Forensic modeling is telling experts what is likely going on in Fukushima.

The New York Times (behind possible pay wall) is reporting how technologists throughout the world have very sensitive equipment that is telling them–mostly from air samples—what is occurring in the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex.

The article is an interesting read, because some of the people quoted are saying that things have been much worse at the complex than what the officials have been telling the Japanese people.

After explaining a bit about how the science works, the Times reports:

These portraits of the Japanese disaster tend to be proprietary and confidential, and in some cases secret. One reason the assessments are enormously sensitive for industry and government is the relative lack of precedent: The atomic age has seen the construction of nearly 600 civilian power plants, but according to the World Nuclear Association, only three have undergone serious accidents in which their fuel cores melted down.

Now, as a result of the crisis in Japan, the atomic simulations suggest that the number of serious accidents has suddenly doubled, with three of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi complex in some stage of meltdown. Even so, the public authorities have sought to avoid grim technical details that might trigger alarm or even panic.

“They don’t want to go there,” said Robert Alvarez, a nuclear expert who, from 1993 to 1999, was a policy adviser to the secretary of energy. “The spin is all about reassurance.”

So modeling is telling the scientific community that there are three meltdowns currently underway. (This is probably what the rise in seashore radiation has to do with.) Does it affect the safety of the residents in Tokyo, or Kantou region? (This is what the trend of a lot of commentary is going to.) No. But is it a bad situation? It sounds like the answer is still “yes”.

It is a slow-motion Chernobyl. The reactors probably won’t explode; but they will continue to be a problem.