Fukushima: The Perfect Nuclear Crisis Storm

| About: Tokyo Electric (TKECF)

Stock prices in Japan virtually collapsed some 14% in the afternoon of Tuesday, March 15, Tokyo time as yet another nuclear reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility experienced an explosion - this time releasing radiation that was measured at levels 100 times normal (but still minimal) in neighboring Ibaraki prefecture. As Ibaraki prefecture is nearly equidistant (around 160 km) from the Fukushima nuclear facility, the news sent alarm bells ringing among Tokyo residents, and investors selling in what has become a perfect nuclear crisis storm.

While not affected by earthquake-induced tsunamis, Tokyoites were already nervous about emerging shortages of fuel and essential supplies as well as rolling power blackouts that have caused a logistic snarl.

06:10 a.m. Tokyo Time

An explosion occurs in the #2 nuclear reactor of the Tokyo Electric Power (OTCPK:TKECF) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility. The No. 2 reactor's suppression pool, located in the lower part of the containment vessel, was reportedly damaged by the blast.

8:30 a.m. Tokyo Time

As the measured radiation level at the reactor temporarily shot up to the 8,217 micro sievert per hour level (versus the 1,000 level of radiation most people are exposed to in one year), the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency says the reactor's pressure-suppression system may be damaged. TEPCO spokesmen say the company suspects the core of the No. 2 reactor has partially melted.

09:01 a.m. Tokyo Time

The Bank of Japan supplies JPY5 trillion in emergency funds to the market as part of a series of financial-stabilization measures. The previous day, the BOJ provided a record total of 15 trillion yen in emergency funds in three installments. The Bank of Japan also announces it will buy Y2.00 trillion of JGBs starting Mar 17 and ending Mar 18.

09:30 a.m. Tokyo Time

A fire reportedly breaks out on the fourth floor of the building housing the heretofore unaffected No. 4 reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, but appears to have been extinguished. A Tokyo Electric Power spokesman later speculates that “It cannot be ruled out that hydrogen seeped from a pool storing spent nuclear fuel on the fifth floor, triggering "a hydrogen explosion."

09:51 a.m. Tokyo Time

Tokyo Electric Power says the No. 2 reactor’s containment vessel was damaged, whereas the containment vessels of the No. 1 and No. 3 reactor’s containment vessels remained intact even after powerful hydrogen explosions, and caution a ''meltdown'' in the fuel rods is possible.

09:58 a.m. Tokyo Time

The Nikkei Stock Average falls more than 600 points from Monday to 8,983, after falling over 633 points on Monday.

10:00 a.m. Tokyo Time

The Ibaraki government says that radiation levels in the northern part of the prefecture, some 165 km from Fukushima, are 100 times normal levels (which still represents minimal health risk). The Fukushima Nuclear facility is also about 160 km from Tokyo.

11:00 a.m. Tokyo Time

In an 11:00 a.m. press conference, Prime Minister Naoto Kan says that "substantial amounts of radiation are leaking in the area," He asks people living between 20 and 30 kilometers from the plant to stay indoors. He also announces a 30km “exclusion zone."

01:00 p.m. Tokyo Time

The Nikkei 225 collapses 1,390 points or 14% as the market re-opens in the afternoon trading session on a barrage of foreign selling, or. sharply lower than its 2010-2011 low of 8,824. As of 1:10 p.m., more than 50 Nikkei 225 constituents were limit down.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano urged people outside the 30km exclusion zone to remain calm, stating that "the radioactive substances (from the Fukushima Daiichi facilities) will likely spread far and wide in minute amounts, but these doses will not be enough to cause any harm to the human body," At the same time, he said that the high levels of radiation detected at 10:22 a.m. after the explosions at the No. 2 and No. 4 reactors ''would certainly have negative effects on the human body.'' At the briefing, it was revealed a hydrogen blast also hit the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant’s No. 4 reactor, where earlier a fire had been reported.

The hydrogen explosion occurred at a building that houses spent nuclear fuel at the plant's No. 4 reactor.

01:58 p.m. Tokyo Time

The Bank of Japan offered to inject an additional Y3 trillion in same-day funds into the money market Tuesday afternoon, extending emergency efforts to calm financial markets.

03:00 Tokyo Time

The Nikkei 225 closes at 8,6015.15, or 1,015.34 points below Monday’s close.

New Concern About Spent Fuel Coolant Pools

In a March 14 (Monday) New York Times article, David A. Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer at the Union of Concerned Scientists who worked as an instructor on the kinds of General Electric (NYSE:GE) reactors used in Japan, expressed concern that the pools, which sit on the top level of the reactor buildings to keep spent fuel submerged in water, may pose an even greater danger.

According to the New York Times article, the pools are a worry at the stricken reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant because at least two of the three have lost their roofs in explosions, exposing the spent fuel pools to the atmosphere. If the spent fuel rods in the pools catch fire, the high heat would loft the radiation in clouds that would spread the radioactivity, i.e., a worse outcome than a core meltdown.

Even though Japanese technicians probably have enough time to act before too much water boiled away. (the turning point for cooling pools could be days to weeks), the TEPCO technicians have so far been unable to take emergency steps because of the multiplying crises, as explosions at the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi complicated efforts to try to reach the cooling pools and keep them filled with water.

The New York Times article quotes a 1997 study by the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, which described a worst-case disaster from uncovered spent fuel in a reactor cooling pool that estimated 100 quick deaths would occur within a range of 500 miles, and that land over 2,170 miles would be contaminated.

The cooling pool threat was considered severe enough that TEPCO engineers at the start of the crisis on Friday reportedly first focused their attention on a damaged storage pool for spent nuclear fuel at the No. 2 reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.