7e6 kwh of energy to disperse the first year.

    Coal has 6000 kwh/ton . . .

  22. Hernan3
    March 19th, 2011 at 11:31 | #22

    Everyone can stop worrying now.
    Anne Coulter says radiation is good for you!

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