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Archive for February 3rd, 2009

Tonga’s Metis Shoal may be erupting

Posted by feww on February 3, 2009

Metis Shoal Submarine Volcano May Be Erupting

1. FEWW seismic analysis of Tonga Islands region in south Pacific Ocean (SPO) indicate that Metis Shoal, a submarine volcano located midway between the islands of Kao and Late (about 50 km NNE of Kao), may be about to erupt, or is currently undergoing a period of unrest.

2. Metis Shoal’s last known eruption occurred in 1995, which produced an island with a diameter of about 300 m and a height of 43 m after a solid lava dome was formed above the surface of water in SPO.

3. Since 1851 some 8 episodes of unrest have been recorded. In three, possibly five, of those occasions new islands were created (1858, 1967-68, 1979, 1995).

Metis Shoal

  • Country:  Tonga
  • Region:  Tonga Islands, SPO
  • Volcano Type:  Submarine volcano
  • Last Known Eruption:  1995
  • Summit Elevation:  43 m asl
  • Latitude: 19.18°S   19°11’0″S
  • Longitude:  174.87°W   174°52’0″W

4. Metis Shoal, a submarine volcano midway between the islands of Kao and Late, has produced a series of ephemeral islands since the first confirmed activity in the mid-19th century. An island, perhaps not in eruption, was reported in 1781 and subsequently was eroded away. During periods of inactivity following 20th-century eruptions, waves have been observed to break on rocky reefs or sandy banks with depths of 10 m or less. Dacitic tuff cones formed during the first 20th-century eruptions in 1967 and 1979 were soon eroded beneath the sea surface. An eruption in 1995 produced an island with a diameter of 280 m and a height of 43 m following growth of a lava dome above the surface. [Caption: GVP]

5. Waves break over Metis Shoal on February 19, 1968, more than a month after the end of a submarine eruption that began in December 1967 and produced an ephemeral island. Metis Shoal has produced a series of small islands during eruptions observed since the mid-19th century. Most recently, an eruption in 1995 produced a lava dome that built up to 43 m above sea level. Photo by Charles Lundquist, 1968 (Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory). Caption: GVP

6. Map of the Tonga Islands, showing the island groups and location of Metis Shoal, which re-emerged as an island in June 1995. Source: GVP

Other Photos of Metis Shoal

7. Metis Shoal, sea level view. Source: MTU

8. Metis shoal, aerial view. Source: MTU

9. Metis Shoal aerial photo dated December 7,  2006. Source: GVP

Related Links:

Content of this post: 424 words, 9 paras/captions, 5 images, 1 list w/9 bullets

Posted in fumarolic activity, Submarine eruption, tephra, volcanic unrest, volcanoes | Tagged: , , , , | 7 Comments »

Japan’s Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor

Posted by feww on February 3, 2009

A pipe dream turned into a nightmare

The following Editorial by Japan’s Asahi Newspaper is about the fate of Monju, a prototype fast-breeder nuclear reactor located in Japan’s Fukui Prefecture, which remains idle for more than 13 years. Monju was shut down after dangerous sodium coolant leaked from its cooling system in December 1995.

There’s a false [often fatal] tendency among the pronuclear lot to assume that the nuclear industry is run by responsible people. According to the following Editorial and other reports, the now-defunct corporation that managed Monju prior to its 1995 leak had falsified reports and systematically concealed important information about the extent and seriousness of the problem.

Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA), which took over Donen’s operations has also been criticized by the IEA and “sharply rebuked” by Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency for their failure to carry out maintenance and do repair work.

The cost of building and maintaing Monju will soon exceed ¥1trillion [about $11.2billion at the current exchange rate.]

The Editorial poses a pertinent question:

Is it really necessary to reactivate Monju despite all these concerns?

EDITORIAL: Monju test reactor

Monju, the prototype fast-breeder nuclear reactor located in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, remains idle with little hope of resuming operations any time soon. It has been shut since dangerous sodium coolant leaked in December 1995.

Last autumn, holes caused by corrosion were found in an outdoor ventilation duct. This delayed a planned test to verify the safety of the plant, making it difficult for the operator, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA), to achieve its target of reactivating the reactor in February. That’s the agency’s explanation for the fourth postponement of its plan to reopen the experimental reactor.

It is said that the agency aims to reactivate Monju in December, but the agency has yet to announce a timeframe. This is a good opportunity to take a fresh look at the worries and doubts that plague the Monju project.

What is most troubling is the agency’s poor track record concerning safety awareness and quality control.

After the sodium leak accident, the Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corp. (Donen), the now-defunct organization that managed Monju back then, was harshly criticized for falsifying reports and concealing information. The JAEA, which has taken over Donen’s operations, is supposed to have made an all-out effort to fix the problems that arose from the way Monju was previously managed.

When a sodium leak detector sounded a false alarm last spring, however, the agency failed to swiftly notify the local governments and other parties concerned. With regard to the exhaust duct, the agency neglected to carry out maintenance and repair work for so long that the corrosion went unchecked. After a special safety inspection into the JAEA last year, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, an arm of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, sharply rebuked the entity. It wouldn’t take much to torpedo what remains of public confidence in the Monju project. However, there is apparently no sense of crisis within the JAEA.

There have been few cases at home or abroad where a nuclear power facility has been reactivated after remaining dormant for so long. Naturally, there are concerns that new problems with the facility may have emerged during the prolonged suspension of operations.

Is it really necessary to reactivate Monju despite all these concerns? The wisdom of continuing the project is now being called into question. Fast-breeder reactors, which produce more nuclear fuel than they consume, have been presented by promoters as “dream reactors.” This is the core technology for the government’s plan to establish a nuclear fuel cycle that relies on reprocessed spent nuclear fuel. The government aims to build a demonstration reactor around 2025 and put commercial reactors into operation around 2050.

The construction of Monju, designed as a test facility to confirm the viability of the technology, began in 1985. In addition to the construction cost of 590 billion yen, an additional 17.9 billion yen has been spent on improving the prototype reactor since the 1995 accident. Even though it is out of operation, Monju still costs the government an average 9.8 billion yen a year. The annual operation cost after restarting operations has been estimated at between 15 billion and 18 billion yen.

It is not clear what specific benefits would be gained from such a huge expense outlay.

A new active fault has been discovered in areas around the Monju site, causing concern about the facility’s ability to withstand an earthquake. The government cannot win public support for the Monju project by merely claiming that this important nuclear policy must be promoted.

The government has argued that fast-breeder reactors, which convert non-fissionable uranium in the fuel to fissionable plutonium, are crucial for resource-poor Japan’s future energy needs. But it is far from clear whether the Monju project will really lead to a practical use of the technology. It is probably time for the government to reconsider its road map to developing fast-breeder reactors.

Copyright The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 2(IHT/Asahi: February 3,2009)

Posted in fissionable plutonium, Japan Atomic Energy Agency, non-fissionable uranium, nuclear industry, spent nuclear fuel | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »