Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Japan Earthquake and Tsunami

It has been incredible to see videos of just how quickly the Tsunami hit the villages in Japan after what they are now calling a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, tied for the 4th strongest quake in recorded (modern) history. I think I read somewhere that this period is only about 110 years or so.
Watching the video of people clamoring up the hillsides trying to escape the fast approaching water I noticed in one video that it looked like one group of people got held up at some point and were not able to continue, as if one or two of them had collapsed and the rest were trying to assist them when the water caught up to them and possibly carrying one or more of them away. By most estimates it took less than 10 minutes after the big quake for the first waves then the bigger surge to hit shore.
The miracles of babies being pulled out of rubble, the elderly man being plucked by U.S. aircraft carrier crew from the rooftop of his home floating 10 miles offshore. It seems like a miracle that he survived such an ordeal. An even greater miracle that the baby had survived. The death toll has reached 4300 so far with thousands still missing.
Now the great people of Japan have to deal with the threat of a nuclear melt down at one of their power plants. Some people have been quick to say the plants were poorly constructed and that the same thing can happen in the U.S. The plant in Japan survived the earthquake.
It was the Tsunami that really did it in. What the water from the Tsunami did was take out the power generators that provide power to the water pumps used to keep the nuclear rods cool. This caused the cores to overheat, burn off what water they had around them and become exposed causing the temperatures to rise even further.
So it seems to me that to help prevent such an accident here is to assure the nuclear plants are seismically sound and that there are multiple power backup and cooling systems. As a power generator a nuclear power plant could use some of the electricity it generates to charge a battery backup system that could be used to provide power to the water pumps should all other external power supplies be rendered inoperable. To clarify that thought, use live power from the nuclear power generators, if that fails or is shut down, then on-site gas powered generators should kick in. If that fails or runs out of fuel (most likely large diesel generators) then the battery backups would kick in.
If the power plant is near a location which would be subject to Tsunamis then these generators and battery systems should be placed on the plant rooftops or strongly reenforced man-made structures close enough to provide power through lines that are high above the ground so the Tsunami can't wipe them out. While they are at it, the battery systems could have a solar panel backup recharging system to use the power of the sun to help keep them charged or at the very least delay their total drainage of power should they be called into action. That might buy enough time to get one or more of the other power systems operational again.
I don't know, perhaps we already have such systems in place. If not, what are we waiting for?

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