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Posts Tagged ‘Chernobyl’

The Japan earthquake (9.0) rates in the top four with the 1952 Kamchatka quake, the 1960 quake in Chile with 9.5, the Alaska quake in 1964 with 9.2 and the Sumatra quake in 2004 with 9.1.

I’ve visited Tokyo and the surrounding areas a number of times and want to express my sympathy to those affected by this tragedy during what can only be described as very painful times.  Faced with the horrific news and pictures from Japan, everybody wants to do something, and the obvious thing to do is to donate money to some relief fund or other.  Or if you prefer something different (I’m not making this up) someone set up a well-intentioned “Socks for Japan” drive.

I’m not insensitive to the nuclear dangers, but the tragic loss of life and destruction caused by the earthquake and tsunami will likely dwarf the damage caused by the problems associated with the nuclear plants, however, the media is now doing a “Charlie Sheen” minute-by-minute obsession with these plants.  According to a number of reports (including the more negative HERE) the Japan situation isn’t going to be another Chernobyl.  And speaking of Chernobyl, next month marks the 24th anniversary of the Chernobyl (April 25, 1986) accident.   Back in 2009 I blogged about the Chernobyl Motorcycle Ride and due to recent events in Japan it seems to be getting a lot of hits. Unfortunately.  But I’ve digressed.

There will be repercussions in the Worldwide motorcycle community as the economic impact and stories of the prices we pay and heavy losses are just beginning to ratchet up.  All the motorcycle manufactures are cooperating with electricity conservation efforts and the rolling blackouts to help in the prioritizing of the relief and recovery of affected areas.  For example the motorcycle production facilities at:

Honda: The company reported on some of the more serious damages including the death of a 43-year old male employee at its research and development center in Tochigi Prefecture, north of Tokyo, as the wall of a cafeteria crumbled. Honda said that more than 30 employees at several facilities in the same prefecture were injured.   The company also decided the following:

  1. As of March 14, all production activities are suspended at the following Honda plants: Sayama Plant at Saitama Factory (Sayama, Saitama), Ogawa Plant (Ogawa-machi, Hiki-gun Saitama), Tochigi Factory (Moka, Tochigi), Hamamatsu Factory (Hamamatsu, Shizuoka) and Suzuka Factory (Suzuka, Mie).
  2. From March 15 through 20, Honda will suspend all production activities at its plants listed above as well as at Kumamoto Factory (Ozu-machi, Kikuchi-gun, Kumamoto).
  3. From March 14 through 20, Honda will suspend regular operations at all Honda facilities in the Tochigi area, where damage was more serious, (including Tochigi Factory, Honda R&D Co., Ltd. R&D Center (Tochigi) , Honda Engineering Co., Ltd., etc.), and focus on the recovery of each operation. Honda associates will not come to work during this time.

Yamaha: reported one employee injured and sections of the roads surrounding their Motor Sports facility had collapsed.

Suzuki: shut down all of its plants (including Takatsuka and Toyokawa facilities) and will consider re-establishing operations after March 17th

Bridgestone:  reported no serious damage to five of its production facilities in the affected regions, however the company has a number of sites in the Tochigi Prefecture, including the Nasu tire plant. The Nasu facility is the sole motorcycle tire production site for Bridgestone worldwide. The production at these sites was stopped, pending safety evaluations and Bridgestone plans to resume production “based on electricity restrictions and other issues.”

Wild Road Choppers: the owner Souji Abe is located in Sendai City and while he personally is safe the damage to the area where his shop is located is clearly extensive.

Motorcycle Show Cancellations: Osaka Motorcycle Show and the 38th Tokyo Motorcycle Show (March 25)

In addition there is unofficial word about the Japanese Grand Prix which was to be held April 24th at Motegi is being reviewed and dependent on the Mobilityland complex and physical structure may get cancelled.  For reference, Motegi is about 110miles from Sendhai (near the epicenter) and Fukishima, where the damaged nuclear reactors are located is about 75miles north of Motegi.

The area of Japan affected by the earthquake and tsunami produces around 4.1% of the country’s GDP, suggesting that first-round economic effects could be limited, yet at this stage, with the fate of the Fukushima nuclear reactors still unclear, it’s too early to come up with any meaningful estimates of the overall impact to the motorcycle community.

My thoughts and prayers are with the survivors and the families.

UPDATE: March 25, 2011 – A couple of weeks after all the destruction in Japan some of the motorcycle manufactures have reopened with limited production.  A good report HERE at Power Sport News.

Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

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Elena at Chernobyl

Elena at Chernobyl

Next month marks the 23rd anniversary of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster in Ukraine. 

I stumbled onto Elena’s site several years ago, but had misplaced the URL until just recently.  She travels a lot on her Kawasaki Ninja (ZZR-1100) and one of her favorite riding destinations leads North from Kiev, towards the Chernobyl “dead zone”, which is about 80 miles from her home.  She has photographed and documented her motorcycle radiation travels into the “Zone of Alienation” and it’s well worth the read.

As background — On Friday evening of April 25, 1986, the reactor crew at Chernobyl-4, prepared to run a test early the next day to determine how long the turbines would keep spinning and producing power if the electrical power supply went off line. While dangerous they ran this test previously.  Several alterations were made to the generators to lower the power output.  As a part of the preparation, they disabled some critical control systems – including the automatic shutdown safety mechanisms.

Shortly after 1:00 AM on April 26, the flow of coolant water dropped and the power began to increase.  At 1:23 AM, the operator moved to shut down the reactor in its low power mode and set-off a chain of events.  In a matter of seconds the reactor went from 5% output to 100 times its normal level.  The coolant water flash-boiled, triggering a huge steam explosion which leveled tons of concrete and steel including the 2000 ton cap on the nuclear containment vessel.  Many of the 211 control rods melted and then a second explosion, whose cause is still the subject of disagreement among experts, expelled fragments of burning radioactive fuel core and allowed air to rush in — igniting several tons of graphite insulating blocks.  Once graphite starts to burn, it’s almost impossible to extinguish.  Hundreds of volunteers died on the scene ill prepared for this type disaster.

WPPSS Cooling Tower - Satsop

WPPSS Cooling Tower - Satsop

The public alert about the release of radioactive material didn’t come from Soviet sources, but from Sweden on April 27 where workers at the Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant (680 miles away) were found to have radioactive particles on their clothing and they were determining the source. It took 3 days before all permanent residents of Chernobyl were evacuated due to unsafe levels of radioactivity.   It took 9 days and 5000 tons of sand, boron, dolomite, clay and lead dropped from helicopters to put out the graphite fire. Over 2M acres (or 1/5 of the usable farmland in the Ukraine) was, and still is unusable.

There have been military and research reactor deaths (e.g. Idaho; Tokai-mura), but the Chernobyl disaster has the distinction of being the only commercial nuclear power plant where radiation-related fatalities occurred.  The last 2 reactors at Chernobyl remained operational and online until shut down in 2000.  Chernobyl has been renovated and is now home to more than 500 residents. Those include nuclear scientists, maintenance officials for the Chernobyl power plant, liquidation officials, doctors, physicists, and most of all, radiation physicists. Visitors to the Zone of Alienation can stay at a local lodge in the Chernobyl suburbs.

While I like taking long motorcycle rides on empty roads the requirement of a Geiger counter mounted to the handle bar would be a deterrent!

Footnote: the northwest has it share of  “reactor rides.” There is Trojan (decommissioned), Columbia Generating Station (near Richland/Hanford and only pacific northwest running plant), and WPPSS at the Satsop site which shines on as a $2.25B economic default.

Photo courtesy of Elena web site.

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