Minispike: You survived the meltdown, now get the T-shirt

 (More pontifications from the purple velour armchair)

While the crisis at Fukushima Daiichi has slipped from the front pages (and even the inside ones) of much of the world’s press, it became clear on May 12 that reactor No. 1 was far worse shape than TEPCO had suspected, at least publicly—although it came as no huge shock to this dilettanteish student of the only comparable incident, Three Mile Island—with the core in complete meltdown, a situation likely to have been replicated in reactors No. 2 and No. 3.

The response of Kunihiko Takeda, Vice-Chancellor of the Institute of Science and Technology Research at Chubu University, Director of the Asahi Chemical Industries Uranium Enrichment Laboratory (1986-1991), recipient of the Special Award of the Atomic Energy Society of Japan (1990), anthropogenic climate change denier, pointless controversialist, general buffoon, and a man whose views, unusually for a scientist, are largely unencumbered by empirical evidence, was that:

It’s neither a surprise nor bad news. This means TEPCO has been pumping lots of water in the reactor without knowing what exactly is happening in it, which is the best thing TEPCO could do.

A response that in this reader prompted a mixture of reactions: laughter, recollection of the Upton Sinclair quip, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it”, marvel at the eternal optimism of the sunlit mind, and despair at the state of higher education. At least the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in its latest update as of this writing, has the decency to concede that, “Overall, the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant remains very serious”.

Letdown and putdown, takedown and breakdown, comedown and meltdown—compound nouns derived from phrasal verbs and the adverb “down” are, well, real downers, and it’s no wonder that the IAEA prefers “core melt accident”. “Meltdown” will suffice for me, although the question of whether we have indeed survived will remain moot until cold shutdown, one compound “down” noun that will come—perhaps in a year’s time—as blessed relief.

The roles of nuclear power and renewables in the solution to the twin crises of energy depletion and climate change that two centuries of fossil fuel addiction have wrought are of course subject to monstrously complex debate and beyond the scope of meaningful contribution here from me, who like many, resents being forced to think about things nuclear and who would much rather be writing about the decay of hot-springs resorts than the decay of radioactive isotopes.

For now I choose to take refuge in black humor, and it is therefore with pleasure that I present a garment whose time has come, the Plutonium kun T-shirt.

 The tee is available in a choice of white or speckled gray from Tokyo T-shirt outfit Small Design here, for Y3,400 ($42)—not cheap, true, but then quality rarely is.

When I first wrote about Plutonium kun on April 2, I mentioned how hard it was to track down shots of the elusive lad. It isn’t any more, as he has gone viral (in Japan at least), as an image engine search for プルトくん or プルト君 will show. It’s my ardent dream, although an unlikely to be fulfilled one, that he become as internationally famous as the nuclear trefoil—or at least as famous as Radioactive Man and Fallout Boy from The Simpsons.

While the Plutonium kun tee has understandably streaked to the top of its sales ranking, Small Design has been churning out other T-shirt designs inspired by Fukushima Daiichi, including this one, hot off the screenprint press, in commemoration of the confirmation of the meltdown

 and this one,

inspired by a prankster’s brilliantly surreptitious addition

to the Myth of Tomorrow mural at Shibuya station by legendary avant-garde artist Taro Okamoto, a story that has only barely seeped out into the global media.

Order your nuclear tee now and wear it with pride —all the best people are sporting them this season.

[With many thanks to reader Jeffrey for the tip-off]

16 responses to “Minispike: You survived the meltdown, now get the T-shirt

  1. Great! Thats a few Christmas presents for nephs and nieces sorted for me already!

  2. That add to the mural is brilliant. Maybe, just maybe, at least folks in the Kanto are waking up. And as goes the Kanto, so goes much of the nation.

    • Good, isn’t it? I think it and the T-shirts show there’s a satirical undercurrent about that is often (deliberately) overlooked.
      FWIW, many of my assertions and insinuations here at Spike have been gloriously wrong (at least near-term)–about Hitachi being an irredeemable basket-case of a company (healthy profits for the last fiscal year), about Huis ten Bosch being beyond redemption (visitor numbers up over 30% over Golden Week), for instance–and I may have been wrong too when I said there will be no debate on the future of nuclear power here. We’ll see.

  3. Quentin Hardy

    “Little Friend Pluto Kun” is an old TEPCO mascot. I wrote about him for The Wall Street Journal in 1993. As I recall, he said things like “I feel bad about being used in war,” and later proved how safe he was by being in water that a guy drinks then pisses out, saying as he leaves the toilet, “I feel so fresh!”

  4. it became clear on May 12 that reactor No. 1 was far worse shape than TEPCO had suspected, at least publicly—

    what’s odd is that you can go back a very long way:

    http://www.meti.go.jp/press/20110326005/20110326005-3.pdf

    and find the data from NISA right out in the open. In that data dump from 3/26 you can see NISA saying the core #1 is 1600mm uncovered, running at 200deg C (very hot), and there’s 35 Sv/hr of contamination in the drywell, which is normally safe enough to picnic in.

    Hattori-giin’s pdf datasheet from 3/19 shows:

    炉心溶融 (7割損傷?) for Unit 1 . . .

    NYT story from April 2:

    “Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Friday that roughly 70 percent of the core of one reactor at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan had suffered severe damage.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/02/world/asia/02japan.html?_r=3&ref=global-home

    • Capisce for the most part, although I guess the temperature you refer to is the unholy 2,123deg C at the 給水ノズル. Still, no one was prepared to concede complete meltdown until last week. Who knows with any degree of authority whether this is conspiracy, cock-up or simple honest guessing by a panicked TEPCO in a situation beyond its bounds of understanding? The IAEA, I see, in their latest, not updated, presentation dated May 5, have “Around half of Fuel is uncovered” at No.1 for “Water level of RPV”.
      http://www.slideshare.net/iaea/technical-briefing-11-0505
      (Why do they feel the need to capitalize “Fuel”, I find that disturbing.)
      You’re obviously deeply immersed in the Fukushima Daiichi data–might I ask whether this is in any way professional, or did you pour yourself into it in the wake of the events of 3/11?

    • What’s odd about that? The -1600mm water level is what has been claimed all along, now after the 12/5 announcement the water level would effectively be something below -4000mm.

      Some plots of the reported data, you can see that the water level graphs are miraculously flat and that the temperatures actually peaked a lot higher a couple days before the 26th:
      http://www.gengikyo.jp/report/pdf/1Fparameter.pdf

      • I’ll let you nuclear mavens duke it out on this one. Orz, did you like Phil develop an interest in the physics of boiling water reactors in the last couple of months? I find people’s manifold reactions to the disaster, in particular to the nuclear aspects of it, almost as intriguing as the disaster itself.

  5. >or did you pour yourself into it in the wake of the events of 3/11?

    yeah just a hobby. I didn’t know a milliSievert from a megaSievert two months ago . . .

    The most useful explanations two months ago were coming from the NHK News analysts dudes, they were largely ahead of anyone else, though I got the feeling they couldn’t say all they wanted.

    Eg. in the above data pdf:
    http://www.meti.go.jp/press/20110326005/20110326005-3.pdf

    the drywell pressures of 2 & 3 are listed at 0.1MPa (abs) which is just another way of saying at atmospheric pressure, but nobody really framed the data that way to the public, nor asked why the containment was so low.

    Interesting now that they’re saying #3’s hydrogen offgassing was piped over and #4’s conflagration. It was very curious when they were saying #4’s pool was OK but the whole place had burned up, since there wasn’t anything else in the building to really burn up like that, but that explanation makes sense, as much as anything can nowadays.

    • All very interesting. So where do you stand, if anywhere, on the future nuclear roadmap and the only two new-location nuclear stations under construction (which particularly interest me), Oma at the tip of the Shimokita peninsula, being built by J-Power, and Kaminoseki in Yamaguchi on the Inland Sea, being built by Chugoku Electric? (You could argue that Kaminoseki isn’t technically under construction yet, but…) You don’t hear much about Oma in particular, a MOX specialty plant, perhaps because it’s so remote.

      • I like nuclear power in general but we need to have better fail-safe technologies, eg. this business of packing nuclear fuel pellets in a casing made of a metal that produces an exothermic reaction in water, producing copious amounts of hydrogen gas, has to be re-thought.

        We also need to more accurately account for the full life-cycle costs of nuclear energy. Uranium-plutonium cycle has its problems (not least of which we’re running out of uranium)

        http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/09/businesspro-us-pdac-uranium-idUSTRE7287MB20110309

        . . . thorium-cycle reactors have their own hazardous complications, as do molten salt reactors.

        What can work for us well is just mere guesswork for any non-technical person like me, we need to aggressively R&D various reactor ideas, see if we can find any technologies that make sense to deploy.

        We used to do this in the 1960s, even to the extent of setting a reactor up to blow itself up, just to see what happened:

        http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,940868,00.html

        http://www.nasaimages.org/luna/servlet/detail/nasaNAS~5~5~20127~125300:Destruction-of-KIWI-Nuclear-Reactor

        for the money shot.

      • Your conclusions sound very level-headed. Without wanting to trawl the Internet for hours, is it the case that we’re really running out of uranium or facing a temporary supply bottleneck? The dateline on the Reuters article is a little treasure all by itself–March 9.
        I love the Time account to bits. It’s so wonderfully reckless in an Atomic Age/Mad Men way, from the title on down:
        “The reactor was a Kiwi, an obsolete experimental nuclear rocket engine built at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory and used only for brief tests. It was set on an expendable railroad car on Nevada’s desolate Jackass Flats and surrounded with a motley array of test objects—nuclear fuels, explosives, radiation detectors, air samplers.”
        Thank goodness the railroad car was expendable! I also adore the subtitle “poison for toads”, which a quick Google search suggests occurs just four times on the entire web and carries the elemental force of the very best proverb. It would make a fantastic book title. But here I go again careening off on literary tangents.
        Is there any single resource (or a couple) you’d recommend where people can sort their pluthermals from their pebble-beds?

  6. One of Prof. Takeda’s utterances:
    “When it comes to tests, longer answers deserve higher scores. I tell students in advance that the test is not based on the quality of the essay, only its length. ”
    could this have something to do with the status of Japanese equity research?

    • Indeed it could! Very sound point. Reminds me of what we used to say about meaningless verbosity when I was growing up, in honor of a long-forgotten sitcom with the same title about a pair of tailors, one Jewish, one Irish: “Never mind the quality, feel the width”.

  7. I have complete faith in nuclear engineers developing a perfect reactor.
    I have no faith in human beings running it.

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