Aug. 6, 2011 – CMEs, Geomagnetic Storms, Auroras, Solar Radio Bursts a Review of the Events So Far
Spectacular aurora displays were seen across Europe and in many northern-tier US states.
Analysts at the Goddard Space Weather Lab say that the CME impact may have strongly compressed Earth’s magnetic field, directly exposing satellites in geosynchronous orbit to solar wind plasma.
Another rare phenomenon was triggered by the M9-class solar flare of August 4th – a rare below the horizon solar radio burst. The flare produced a burst of shortwave static so powerful that receivers on Earth picked it up after sunset. Amateur radio astronomer Thomas Ashcraft’s radio telescope in New Mexico recorded the event 1 hour and 54 minutes after sunset and is shown below.
Another indication showing the severe nature of the storm is the K-index. The K-index quantifies disturbances in the horizontal component of earth’s magnetic field on a scale of 0-9 with 1 being calm and 5 or more indicating a geomagnetic storm. Geomagnetic storms have been associated with satellite surface charging and increased atmospheric drag.
Aug. 5, 2011 – 2nd Wave
CME Arrival Time: 2011-08-05 13:55:10.0 GMT (Aug 5 – 11:55 am edt)
Arival Time Confidence Level: ± 6 hours
Disturbance Duration: 5 hours
Disturbance Duration Confidence Level: ± 8 hours
Aug. 5, 2011 – 1st Wave
The first of three CMEs produced by the recent flare activity reached Earth during the late hours of August 4th. The impact was weak and did not produce strong geomagnetic storms – mostly level 1. Two more CMEs are still on the way and, as described below, they have merged into a single cloud that could produce significant storming when they reach Earth.
NASA is predicting that G3 (Strong) Geomagnetic Storm conditions are likely as well as a distinct chance of S2 (Moderate) Solar Radiation Storm levels being surpassed for the morning hours today.
G3 (Strong) Geomagnetic Storm Characteristics
Power systems: voltage corrections may be required, false alarms triggered on some protection devices.
Spacecraft operations: surface charging may occur on satellite components, drag may increase on low-Earth-orbit satellites, and corrections may be needed for orientation problems.
Other systems: intermittent satellite navigation and low-frequency radio navigation problems may occur, HF radio may be intermittent, and aurora may be been seen as low as Illinois and Oregon (typically 50° geomagnetic lat.)
S2 (Moderate)+ Solar Radiation Storm Characteristics
Biological: passengers and crew in high-flying aircraft at high latitudes may be exposed to elevated radiation risk.
Satellite operations: infrequent single-event upsets, possible noise in imaging systems, and slight reduction of efficiency in solar panel are likely.
Other systems: small effects on HF propagation through the polar regions and navigation at polar cap locations possibly affected.
Aug. 4, 2011 Important Update!
For the third day in a row, sunspot 1261 has unleashed a significant M-class solar flare. The latest blast this morning registered M9.3 and would be major event on its own – but that ain’t all!
On August 3, the sun packed a double punch, emitting a M6.0-class flare at 9:43 am EDT and a slightly stronger M9.3-class flare at 11:41 pm EDT. Both flares had significant coronal mass ejections (CMEs) associated with them that will give the Earth a glancing blow.
The newest coronal mass ejection (CME) caused by the flare is expected to combine with one of the earlier and slower CMEs already headed in our direction.
Analysts at the GSFC Space Weather Lab say the combined clouds should reach the Earth in two waves as follows:
CME Arrival Time: 2011-08-05 02:56:02.0 GMT (Aug 4 – 10:56 pm edt)
Arival Time Confidence Level: ± 6 hours
Disturbance Duration: 9 hours
CME Arrival Time: 2011-08-05 13:55:10.0 GMT (Aug 5 – 11:55 am edt)
Arival Time Confidence Level: ± 6 hours
Disturbance Duration: 5 hours
The impact on Earth is likely to be major.
Coronal mass ejections (CME’s) are dynamic events in which plasma which was initially contained on closed coronal magnetic field lines is ejected into interplanetary space.
CMEs interact with the Earth’s magnetosphere and ionosphere, and are responsible for enhanced auroral activity, satellite damage, damage to ground-based electronics, disruption of communication and some power station failures. This being an unusually large event expect any or all of these annoyances.
Still being debated are the possible biological effects of being exposed to these particles for the length of time expected. Adjust according to your needs and circumstance, but don’t ignore this one.
Mass ejections create these disturbances by driving interplanetary shock waves and accelerating particles to relativistic speeds, all of which come “crashing” into the earth’s magnetic environment. There are 50 to 60 billion tons of charged particles bearing down on us.
Click here to see a NASA animation showing the 3 CMEs combining and blasting the Earth.
Click here here to see video of CME erupting from the sun.
To see a previous Pstuph article with more information on CMEs click here.
Aug. 2, 2011
A solar wind stream is currently pummeling Earth’s magnetic field and causing increased geomagnetic activity around the poles. The peak so far has been a G1-class storm that lasted for several hours around the end of July 30th.
The solar wind is the supersonic outflow into interplanetary space of plasma from the Sun’s corona, the region of the solar atmosphere beginning about 4000 km above the Sun’s visible surface and extending several solar radii into space.
There are also multiple active sunspots in play. The magnetic fields of sunspots 1261 & 1263 contain energy for powerful X-class solar flares. Double sunspot 1263 is unusually large. Its two dark cores are each wider than Earth, and the entire region stretches more than 65,000 km from end to end.
A solar flare is an explosion on the Sun that happens when energy stored in twisted magnetic fields is suddenly released. Flares produce a burst of radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves to x-rays and gamma-rays.
Strong Class X flares can bathe the Earth in high doses of ultraviolet radiation and X-rays, hurling huge bursts of solar wind in our direction. When these bursts arrive at our planet, the electrons and protons from the solar wind come into contact with Earth’s magnetic field, and stream toward the magnetic poles.
These types of disturbances can create geomagnetic storms in Earth’s magnetic field.
There are 3 categories scientists use to classify solar flares :
X-class flares are big; they are major events that can trigger planet-wide radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation storms. M-class flares are medium-sized; they can cause brief radio blackouts that affect Earth’s polar regions. Minor radiation storms sometimes follow an M-class flare. Compared to X- and M-class events, C-class flares are small with few noticeable consequences here on Earth.
A powerful flare erupted from the sun this past weekend. The M9-class flare erupted from 1261, but was not oriented in Earth’s direction causing little effect.
Because the sunspot is now turning to face Earth, any such eruptions in the days ahead would likely effect the Earth causing communications disruptions and spectacular auroras.
This has been a busy year for the sun. To see a previous Pstuph article from April where the sun behaved in a similar manner click here.
UPDATE (Apr 7) -TEPCO Completes Nitrogen Injection At Unit 1
An operation to reduce the risk of a hydrogen explosion at the crisis-hit Fukushima Daiichi atomic power station’s No. 1 reactor by injecting it with nitrogen has gone smoothly, the plant’s operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Thursday. Pressure in the reactor’s containment vessel has risen as expected, indicating the success of the operation.
In its operation to prevent a hydrogen explosion at the No. 1 reactor, TEPCO plans to insert nearly 6,000 cubic meters of nitrogen, an inert gas, into the reactor over six days and estimates that about 200 cubic meters were injected between 1:30 a.m. and 9:50 a.m. Thursday.
The firm and the government’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said they believe chances are slim that another hydrogen explosion will occur immediately or that high volumes of radioactive substances will be emitted following the nitrogen injection operation. – Kyodo News (April 7)
UPDATE – Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency – Seismic Damage Information (the 74th Release)
The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency stated that at Units 1 through 4 at Fukushima Daiichi NPS , “White smoke was confirmed to generate continuously.” Reported on April 6.
TEPCO Press Release (Apr 6) – Measures Taken To Prevent Explosion
Injection of Nitrogen to Reactor Containment Vessel of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station Unit 1
“Regarding Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station Unit 1, taking into account the possibility of hydrogen accumulating inside, we have been considering encapsulation of hydrogen by injecting nitrogen to the reactor containment vessel.
Today, we received an order from minister of economy, trade and industry to report on matter such as necessity of encapsulating nitrogen, method for implementation, and impact assessment of safety.
Accordingly, we have compiled related matters and reported to minister of economy, trade and industry today. The report was approved after the deliberation in the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
Based on the report, we will begin injecting nitrogen to the reactor containment vessel of Unit 1 today, around 10:30pm”. END
Update [Apr.9] - TEPCO announced 0n 4_9 that they would perform an additional operation to inject nitrogen gas into the containment vessel of the Number 1 reactor to prevent a possible hydrogen explosion, TEPCO plans to increase the purity of nitrogen gas from 98 percent to 99.98 percent.
UPDATE – TEPCO Press Release (April 4) – Seawater at Unit-2 7.5 Million Times Limit
TEPCO Press Release – Apr 6
“As part of monitoring activity of the surrounding environment, we conducted analysis of plutonium contained in the soil collected on March 21st and 22nd at the 5 spots in Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.As a result, plutonium 238, 239 and 240 were detected. (previously announced)
Subsequently, from the 3 spots where periodic sampling was conducted on March 25th and 28th and from another spot which was supplemented on 25th, we conducted analysis of plutonium contained in the soil. As a result, plutonium 238, 239 and 240 were detected.
In addition, we conducted nuclide analysis of gamma ray contained in the soil collected on March 21st and 22nd at the 5 spots in Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. Such analysis was also conducted on soil collected on March 25th and 28th at the 4 spots. As a result, radioactive materials were detected as described in the exhibit.
Accordingly, we have reported the result of analysis to Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and Fukushima Prefecture. We will continue the radionuclide analysis contained in the soil.”
UPDATE – TEPCO Press Release – April 7
“Additionally Iodine, Cesium, Tellurium, Barium, Niobium, Ruthenium, Molybdenum, Technetium, Lanthanum, Beryllium, Silver have been detected from the sample of soil at the site of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station collected on 21st, 22nd, 25th and 28th of March.”
Today we have received a letter of protest from National Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations (NFFCA) with regard to the discharge of the low level radioactive wastewater from Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station to the sea. We, as the operator of the power station, received the letter with sincerity, being painfully aware of the feelings and concerns of people in the fishery industry.
While the water discharge was an unavoidable emergency measure implemented after the consultation with the national government in order to prevent the spread of high level radioactive substances, protect the essential safety facilities from inundation and maintain the cooling functions of Units 5 and 6, we would like to make our deepest apologies for the concerns and anxieties caused by our insufficient explanation in advance.
With regard to the compensations related to the water discharge and other issues, we will follow the Act on Compensation for Nuclear Damages and sincerely address them with support from the government. We would highly appreciate it if NFFCA could understand the above.
Working closely with the government, we will make every effort toward the earliest resolution of the situation.
April 6, 2011
The Tokyo Electric Power Company, Incorporated
NO-BID MAINTENANCE CONTRACT TO FORMER DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE UNDER-SECRETARY
SYSTEM NOT READY ON 3/11
RadNet – the EPA’s front-line, radiological detection network is severely flawed and suffers from maintenance and reliability issues.
The lack of consistent data and the number of units offline (a techie term for broken) at the time they were most needed shows that the EPA was not prepared for this emergency.
Besides that fact the broken system left us all unprotected; the confusion, apprehension and fear witnessed as people try to wade through the incomplete and inaccurate data online is evidenced by an exchange on the UC Berkely website over this RadNet graph:
The graph shows that this monitoring station was one of the units actually running on 3/11 . The readings were significantly higher prior to 3/11 and drop to a much lower level afterwards. This is an indication that the units were running in an uncalibrated condition and were adjusted only after the events at Fukushima.
Who is responsible for assuring that the system is up and running? The EPA contracted this responsibility to a private company, Environmental Dimensions, Inc.
Environmental Dimensions, Inc (EDI) has provided maintenance for EPA’s RadNet monitoring systems under a sole source contract which can be viewed at the end of this article. The base amount of the contract is $238,000.00. This does not include materials and travel, which is billed back to the government as needed.
The contract was awarded to what is stated as a “Woman-owned 8(a) Small Disadvantaged Business“. The disadvantaged woman in this case is EDI company president Patricia S. Bradshaw, former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense appointed by George Bush.
Could it possibly be that the corporate management at EDI formed the company not out of an altruistic sense of patriotic duty but to cash in on inside information and connections? Did Mrs. Bradshaw’s former DOD employment open the door? Did the fact that she heads a woman-owned business give her company a competitive edge?
EDI’s revenues have doubled in each of the past three years and they currently have 90 employees spread across offices in Albuquerque, Denver and Oak Ridge.
The New Mexico Corporations Division website lists the corporate address as : 1901 CANDELARIA NW ALBUQUERQUE, NM.
A quick Google maps check revealed this building at that location:
This same company also performs radioactive waste remediation and decontamination services for a number of government-funded projects. Do they follow the same cost-cutting, profit-maximizing philosophy as it appears that their maintenance and calibration division practices?
CURRENT NO-BID CONTRACT TO MAINTAIN RADNET MONITORING STATIONS
We know that in the days after the Fukushima nuclear plant began releasing radioactive materials into the atmosphere, all of the “weather readers” on the networks and local channels appeared to be reading from the same script. Soon after “experts” were paraded in front of the camera to dismiss the possibility. We all know now that they were dead wrong!
Examples of this:
March 15, Dr. Perry Kendall (public health officer – British Columbia) said, “winds from Japan take five or six days to reach B.C. and by then any radioactive particles would have dispersed over the Pacific Ocean.“
“Japan has an evacuation area of about 12 miles from the nuclear plants. Washington state is 5,000 to 6,000 miles away from Japan,” Tim Church, a spokesman for the Washington State Department of Health, told the Wall Street Journal in a March 15th article.
March 18, a Baltimore Sun article stated, “There’s just one problem with all this panic: It’s completely irrational. Nuclear radiation can extend around 12 miles from the point of meltdown — not 12-friggin’-thousand miles. “
“Worst-case scenario, there is no threat to public health in California,” said the California Emergency Management Agency Secretary Mike Dayton.
“Based on the type of reactor design and the nature of the accident, we see a very low likelihood — really, a very low probability — that there’s any possibility of harmful radiation levels in the United States or in Hawaii or any other U.S. territories,” Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko stated .
And now that it is here they are all now saying that the levels aren’t harmful.
What I haven’t heard discussed much is whether or not the massive amounts of material flowing into the Pacific Ocean can make it to the US shores.
Fig. 1 is a map of the ocean currents in the Pacific. Much like the jet stream, gulf currents follow fairly predictable seasonal paths.
As you can see, just as with the jet stream there is ample opportunity for ANY material to be transported thousand of miles.
Recently in Bloomberg Business Week, Ken Buesseler, senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts said, “The ocean can absorb significant increases in cesium and iodine, the two most common radioactive isotopes coming from the plant, before it becomes unsafe for humans or marine animals.”
“For cesium and iodine, they are soluble,” Buesseler said “This time of year off the coast of Japan, they would mix with water down 100 feet to 300 feet, and be diluted by a factor of about 100. The currents there would move it to the south, just north of Tokyo, and then out to sea.”
OUT TO SEA???? AND THEN WHERE???
More to come on this issue in a latter post.
On April 26th, 1986 (at approximately 1:25 am) a Level-7 Accident occurred in Unit 4, of the Chernobyl nuclear power station in Ukraine, Soviet Union. In the initial steam explosion and subsequent fires, large amounts of radioactive material were released in the form of gases and dust particles and part of the reactor building was destroyed. The energy released in the explosion was equivalent to 40 tons of TNT and resulted in discharge of about 4% of the reactor’s nuclear fuel to the environment.
The reactor core was completely destroyed and approximately 150 tons of reactor fuel melted and flowed downward through the lower levels of the building, which included the pressure suppression pool.
At 9 PM on the 28th of April, the Soviet Union announced to the world that an accident had occurred. This was two days and nineteen hours after the accident. The Soviet Union has been criticized for inadequate safety procedures and for keeping quiet about the event for so long. The criticism is justified.
Basic deficiencies plagued the RBMK reactor. The Russian-designed RBMK has a graphite moderator and it is cooled by boiling ordinary water. Because of this it is possible to use natural uranium for fuel. A cost and convenience benefit that likely caused the Soviets to “overlook” some of the design issues.
One unfortunate characteristic of the RBMK reactors is that increasing the proportion of steam to water makes the reactivity increase. Increasing reactivity means increasing power (heat), which causes more steam and so on. An uncontrolled positive feedback loop occurs and precipitates a runaway condition. This is referred to by engineers as a positive power coefficient.
Paradoxically, this condition is not created by providing excess power to the reactor but too little. Because of this instability, there was a rule that extended operation was not permitted below 700 MW. Manual intervention by workers was necessary during planned shutdowns to make sure excess steam did not occur as the power dropped below the crucial power level causing instability.
Like U.S. nuclear plants, the Soviet plants have diesel generators to take over if transmission line connections are lost. These generators would supply power for essential components and services but they take nearly a minute to start up and come on line. In previous tests, (presumably at a different RBMK reactor), it was found that as the turbine generator slowed down, the output voltage fell more rapidly than was desired dipping below the 700 MW level.
A new control circuit had just been added to the Unit 4 generator to compensate for the voltage reduction. The accident took place during an experiment conducted at the start of a normal reactor shutdown to test this new circuit. The test was to determine the ability to continue to draw electrical power from a turbine generator coasting down. Startup and shutdown required taking the power level through regions of instability below about 600 MW.
During the test, the staff at the reactor focused their attention on the question of how well the electromechanical equipment worked, and they did not pay attention to reactor effects. The test was under the control of an engineer from the company that supplied the new voltage control equipment.
At 1:00 in the morning of April 25, the plant operators began to reduce power for the scheduled shutdown. To avoid damage to fuel channels from too rapid cooling, the power was decreased slowly. About twelve hours later (1:00 pm), the power had been lowered to 1600 MW.
Soon after, the grid controller asked that the plant be kept on line to supply electricity for the national electrical grid. Power reduction was stopped to comply with this request and turbine 8, which was scheduled to be used in the test, continued to supply electricity to the grid and to three main circulation pumps. This put the test on hold.
At 11:00 pm the grid controller released the reactor from its requirement to supply power. The reduction in power level resumed. About 90 minutes later, an event occurred that set the stage for the accident.
The reactor power was dropped to the 700 MW level viewed as minimum for the test; regulations prohibited operation below this level. Operation became unstable below this value.
At this power level it is necessary for the operator to switch control modes. In doing this the operator neglected to adjust the control system to hold the power level steady. The power level began to decrease rapidly, and it fell about 30 MW before the operator could halt the drop by control rod motion.
Controlling a reactor with a positive power coefficient is like trying to balance a baseball on the tip of a pool stick. So after the operator had stopped the steep power drop, he coaxed it back up again, and managed to achieve a steady power level of 200 MW. It was decided to run the test under these conditions, in absolute violation of regulations.
Big, BIG mistake!
The regulations also required a minimum number of 30 control rods in the reactor so the operator has the ability to reduce reactivity quickly At this point the number of control rods in the reactor was far lower than regulations permitted.
Notably, at the post-accident meeting in Vienna the Soviet experts said that the state of the reactor at this point absolutely demanded that it be shut down. Yet this was not done!
With reactor destruction only a little more than 20 minutes away. Another step was taken which complicated the situation significantly, and may have contributed to both the possibility of the accident and its magnitude.
Two main circulation pumps were turned on, one powered from the grid and the other from turbine #8 which was powered by the Unit 4 reactor. This action led to a circulation flow greater than normally expected at full power, when only six pumps are normally used. The increased flow rate caused the pumps to begin to become ineffective due to cavitations
The Final Five Minutes
At 1:19:10 am, the operator began to increase the rate of feed-water return to the point at which it joins the recirculation flow at the steam drums. He did this to reduce the recirculation flow, because he decided that the water level in the steam drums had fallen too low.
Feed-water is cooler than recirculation flow and is a strong determinant of the sub-cooling. The feed-water rose to about three times the equilibrium rate required for 200 MW operation. The steam drum water level did begin to slowly increase, but the reduced temperature of inlet water to the reactor core reduced the rate of boiling. At about 1:19:45, boiling stopped altogether. No boiling – no steam. The boiling-water reactor operated for about two minutes as a pressurized water reactor – which was contrary to design!
The elimination of steam reduced the reactivity, and control rods were withdrawn, some completely out of the reactor, and some to positions of low effectiveness. The Soviets later reported that only 6 to 8 rods were in the reactor at this point, rather than the required 30.
Next, to avoid a reactor trip, the operator locked out the specific SCRAM circuits associated with the control rods. SCRAM circuits and procedures control actions to accomplish a safe planned or emergency shutdown.
At 1:21:55, the operator began to reduce feed-water flow, which by this time was up to four times the equilibrium rate.
At 1:22:10 boiling began again in the core. The effect on reactivity was dramatic.At 1:22:10, rod bank AR1 began to drive into the reactor, reaching 90% insertion in 20 seconds.
At 1:22:25 rod bank AR3 began to enter the reactor again. At this point, feed-water flow was about 2/3 the equilibrium rate for 200 MW. Rod bank AR1 responded violently for nearly a minute as the operator tried to establish the right setting.
Even with these issues, at 1:23:04 the planned test began with closure of the turbine stop valve for turbine 8. This stopped steam flow to the turbine and effectively turned the turbine off to start its “coastdown”.Shortly before this, the operator had committed his sixth (and most deadly) violation of safety requirements; he blocked the SCRAM circuit that would have shut the reactor down as a result of a turbine trip. If he had not blocked this SCRAM circuit, then the accident would never have happened, in spite of his five previous violations. If the operator had not done this then all control rods would have been automatically re-inserted and a controlled shut down would have occurred.
Even with all of this, the reactor’s remaining automatic circuits attempted to restore stability by inserting control rods, but the program was confused by the unusual data and repeatedly inserted and removed rods over the next few seconds. In a period of less than three seconds the reactor power increased from 200 MW to 3200 MW, far above normal operating specifications.
The operator tried to manually re-activate the SCRAM circuits that he had blocked, but it was too late. Within two seconds the power of the reactor was at a level estimated to be a hundred times normal higher than normal operating power, or above 300,000 MW.
One second after that the reactor was destroyed.