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Excerpt: "A growing chorus of activists, experts and politicians is now raising alarm about the durability of Unit 4's cooling pool in the event of another strong earthquake."

Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. (photo: CommonDreams)
Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. (photo: CommonDreams)

Concerns Grow Over Stability of Fukushima Fuel Pool 4

By Wyatt Olson, Stars and Stripes

24 May 12


s the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant crisis escalated in March 2011, Japan Prime Minister Naoto Kan secretly requested a worst-case scenario from the chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission.

Two weeks later, Kan received a document that projected possible dire consequences for the four reactors damaged as a result of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami, according to a recent investigative report by the Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation, an independent think tank founded to probe the causes of the plant disaster. Among the risks was a loss of cooling water in Unit 4, which houses most of the plant’s spent fuel that is not in secure dry casks. The fuel, if left exposed, would superheat and melt, releasing a massive amount of radiation.

The “worst” didn’t transpire then, but a growing chorus of activists, experts and politicians is now raising alarm about the durability of Unit 4’s cooling pool in the event of another strong earthquake.

Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the plant, has stated on its website that the holding pool in Unit 4 is sound and that the building could withstand an earthquake the magnitude of the March 11, 2011, quake. But that hasn’t quelled calls for greater efforts to empty and secure Unit 4.

In April, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. - a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources - visited the plant. He told MSNBC during an April 17 interview that he asked to inspect it because there wasn’t enough information getting out to the public about the cleanup.

“I do think this is something that has to be addressed quickly,” he told MSNBC. “The utility company, called Tepco, has a 10-year plan for essentially moving the spent fuel rods to dry casks, dry storage. That, in my view, must be sped up because if another earthquake or tsunami hits, it could be very, very damaging and possibly more radiation than earlier.”

In letters to Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Wyden asked them to identify any support that could be offered to the Japanese to secure the plant’s spent fuel.

On the heels of Wyden’s visit, 72 Japan-based organizations sent a petition to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon requesting international help. The petition asks the U.N. to organize a summit to consider the future of Unit 4 and to establish an independent team to coordinate international assistance.

The petition was endorsed by several former Japanese diplomats and nuclear energy experts.

“We’re not saying that it’s going to collapse at this very moment,” said Aileen Mioko Smith, executive director of the Kyoto-based group Green Action, one of the signatories. “We’re just very concerned that with enough earthquake motion that pool will collapse.”

Ikko Nakatsuka, senior vice minister of reconstruction, said he is considering the call for international assistance.

“I want to gather knowledge from around the world, and I’m not rejecting international cooperation,” he said during a press conference Monday at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Tokyo.

Nakatsuka, who recently toured the plant, presented an “integrity evaluation” for Unit 4. It concluded that there is no leakage or damage around the spent fuel pool, that the building is not tilted, and that testing had determined the building could withstand aftershocks as strong as the initial magnitude 9.0 quake. A support structure has also been built at the bottom of the pool, which increased the earthquake safety margin by 20 percent, the evaluation said.

Tepco was, in essence, nationalized this month after the government injected billions of dollars to keep it afloat. Public trust in the company’s pronouncements, however, remains low more than a year after its mishandling of the disaster.

Yoichi Funabashi, chairman of the Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation, wrote in the March edition of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that “the government and [Tepco] were astonishingly unprepared, at almost all levels, for the complex nuclear disaster that started with an earthquake and a tsunami.”

“Tepco bears the primary responsibility for the incompetent handling of the aftermath of the disaster.”

Robert Alvarez, a former policy adviser to the U.S. secretary of energy and now a scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, endorsed the U.N. petition.

“The U.S. should be doing more to provide technical and materiel assistance, especially helping to provide more dry casks,” Alvarez wrote in an email interview. “The U.S. Energy department has a considerable amount of experience for the past 20+ years and has been spending $6 billion/yr to stabilize and remediate the huge mess left behind from the nuclear arms race at dozens of sites in the U.S.”

Alvarez said he’s not suggesting a “hurry-up approach” in securing the spent fuel in Unit 4. He advocates putting as much of the spent fuel as possible into dry, hardened storage casks – an “unprecedented” challenge given the existing damage to the building.

He estimates it would take several years and about 244 casks at roughly $1 million apiece to secure the 1,535 fuel assemblies.

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+10 # universlman 2012-05-24 11:05
Based on what we read and hear, BP might as well be crafting the media responses to this disaster for TEPCO.
+3 # Max Demian 2012-05-24 11:45
Fukushima: If Number 4 Collapses, Japan Will Be Evacuated

The foregoing article states that there were more, very recent, hydrogen explosions at the Fukushima 1 and 3 reactors, and that TEPCO wants to get the heck out of Dodge. Does anyone doubt anymore that this is an ongoing disaster that is undoubtedly continuing to spread extreme levels of radioactive dust all over the Northern Hemisphere, and that we in the U.S. are still being inundated with it right now?! This also further supports that the spent fuel pool at reactor 4 has probably already collapsed and melted down, or that it's just a matter of time before it does with all of these continuing explosions at Fukushima.
0 # Max Demian 2012-05-25 18:48
U.S. Army General: The Whole Northern Hemisphere is at Risk of Becoming Largely Uninhabitable
+2 # 666 2012-05-24 14:12
just keep an eye on the live earthquake (apocalypse) map at:

I remember not so long ago when Japanese political & business leaders committed suicide over the shame of f-ups only a micro-fraction of this magnitude. Maybe wall street should take a hint...
+2 # teineitalia 2012-05-25 02:18
ok, just FTR...this is freaking me out. I LIVE in the Pacific on a small island. Japan has, for centuries, been the focal point of great quakes. Can we please move a little faster here, and decide upon a plan of action? There will be another magnitude 8 earthquake in Japan. It is not a matter of "if" it is merely "when".
0 # Innocent Victim 2012-05-25 07:26
Where is our Secretary of Energy, Dr Chu, on this problem?
+2 # Innocent Victim 2012-05-25 07:30
My experience in industry is that directors of industrial labs and other highly place executives do not worry about the lives of large numbers of people. Issues such as toxic air pollution, contaminated drinking water, etc., do not register with them, because they believe people already live too long.

With regard to radioactive fallout, it does not discriminate: the CEOs and especially their children will get the cancers just as will the rest of us.
+3 # phrixus 2012-05-25 08:21
Fukushima in it's current state has extinction-leve l event potential yet world governments are doing virtually nothing to mitigate the situation. The public needs to know that a failure of that holding pond would result in a disaster exceeding an all-out atomic weapons exchange between the world's nuclear powers. Every resource from every country needs to be brought to bear on this issue before another earthquake releases a nuclear genie of a magnitude the world has never seen (and will probably not survive).
0 # JSRaleigh 2012-05-25 14:41
I do not understand why they have not already begun building a robust, earthquake resistant pool to move the spent fuel into during the interim until they can acquire sufficient dry storage casks. If the fuel rods were moved to a structure that could survive the maximum earthquake without losing integrity, that would buy time to remedy the rest of the problem.

Why are the fuel rods still in a location where an earthquake could cause a loss of coolant failure?
+1 # Anarchist 23 2012-05-26 12:45
$244,000,000-re ally quite cheap considering the other price may well be 'On the Beach' as fact not fiction. Even those of us who could get below the Equator would die eventually-$244 ,000,000 for dry casks;saving the world-priceless !
0 # 666 2012-05-27 09:11
From the number of comments posted and the number of likes/dislikes, I suspect there's just too much truth to this topic for people to read and deal with. Are they all in "ostrich mode"? Absolutely, save the world!

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