(and then some…)
South-Central Colorado — Friday, Nov. 20, 2015
In the previous post, Nov. 19, 2015, “And ‘WHAT IF’… What if ‘criticalities’ have not yet completely ended at Fukushima-Daiichi?“, I added a screenshot, which was sourced from ENEnews’ Nov 5, 2015 post, with this headline:
In typical ENEnews-style, the last part “Recriticality discussed by Japan’s top nuclear official”, wasn’t actually ‘discussed’, it was flat-out denied and stated to be ‘physically impossible’. And thát assertion is what I’m questioning in this post.
I wonder if it’s a semantic thing, and what may actually be happening would more correctly be called sub-criticalities. I called them “fission flare-ups“, ’cause I don’t think the fission chain reactions are being sustained non-stop per se. I suspect they come and go in waves, but I haven’t actually done much research to find out if that is even possible. Apparently top officials of organizations that approved this mess say it’s impossible. Should we believe them? Believing them is what got us into this mess, isn’t it? Think believing them will help us get out of this mess faster? Given their track record of denial, their statement unfortunately doesn’t mean anything. Before I continue, a word of caution:
DISCLAIMER: Comments and support are welcome, but I will eliminate those I find either terribly unkind, unhelpful, misleading, overly commercial, or off-topic. Due to my amateur-level of understanding and lack of academic training, this is going to be a bit of a ramble, a journey of learning, where I’m just sharing what I’m finding. So… if you, the reader, consider yourself even less informed than me, I would be véry careful and not believe what I’m writing at face value, as -really- I’m just learning and sharing what I think I’m learning. If you’re more knowledgeable and spot something in error, do please a comment.
Is it “physically impossible” to have ongoing nuclear fission reactions in the molten-down mess? I’m not so sure that that is true. I’m going to go out on a limb and see if I can find some clues that suggest it IS possible to still have fission happen almost a half decade later. Now, I’m not a nuclear scientist. As I’ve made clear before, I don’t even have a college degree. This blog is just a journey, and it may contain errors. This blogpost is merely my attempt to learn more about this issue. Is it “physically impossible” for hot molten nuclear fuel to have criticalities? See if I can walk myself through this…. I’m starting off with snippets of information that perhaps taken in all together will sketch possibilities and impossibilities. In no particular order:
- Let me start with a quote from Wikipedia re. ‘breeder reactor’:
“A breeder reactor is a nuclear reactor capable of generating more fissile material than it consumes. These devices are able to achieve this because their neutron economy is high enough to breed more fissile fuel than they use from fertile material such as uranium-238 or thorium-232. “
So there are configurations with mixtures of nuclear fuel in which enough neutrons are created for the fission-reactions to continue without the need for new fresh fuel to be added. More, even, there are configurations in which the amount of fissile material will actually grow over time. Can those conditions come together after a mega-meltdown in which fresh fuel and spent fuel merged together to form a giant lava-like blob in which the heaviest elements would become more concentrated at the bottom of the molten corium over time? These are questions the arise in my mind.
- The decay chain of U-238 and Th-232, and you can see for yourself that some of the peculiar upticks of specific isotopes (such as Bi-214, Rn-220, Pb-210, Rn-222, etc.) of late are in there somewhere:
Th-232, with a few of its possible parents included in this excerpt:
- What actually are ‘criticalities’ or ”fission’, and the “Effective neutron multiplication factor”?
In https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_chain_reaction is a section that I found illuminating:
“Effective neutron multiplication factor
The effective neutron multiplication factor, k, is the average number of neutrons from one fission that cause another fission. The remaining neutrons either are absorbed in non-fission reactions or leave the system without being absorbed. The value of k determines how a nuclear chain reaction proceeds:
- k < 1 (subcriticality): The system cannot sustain a chain reaction, and any beginning of a chain reaction dies out over time. For every fission that is induced in the system, an average total of 1/(1 − k) fissions occur.
- k = 1 (criticality): Every fission causes an average of one more fission, leading to a fission (and power) level that is constant. Nuclear power plants operate with k = 1 unless the power level is being increased or decreased.
- k > 1 (supercriticality): For every fission in the material, it is likely that there will be “k” fissions after the next mean generation time. The result is that the number of fission reactions increases exponentially, according to the equation , where t is the elapsed time. Nuclear weapons are designed to operate under this state. There are two subdivisions of supercriticality: prompt and delayed.
When describing kinetics and dynamics of nuclear reactors, and also in the practice of reactor operation, the concept of reactivity is used, which characterizes the deflection of reactor from the critical state. ρ=(k-1)/k. […]
In a nuclear reactor, k will actually oscillate from slightly less than 1 to slightly more than 1, due primarily to thermal effects (as more power is produced, the fuel rods warm and thus expand, lowering their [neutron] capture ratio, and thus driving k lower). This leaves the average value of k at exactly 1. Delayed neutrons play an important role in the timing of these oscillations.
Prompt and delayed supercriticality
Not all neutrons are emitted as a direct product of fission; some are instead due to the radioactive decay of some of the fission fragments. The neutrons that occur directly from fission are called “prompt neutrons,” and the ones that are a result of radioactive decay of fission fragments are called “delayed neutrons.”
The fraction of neutrons that are delayed is called β, and this fraction is typically less than 1% of all the neutrons in the chain reaction.
The delayed neutrons allow a nuclear reactor to respond several orders of magnitude more slowly than just prompt neutrons would alone. Without delayed neutrons, changes in reaction rates in nuclear reactors would occur at speeds that are too fast for humans to control.
The region of supercriticality between k = 1 and k = 1/(1-β) is known as delayed supercriticality (or delayed criticality). It is in this region that all nuclear power reactors operate. The region of supercriticality for k > 1/(1-β) is known as prompt supercriticality (or prompt criticality), which is the region in which nuclear weapons operate.
The change in k needed to go from critical to prompt critical is defined as a dollar.” [end quote from Wikipedia, retrieved on Nov. 19, 2015, with my emphasis added]
What I speculate may be possible is that the “effective neutron multiplication factor, k” (described above) may still be oscillating between just above zero (where most neutrons get absorbed or escape and there’s just not enough neutron flux to cause fission reactions, or only very quickly ending chains) and de facto subcriticalities (k < 1), where the molten-down blob cannot sustain a chain reaction either, but they do occur, and although they fizzle out too, these chain reactions don’t die out right away, and would be responsible for giving rise to fission and activation products. Those in turn, when vented, would rise very high quickly due to their extreme heat and would be detectable in tiny trace amounts where jet stream wind patterns slow down. (Or so goes my hypothesis…) Perhaps every now and then a chain reaction may take off, and even grow for a little bit, but then the generated heat makes the fissioning area expand and the chain ends again. What would make it start back up again is when there’s a sufficient amount of delayed neutrons from radioactive decay inside the blob. I don’t know what the configuration of decaying isotopes, heat and density would need to be for this to be possible, but it doesn’t seem to be flat-out “impossible”. It doesn’t even seem flat-out impossible for (sustained) ongoing-fission, either. In the absolut worst case, some kind of “breeder reactor” would have been formed, but while perhaps not entirely impossible (?), that might be far less likely than some kind of k-oscillation that includes fission flare-ups.
On the Woods Hole Oceanograpic Institute’s website there’s a video with really bad audio (@ http://www.whoi.edu/page.do?pid=108196&cl=87413&article=141569&tid=5122), in which top experts made some remarkable statements (after 38 minutes in), as relayed by ENEnews on October 27th, 2014. I listened and the transcript is correct:
Of course, if the fissioning didn’t stop, as is pretty darn obvious from the releases of I-131 that went on for much longer than they should have, then that means that the molten-down lava-like corium had a nuclear fuel configuration (fuel, spent fuel, decay products, heat, density, amount,…) that allowed for the neutron flux to get intense enough in an medium with plenty of fissile fuel to cause -at least- subcriticalities. Could as well call ‘m “criticality flare-ups”. What if the corium/coria melted down deep enough to be so too far out of reach, or utterly unapproachable, that any added boron, graphite, or other neutron absorbers simply never even have reached the problem section of the corium? And thus, what is so “impossible” about ongoing criticalities, still, now in 2015?
What if the neutron flux was so insanely intense in the first week or weeks of the disaster that it altered the composition of much of the fuel that melted down. What if that irradiated mixture of new decaying products and various activation products, which due to their decay also changes composition over time, are now actually creating a sector inside a corium that is volitile enough to see renewed cycles of subcriticalities?
I found this interesting EuroSafe document, “Criticality Safety in the Waste Management of Spent Fuel from NPPs” by Robert Kilger:
In it is a graph I find quite amazing: due to the decay of radioisotopes, the effective neutron multiplication factor, k (described above), creates an oscillation over thousands of years, with k going up and down depending on which isotopes are in which stage of their decay. The time-scale is logarithmic:
Pondering over this made me wonder: are there also radiosiotopes that emit lots of neutrons as their mode of radioactive decay? Turns out, yes: Californium-252 is an example.
Now, is it possible that additional Cf-252 was created at Fukushima? It would likely have happened during the early heavy neutron bombardment period, and thus some of this Cf-252 may have ended up in the molten coriums. Seems rather plausibe, actually. So, IF that were the case, then the neutron-spewing decay of Cf-252, in an environemnt full of some of the heaviest isotopes of Uranium, Pluonium, Neptunium, Americium, etc. of all places, would certainly cause some fission reactions, wouldn’t it? I mean, that’s apparently one of the ways fission reactors are started up. What if some kind of subcriticalities-no-subcriticalities oscillation has been occuring? I have yet to learn more about the kinds of barns not used for stacking hay in to see if this is mathematically possible, but it seems this would be one way to end up with a neutron source in the rubble that didn’t just go away.
I think it’s possible, because: Spent (irradiated) fuel rods always contain Plutonium, and on top of that, Unit 3 contained MOX fuel (mixed oxides of Uranium and Plutonium), and thus, most likely, a lot more Plutonium was present in this meltdown than in any nuclear meltdown accident in the past.
I read that when Plutonium is irradiated, you end up with Curium, and if you bombard Curium with alpha particles, then you’ll end up with some Californium. There was Plutonium, there was heavy neutron bombardment, and there was and still is tons of alpha decay going on, so no shortage of alpha particles either.
This should shed some light on how significant it would be to have Cf-252 in the rubble:
From http://education.jlab.org/itselemental/ele098.html: “Californium-252, an isotope with a half-life of about 2.6 years, is a very strong neutron source. One microgram (0.000001 grams) of californium-252 produces 170,000,000 neutrons per minute.“
Would it be possible to start out with Pu-239/240/241 and in an extreme neutron bombardment environment end up with at least a little bit of Cf-252? That’s seems quite the step-up… But there didn’t seem to be no shortage of neutrons nor alpha emitters, and there were many TONS of fuel that melted down, so… why not?
Let’s see… Synthesis of Curium (via Wikipedia):
To recap, there’s two ways to end up with curium in a neutron bombardment environment: : Uranium-238 turns into Curium-242, or Plutonium-239 turns into Curium-244.
– When Uranium-238 is bombarded with neutrons this leads to the creation of some Curium-242 by way of a double neutron uptake and a beta decay in these steps:
- U-238 + neutron -> U-239
- U-239 + neutron -> Am-241
- Am-241 beta decays to Cm-242
Or, Plutonium-239 is bombarded with móre neutrons and this leads to the creation of some Curium-244 by way of these steps:
- Pu-239 + neutrons -> Pu-243
- Pu-243 beta decas to Am-243
- Am-243 + neutron -> Am-244
- Am-244 beta decays to Cm-244
- Cm-244 in turn alpha decays to Pu-240 (The main decay chain goes: Cm-244 -> Pu-240 -> U-236 -> Th-232 ->Ra-228 -> Ac-228 -> Th-228 -> Ra-224 -> Rn-220 -> ect. to stable Pb-208, and a side-decay-branch to stable Pb-206.)
- Some Cm-244 + neutrons -> Cm-247, Cm-248, …
So, given the heavy neutron bombardment in the beginning, it is near-certain that some of both Cm-242 and Cm-244 were created in the molten corium.
Now how would one get from Cm-242 or Cm-244 to Californium-252? Well, it says here, @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Californium#Production:
“Prolonged irradiation of americium, curium, and plutonium with neutrons produces milligram amounts of californium-252 and microgram amounts of californium-249.“
and: “As of 2006, curium isotopes 244 to 248 are irradiated by neutrons in special reactors [or under similarly conducive conditions?] to produce primarily californium-252 with lesser amounts of isotopes 249 to 255. […] Three californium isotopes with significant half-lives are produced, requiring a total of 15 neutron captures by uranium-238 without nuclear fission or alpha decay occurring during the process. Californium-253 is at the end of a production chain that starts with uranium-238, includes several isotopes of plutonium, americium, curium, berkelium, and the californium isotopes 249 to 253 (see diagram):
Well, to repeat from above, you only need 1 microgram (0.000001 grams) of Cf-252 to produce 170,000,000 neutrons PER MINUTE. (That information is reportedly found in The encyclopedia of the chemical elements, edited by Clifford A. Hampel. Published/Created New York, Reinhold Book Corp.  Library of COngress # 68029938.)
We know for a fact that there was a substantial amount of Plutonium isotopes in the mess that melted down, particularly at Unit 3. Even though this is a very heavy element that is not volatile like iodine, tellurium or cesium, it was nevertheless even detected many miles from the Fukshima-Daiichi disaster site. –> See, for example, the scientific evidence in the article, Isotopic evidence of plutonium release into the environment from the Fukushima DNPP accident (Nature, Scientific Reports 2, Article number: 304 (2012) / doi:10.1038/srep00304 pubished online on March 8, 2012.).
From the same aforemention EuroSafe document, with Cf-252 added by me:
Given how heavy Cf-252 is, it likely concentrates at the bottom of the molten corium with all the other fission-prone heavy weights… and, so I speculate, this could be one way of ending up with subcriticalities long after they “should have ended”. So, what if, at least in the beginning, enough Cf-252 was created that its neutron-spewing presence continues to create both neutron activation products (perhaps even contributing to the peculiarly high presence of activation products Co-60 and Sb-124/125 ?), as well as fission events, giving rise to trace amounts of I-131, Cs-134, etc.)
So, in short: it doesn’t seem impossible whatsoever. It all depends on what happened in the beginning. Was there, or was there not what could be called an EXTREME heavy neutron bombardment environment when the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear catastrophe began? All evidence points to that having been the case.
According to “Geochemical Journal, Vol. 46, pp. 335 to 339, 2012: An estimation of the radioactive 35 S emitted into the atmospheric from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant by using a numerical simulation global transport” [H/T ENEnews, Jan. 13, 2015], the neutron flux that reached the seawater injected in the reactors emitted “5.2 × 1021 slow neutrons m–2 sec–1″ [m–2 sec–1 = per sq. meter per second].
Neutron flux levels deeper within the molten corium(s), which the injected water perhaps never even reached (as the high heat evaporated the water long before it could get close, I recon) may have been faster and/or reached significantly higher levels.
Seems rather possible, if not quite plausible, to have ended up with some Cf-252. Over 25% of the Cf-252 created in March-April 2011, would still be present in the molten corium, even if no additional Cf-252 was created since (Cf-252’s half life is 2.64 years).
- I had a look back at some of the data in my lichen and rainwater samples I had analyzed in June (2015), and re-read a few things in the related blog posts. Among the ones flagged ‘unknown’ are a few that stood out significantly above background, such as these in the lichen sample, about which I wrote, (see below this raw data sheet):
At the time, July 10, 2015, in “An Attempt to Identify the ‘Unknown’-Flagged keV Decay Energies in the Lichen Sample Gammaspectroscopy“, of the 3 most pronounced unknown detections, I wrote the following about the second (the 77.06 keV signal) and the last highlighted (the 1765.12 keV signal); [edited w/ new emphasis):
- 77.06 keV —> Antimony-122 (intermediate decay state Sb-122m)
Because 76.0595 keV sure rounds nicely to 77.06 keV. SOURCES:
Again… that neutron activation weirdness. What’s up with that? See also the mention of Sb-122 in http://www.hiroshimasyndrome.com/fukushima-and-cesium.html
To quote, “[…] Relatively few of the bomb fallout isotopes come from nuclear fission. In fact, most radioactive materials in a bomb’s fallout are caused by the process called “neutron activation”. Neutrons are the only type of radiation that can make other atoms radioactive. The soils, buildings, and other materials pulverized by a bomb’s explosion are instantly engulfed in the neutron field caused by the detonation, making radioactive isotopes from those elements that were not radioactive before the blast.
Some of the prominent bomb-fallout isotopes are Sodium-24, Chromium-51, Manganese-54, Iron-59, Cobalt-60, Copper-64, Antimony-122 and Antimony-124, Tantalum-180 and 182, and Lead-203.(1) The half-lives vary from as low as 8 hours (Ta-180) and as long as 5.3 years (Co-60). Just for the record, a small amount of Carbon-14 is formed by the bomb, but its quantity is miniscule. Regardless, none of the bomb-fallout isotopes listed above are produced by power plant reactors. By comparison, bomb-spawned Cs-137 is literally a trace relative to the volumes of the above-listed bomb fallout isotopes. […]”
AND, perhaps the strongest detection:
- 1765.12 keV —> Bismuth-214 (Bi-214)
It’s taking me some time to take in and grasp the significance of all these bits and pieces… I didn’t know yet about the significance of Bi-214 back then. I was starting to get onto it this spring when looking into the Chernobyl wildfires (See May 2, 2015, “(More ADDITIONS) Bismuth-214 as a Fallout Indicator? Systematic Omissions: More Evidence of EURDEP Hiding Data when it Matters Most…“), but like so many snippets of data and news from here and there, it had already forgotten about Bi-214 when one of its more rare decay energies appeared flagged as unknown in my own data. Not just mere part of “natural radon progeny”: Look at the higher parents in the decay chains its part of in http://periodictable.com/Isotopes/083.214/index2.full.prod.html. Anyhow… Here’s what I’m looking at:
We got the recent Finnish and German detections, both in spring 2015 and just recently in October 2015 with quantifiable validated detections of Cobalt-60, Manganese-54, Actinium-225 & 227, Cesium-134 & 137, Zirconium-97, and Thallium-202.
In my own rainwater and lichen samples (See Aug. 1, 2015, “Synopsis / Improved Version: ‘Mainland USA June 14 2015 Radioactive Rain & Lichen Data Revisited,’” as uncertain as they are, there is still a faint signal that suggest trace precence of Antimony-124, Strontium-89, Ruthenium-106, Cesium-134/137 and even Iodine-131 and Cobalt-57, and with the unknown-flagged ones included, also Antimony-122, probably more Bismuth-214 than thought, and a bunch of traces of very unusual ones.
Half of those detections here as well as in Europe are activation products more associated with a nuclear bomb detonations. That may seem bizarre, but it’s not to be dismissed. Here’s another thing I haven’t written much about… I guess I do actually truly suffer from forms of ‘cognitive dissonance’ myself at times. There are some things I have a hard time accepting, just due to associations and implications that I don’t really want to accept.
One of these things that I have had a hard time accepting is that: It is quite likely that one of the explosions at Fukushima-Daiichi, the one at its Unit 3, was not a mere hydrogen explosion, but -for real – a prompt criticality (a mini, but actual nuclear explosion). It appears that the detections actually confirm this further. The nuclear blast at MOX-filled Reactor Unit 3 at Fukushima-Daiichi did mainly 2 things:
1) The blast blew an unprecedented amount of nuclear fuel sky high, of which an unknown amount fell or washed out into the Pacific Ocean; &
2) the blast sent out a very intense massive neutron flux at the time of detonation, which irradiated the rubble, creating all kinds of activation products and nuclear transmutations that dramatically altered the coriums that melted further down.
Some sources re. likely ‘nuclear explosion’ @:
Quoted from the latter, TIME Magazine online Science section, March 30, 2011:
“[…] Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) had observed a neutron beam about 1.5 km away from the plant. Bursts of neutrons in large quantities can only come from fission so Dalnoki-Veress, a physicist, was faced with an alarming possibility: had portions of one of Fukushima’s reactors gone critical?
To nuclear workers, there are few events more fearful than a criticality accident. In such a scenario, the fissile material in a reactor core–be it enriched uranium or plutonium–undergoes a spontaneous chain reaction, releasing a flash of aurora-blue light and a surge of neutron radiation; the gamma rays, neutrons and radioactive fission products emitted during criticality are highly dangerous to humans. Criticality occurs so rapidly–within a few fractions of a second–and so unpredictably that it can suddenly kill workers without warning. There have been 60 criticality incidents worldwide since 1945. The most recent occurred in Japan in 1999, at an experimental reactor in Tokai, when a beam of neutrons killed two workers, hospitalized dozens of emergency workers and nearby residents, and forced hundreds of thousands to remain indoors for 24 hours.
Dalnoki-Veress did not see any further reference to a neutron release. But two days after the Kyodo agency report, on March 25, TEPCO made public measurements of different isotopes contributing to the extremely high measured radioactivity in the seawater used to cool reactor No 1. Again, a piece of the data jumped out at Dalnoki-Veress: the high prevalence of the chlorine-38 (Cl-38) isotope. Cl-38 has a half-life of 37 minutes, so would decay so rapidly as to be of little long-term safety concern. But it’s very presence troubled Dalnoki-Veress. Chlorine-37 (Cl-37) is part of natural chlorine that is present in seawater in the form of ordinary table salt. In order to form Cl-38, however, neutrons must interact with CL-37. Dalnoki-Verress did some calculations and came to the conclusion that the only possible way this neutron interaction could have occurred was the presence of transient criticalities in pockets of melted fuel in the reactor core.
[…] he published those calculation in a paper for the blog ArmsControlWonk. The paper makes clear that if a criticality accident occurred at Fukishima, it could happen again […]”
The study, “WHAT WAS THE CAUSE OF THE HIGH Cl-38 RADIOACTIVITY IN THE FUKUSHIMA DAIICHI REACTOR #1 -F. Dalnoki-Veress, March 28, 2011” is found @ http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/files/2011/03/Cause_of_the_high_Cl38_Radioactivity.pdf
I may be slow, but at least it is beginning to sink in… And maybe my hunch has been right all along… (See also June 2015’s Radiological Emergency – Northern Hemisphere – RED ALERT !, or further back, July 31, 2013, Red Alert – Fukushima-Daiichi NPP Crisis: EXTREME Radioactive Water Leaking into Ground; Unprecedented Radioactive Contamination of Pacific Ocean.“
So… come to think of it….
- The early TEPCO data from 2013, with massive amounts of Co-60, Mn-54 and Sb-124 in stored contaminated water is more consistent with the effects of a nuclear bomb blast rather than a normal meltdown. (Screenshot of that data in here)
- My very own detection of Co-60 in a Japanese Kelp sample (see here), while Cesium-134/137 was not detected in that sample, is more consistent with the effects of a nuclear bomb blast rather than a normal meltdown (see quote above in green sourced from here). Same with my detection of Sb-124 in Colorado rainwater (see here) that likely blew in with the jet stream from Japan.
- Both the Finnish and German detections in Spring and Autumn 2015 (see here), including traces of Co-60, Mn-54, Zr-97, make more sense when Fukushima is still releasing radiosiotopes from highly irradiated coriums that are still fissioning at times.
My tentative conclusion:
- 1) It is totally POSSIBLE to have ongoing criticalities 5 years later.
- 2) You can’t say that it’s impossible unless you know all the details of the make-up and conditions inside the corium. They don’t know these things.
I think they are operating in some sort of a panic, as this disaster is evolving in uncharted territory, and they’ve chosen early on to have a specific narrative (primarily to protect financial investments), a completely bogus narrative it turns out, but it seems they aim not to deviate from it, even if evidence mounts that they’re lying.
Meanwhile the mystery carnage continues…
Nov. 19, 2015:
If you spot a dead marine animal or an animal in distress, call the Fishers and Oceans Canada (DFO)’s hotline @ 1-800-465-4336 and report the sighting.
They look a bit “bleached”, if you’d ask me… Or perhaps it’s hydrogen peroxide… May not have anything to do with this, but hyrogen peroxide is also created when alpha particles interact with tissue… as I pointed at in my May 25, 2015 post, “Additional Ponderings Re. Pacific Ocean Ecological Crisis. Wondering about Effects of a speculated Fukushima-induced Polonium-210 (Alpha-emitting) surge’s on Sea Life. Iodine-131, Cobalt-60, Cesium-134 & Neobium-95 detected in Europe (May 2015!)“
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Disclaimer: I’m not yet versed in barns, calculating nuclear cross sections or requirements for effective neutron uptake.
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