FB Share
Email This Page
add comment
Print

ntro: "Spent reactor fuel, containing roughly 85 times more long-lived radioactivity than released at Chernobyl, still sits in pools vulnerable to earthquakes."

Reactor 4 after hydrogen explosion and several fires. This reactor houses 1564 spent nuclear fuel rods. (photo: The People's News Network)
Reactor 4 after hydrogen explosion and several fires. This reactor houses 1564 spent nuclear fuel rods. (photo: The People's News Network)



The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Is Far From Over

By Robert Alvarez, Reader Supported News

23 April 12

 

Spent reactor fuel, containing roughly 85 times more long-lived radioactivity than released at Chernobyl, still sits in pools vulnerable to earthquakes.

ore than a year after the Fukushima nuclear power disaster began, the news media is just beginning to grasp that the dangers to Japan and the rest of the world are far from over. After repeated warnings by former senior Japanese officials, nuclear experts, and now a U.S. Senator, it's sinking in that the irradiated nuclear fuel stored in spent fuel pools amidst the reactor ruins pose far greater dangers than the molten cores. This is why:

Nearly all of the 10,893 spent fuel assemblies sit in pools vulnerable to future earthquakes, with roughly 85 times more long-lived radioactivity than released at Chernobyl

Several pools are 100 feet above the ground and are completely open to the atmosphere because the reactor buildings were demolished by explosions. The pools could possibly topple or collapse from structural damage coupled with another powerful earthquake.

The loss of water exposing the spent fuel will result in overheating and can cause melting and ignite its zirconium metal cladding resulting in a fire that could deposit large amounts of radioactive materials over hundreds, if not thousands of miles.

This was not lost on Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), who after visiting the site on April 6, wrote to Japan's U.S. ambassador, Ichiro Fujusaki, that "loss of containment in any of these pools... could result an even larger release of radiation than the nuclear accident."

The urgency of the situation is underscored by the ongoing seismic activity where 13 earthquakes of magnitude 4.0-5.7 have occurred off the northeast coast of Japan between April 14 and 17. This has been the norm since the first quake and tsunami hit the Dai-Ichi site on March 11 of last year. Larger quakes are expected closer to the power plant.

Spent nuclear fuel is extraordinarily radioactive and must be handled with great care. In a matter of seconds, an unprotected person one foot away from a single freshly removed spent fuel assembly would receive a lethal dose of radiation within seconds. As one of the most dangerous materials on the planet, spent reactor fuel requires permanent geological isolation to protect humans for thousands of years.

It's been 26 years, since the Chernobyl reactor exploded and caught fire releasing enormous amounts of radioactive debris - seriously contaminating areas over a thousand miles away. Chernobyl revealed the folly of not having an extra barrier of thick concrete and steel surrounding the reactor core that is required for modern plants, in the U.S., Japan and elsewhere. The Fukushima Dai-Ichi accident revealed the folly of operating several nuclear power plants in a high consequence earthquake zone while storing huge amounts of highly radioactive spent fuel in vulnerable pools, high above the ground.

What both accidents have in common is widespread environmental contamination from cesium-137. With a half-life of 30, years, Cs-137 gives off penetrating radiation, as it decays and can remain dangerous for hundreds of years. Once in the environment, it mimics potassium as it accumulates in the food chain. When it enters the human body, about 75 percent lodges in muscle tissue, with, perhaps, the most important muscle being the heart.

Last week, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) revealed plans to remove 2,274 spent fuel assemblies from the damaged reactors that will probably take at least a decade to accomplish. The first priority will be removal of the contents in Pool No. 4. This pool is structurally damaged and contains about 10 times more cesium-137 than released at Chernobyl. Removal of SNF from the No. 4 reactor is optimistically expected to begin at the end of 2013. A significant amount of construction to remove debris and reinforce the structurally-damaged reactor buildings, especially the fuel- handling areas, will be required.

Also, it is not safe to keep 1,882 spent fuel assemblies containing ~57 million curies of long-lived radioactivity, including nearly 15 times more cs-137 than released at Chernobyl in the elevated pools at reactors 5, 6, and 7, which did not experience meltdowns and explosions.

The main reason why there is so much spent fuel at the Da-Ichi site is that the plan to send it off for nuclear recycling has collapsed. It was supposed to go to the incomplete Rokkasho reprocessing plant, just south of the Fukushima nuclear site, where plutonium would be extracted as a fuel for "fast" reactors. This scheme is based on long discredited assumptions that world uranium supplies would be rapidly exhausted and that a new generation of "fast" reactors, which held the promise of making more fuel than they use, would be needed. Over the past 20 years the Rokkasho's costs have tripled along with 18 major delays. World uranium supplies are far from depleted. Moreover, in November of last year, Japan's "fast" reactor project at Monju was cancelled for cost and safety reasons - dealing a major blow to this whole scheme.

The stark reality, if TEPCO's plan is realized, is that nearly all of the spent fuel at the Da-Ichi containing some of the largest concentrations of radioactivity on the planet will remain indefinitely in vulnerable pools. TEPCO wants to store the spent fuel from the damaged reactors in the common pool, and only to resort to dry, cask storage when the common pool's capacity is exceeded. At this time, the common pool is at 80 percent storage capacity and will require removal of SNF to make room. TEPCO's plan is to minimize dry cask storage as much as possible and to rely indefinitely on vulnerable pool storage. Sen. Wyden finds that that TEPCO's plan for remediation carries extraordinary and continuing risk and sensibly recommends that retrieval of spent fuel in existing on-site spent fuel pools to safer storage... in dry casks should be a priority.

Despite the enormous destruction from the earthquake and tsunami, little attention was paid to the fact that the nine dry spent fuel casks at the Fukushima Da-Ichi site were unscathed. This is an important lesson we cannot afford to ignore.

Robert Alvarez, an Institute for Policy Studies senior scholar, served as senior policy adviser to the Energy Department's secretary and deputy assistant secretary for national security and the environment from 1993 to 1999. He is an award winning author whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Nation, Technology Review, and the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. He has also been featured on "60 Minutes," Nova and All Things Considered.

 

Comments   

We are concerned about a recent drift towards vitriol in the RSN Reader comments section. There is a fine line between moderation and censorship. No one likes a harsh or confrontational forum atmosphere. At the same time everyone wants to be able to express themselves freely. We'll start by encouraging good judgment. If that doesn't work we'll have to ramp up the moderation.

General guidelines: Avoid personal attacks on other forum members; Avoid remarks that are ethnically derogatory; Do not advocate violence, or any illegal activity.

Remember that making the world better begins with responsible action.

- The RSN Team

 
+1 # tomtom 2012-04-23 07:44
So, where Are all the people, who depended on nuclear power from Fukushima, getting their power from. Now?
 
 
+4 # Merschrod 2012-04-23 08:33
Fossil Fuel,

Japan is now more dependent on fossil fuel and imports most of it. No source to quote - I just read it in passing.

Kris
 
 
-4 # readerz 2012-04-23 12:35
Then I'm scared for two reasons: 1 radiation, and 2 war, because the Japanese claim that they started war in World War 2 because they needed access to fuel.
 
 
-2 # readerz 2012-04-24 07:08
I don't like my answer either, but I had several conversations with my Japanese employers in the early 1970s; I was working for a Japanese company in New York. The fuel shortage reason for war may have been what they were taught in school, because they were children during World War II. I am sure that the world-wide depression was part of it too, along with nationalism, which causes terrible policy.
 
 
+3 # amos365 2012-04-23 08:42
Info is hard to find. You might try here:

http://fukushima-diary.com/category/background/
 
 
+10 # davehaze 2012-04-23 08:57
Humans are not overly bright. We continue to assume that those who gain power over us are smarter than us. No. They are stupider but ballsy. A perfect example:

Yeah we are the only nation to feel the destruction and radioactive contamination from nuclear bombs but don't worry scattering 50 odd nuclear reactors over earthquake faults is perfectly safe. Trust us.

Oh, okay.
 
 
+10 # universlman 2012-04-23 09:20
There is no shortage recently of man-made environmental disasters; Chernobyl, , Love Canal, Exxon Valdez, the Bhopal disaster in India, the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, the Tennessee coal ash spill, Pitcher lead mine contamination in Oklahoma and most recently TEPCO taking the cake.

These disasters are much more likely when self interested politicians and owners attempt to short-circuit environmental review. This happened clearly in the BP oil spill and more recently with the GOPs insane screaming for the permitting of the Keystone Pipeline regardless of ANY environmental factors.

This instinctive and careless behavior is not who we are, but sadly it is who we are becoming.
 
 
-5 # dick 2012-04-23 09:23
Wyden is the sell-out idiot who proposes to privatize Medicare in the face of public health catastrophes. I appreciate his warning, but does he or any of his patrons own dry cast container operations?
 
 
+6 # jwb110 2012-04-23 09:32
The nations of the Pacific Rim should be filing suit in the World Court against the Japanese for the endangerment of the surround countries. This whole mismanaged operation smells of "let the US pay for the clean up." And the longer the Japanese Gov't drag their feet and the owners of the reactors act like a bunch of stumble bums the greater the danger to the surrounding countries.
The Japanese Gov't fell down on the job when it came to evacuating their citizens in the area and has further fallen down by not managing it's energy sector to take it in the neck where their profits and paychecks come from and fix what is clearly a further accident of greater magnitude than what has happened already.
We heard how Sarah Palen could see Russia from her home. I wonder if she can now see Japan and the ruin that will happen to her state. Her next grandchild may be born with two heads.
 
 
+1 # readerz 2012-04-23 12:41
Two heads are better than one (when it comes to a Palin), but maybe two wrongs don't make a right.
 
 
+6 # xflowers 2012-04-23 11:14
Given the scope of the problem and the danger to everyone, there should be a global response to this situation, including monitoring, advising and if need be helping the Japanese better engineer their response. Why is this not happening?
 
 
+1 # readerz 2012-04-23 12:40
There is no safe place on the planet or off the planet to throw radioactive trash away. A very small amount of radioactivity is actually needed by coral (Strontium 90) or it will not grow; the organisms get that from volcanic vents, but I don't think there is any natural way, or alchemical way, to process spent reactor fuel. That should be the number 1 priority in the whole world right now, or maybe number 2 after population control, and the right-wing fails at both.
 
 
+3 # davehaze 2012-04-23 14:31
Good News:

Tepco and the Japanese government have solved the nuclear meltdown problem. First they banned the sale and confiscated all radiation-detec tion devices because they caused folks undo anxiety, and lack of sleep, with all that beeping, and too many traffic tie-ups and accidents on the way to airports, (high-tailing it out of the country is definitely a no-no, except gov't and Tepco family members) then all dust masks had to go cause was that fair to the folks that couldn't afford the giant-size 100 count bags? and then hats, folks were wearing hats to keep radiation particles from falling on their heads. The latest government mandate is no hats unless it is raining or -- because of popular discontent -- unless it's a baseball cap at the ballgames.

And NO LEAD-LINED UNDERWEAR! (Except for the usual exceptions!)
 
 
+2 # Douglas Jack 2012-04-23 19:31
Some of the comments here forget that Japan is still technically an occupied country. The people of Japan were less involved in the choice of nuclear power 67 years ago and under coercion to adopt a technology wanting to redeem itself (Atoms for peace). In any case before this terminal crisis we are all one people and one genetic future worldwide. The whole world should be devoting the best of its atomic scientists and engineers to address these 'out-of-control ' nuclear reactions at Fukushima nuclear reactor stations 1, 2 & 3 where radio-activity is too high for both human and robot intervention as well as the 100 foot high storage tanks at 4. Most unfamiliar with atomic physics don't realize that the radiation constantly being emitted in all of these situations including at station 4 does not allow for easy manipulation of these materials. Manipulation which respects human dose limits and robot electronics functions is very time-consuming, expensive and hazardous. The permanent biosphere damage from Fukushima should come as a precaution for all other nuclear power plants as well as the very issue of non-essential electric power and energy consumption. https://sites.google.com/site/indigenecommunity/relational-economy/7-nuclear-war-detached-housing
 
 
+1 # readerz 2012-04-24 07:21
I agree with everything but your first statement: Okinawa was occupied, but not the rest of Japan. They were proud of their technology, and there were several companies such as Ampex and Sony that were cutting edge. Yes, there was some stolen technology, and a bit of a scandal, but mostly the Japanese tried to be at the forefront of engineering, and they are today the only ones left who know the metallurgy to make wrought iron, which is needed for high-temperatur e high-pressure steam. The trouble is, no country can build a nuclear power plant on a fault line and with no emergency plans and no plan to reuse spent fuel and get away with it for long. Until every possible problem is thought out, nuclear power is suicide.
 
 
+3 # duranc 2012-04-23 20:05
If anything happens to the storage pool at reactor number 4, it will release so much radiation that you will not be able to approach the site without receiving a fatal dose and die within hours. At that point all of the other 7 reactors will complete their melt down as no humans or robots could function there to keep the water pumping in. The radiation release from this site would kill most life on earth within 2 years. The planet would be uninhabitable by anything except bacteria. So unless you have any comments on how to fix this problem, or you have the president’s ear and can tell him to go send people in now while there are still people left on earth to send in, then nothing else really matters. And in case you don’t know, the Japanese government is not going to fix this problem; they gave this to Tepco to fix. Tepco has no workers to actually do the required construction, they have only received homeless volunteers who have nothing to live for and have no construction experience. They have no power to force anyone in to that site. That’s why nothing has been done to date. That’s the reality, so unless Obama takes this upon his presidency to fix, then we're all going to die. Who cares about Syria or what’s playing at the movies next week or how many fat people are at Wal-Mart, or oil prices...WHO CARES! Humans have no other purpose right now but to fix Fukushima. What we need is a leader to organize the repair... who will that be?
 
 
-2 # readerz 2012-04-24 07:25
More likely Obama, if he hears all the facts (maybe a petition on Care-to?). Certainly not any Republican. Trust me, the only thing the Repos in Ohio are doing is leasing all the parks to fracking, and letting the earthquakes damage homes. Those Repos would put a fracking plant next to a nuclear reactor; hell, they already have in Ohio. Look up Perry, just northeast of Cleveland; there is fracking in several places within 50 miles of it.
 
 
0 # readerz 2012-04-24 12:42
I meant: More likely Obama would try to clean it up and get other countries to help if he knew what sort of looming disaster is at Fukushima; you don't think any Republican would spend one minute thinking about it, do you?
 
 
+1 # readerz 2012-04-24 07:37
And I just wrote the Whitehouse.gov site. However, I think that if you write a petition, or the author writes a petition, and puts it out for many people to sign, it will be much better than a few letters.
 
 
0 # Max Demian 2012-04-24 11:47
With Barack "Insane" Obama having approved billions of dollars for building more nuclear power plants, and because he is a soldout corporate-fasci st working for the same corporate-fasci sts who the "Republicans" and all of the globalists, including most of the "Democrats", work for, it is extremely unlikely that he will step in and do anything to truly resolve the danger of "Fu(c)kus(all)h ima". The globalists and corporate-fasci sts want most of the human population on earth dead, so they are most likely going to intentionally allow the situation to get worse and let all or most of North America be terminally and lethally radiated. There is no limit to the level of their hubris and hegemony.

From the radioactive dust that has already been released, and continues to be released, which is inundating North America right now, and because most Americans are taking no precautions, we're going to see millions of Americans developing lethal cancer(s) in the next couple of years. And all those like myself with compromised immune systems will be dead within that same period of time. The population control nutcases love this, falsely believing that animal and plant life is supposedly more important than human life. They hate humankind, so they don't care how many people suffer and die horrible, horrific deaths as result of this, what I call, "eugenocide"; in fact, they revel in it and cheer it on.

(Cont'd)
 
 
+1 # Max Demian 2012-04-24 13:57
Our "leaders" are all a bunch of extremely evil, insane corporate-fasci st globalists who couldn't care less about us; so they are not going to mitigate and/or correct this situation, and/or protect us from its extremely harmful results. This is more than proven by Obama and others telling us that there's supposedly nothing to worry about from "Fu(c)kus(all)h ima", that we allegedly don't need to take any precautions, and even that we supposedly should not take any precautions, etc. They are mass-murderous sicko control freaks who should all be, though obviously they won't ever be, locked up for life without any possibility of parole, ever.
 
 
0 # Max Demian 2012-04-27 04:40
Fukushima Is Falling Apart: Are You Ready … For A Mass Extinction Event?

http://www.infowars.com/fukushima-is-falling-apart-are-you-ready-for-a-mass-extinction-event/

According to the foregoing and many other articles, and from the reports of nuclear experts all over the world, Fukushima is FAR WORSE, and is still an ongoing event that continues to get worse and worse, than we are being told in the mainstream. Wake up and face the music, and take precautions such as you and everyone in your family(ies) wearing HEPA filter face masks when out of doors, and going outside as little as possible; and, especially, do NOT go outside AT ALL during precipitation of any kind, particularly rainfall. If you can, move to the Southern Hemisphere immediately, further south than Central America, south of the Equator. This is absolutely no joke; this is truly how serious the situation already is, and it is very likely to get much worse if it already hasn't.

To give you a personal example, I have had a constipation and hemorrhoid problem for several years, but they didn't start bleeding until the past year. The last major time they bled, ugly black material, probably cancer cells, came out with the blood. And I rarely go outside (about once every three weeks or so), and every time I go out I wear a HEPA face mask at all times. I started the practice of wearing the face mask within ten days of March 11th, 2011 when the Fukushima disaster started.
 
 
0 # Max Demian 2012-04-30 02:32
Further very important information concerning Fukushima:

Urgent Warning: Fukushima Estimate of Situation

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJIEZvX4PZI&feature=youtu.be
 
 
+2 # MainStreetMentor 2012-04-24 07:31
Perhaps the nuclear meltdown scenario in Japan may be what the predictors of Worlds' End on December 21 of this year are using as a source of their predictions - but whether that supposition be true or not, the dangers are very real and very scary. The two approvals of additional nuclear power plants within the State of Georgia need to be repealed and withdrawn. We don't need more risk.
 
 
+1 # davehaze 2012-04-24 12:29
Dear Readerz Obama knows all about it and his response was to give 18.5 billion gift to the nuclear industry. He is most pronuke president in decades. And I'll bet not one dime earmarked for lead underwear.
 
 
0 # duranc 2012-04-24 18:05
@RSN

Will you please coordinate a petition that we can send to the Whitehouse?
 
 
0 # readerz 2012-04-24 21:39
@RSN, and post this article again.

I agree that many of our politicians don't know much about nuclear (and I agree that Pres. Obama is too quick to sign on), I think instead of shouting at them, it is time to tell them, just how bad this situation is. If they don't get why we think it is a bad idea, a good petition needs to be sent to them. In an election year, they might notice, and it would also help to educate a lot of the public about it. Be sure that there isn't another Party that could win the Presidency beside Democrat or Republican, and you can be sure what the Republicans will do about this problem. The Democrats may be the same, but there is always hope; they banned nuclear before, and could do it again. The trouble is, the "tax credits" that do too little to promote solar energy, must be strengthened with lots of other ideas, and also the ability to really go solar. It can and must happen.
 
 
0 # AEH 2012-04-25 09:44
To all those that are now aware of & alarmed by this situation: Please contact all of your DC representatives , as well as any other organization that you think would have the clout to be listened to. Somehow getting the President to pay attention would be great, but if enough legislators are given the accurate details, perhaps the best minds on the planet could be brought together... to save the planet from an immediate threat.
 
 
0 # AEH 2012-04-25 09:51
One of many sites to locate all your representatives is: http://congress.org/congressorg/state/main/?state=GA&view=myofficials

Please do.
 

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.

RSNRSN