Sunday, May 20, 2012

Fukishima Reactor # 4 poses massive global risk

I haven't done any work on Fukushima for some time. This main stream Canadian news is  presented as if this is something that hasn't been a long time coming... It isn't.

More than a year after a devastating earthquake and tsunami triggered a massive nuclear disaster, experts are warning that Japan isn't out of the woods yet and the worst nuclear storm the world has ever seen could be just one earthquake away from reality.

The troubled Reactor 4 at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is at the centre of this potential catastrophe.
Reactor 4 -- and to a lesser extent Reactor 3 -- still hold large quantities of cooling waters surrounding spent nuclear fuel, all bound by a fragile concrete pool located 30 metres above the ground, and exposed to the elements.
A magnitude 7 or 7.5 earthquake would likely fracture that pool, and disaster would ensue, says Arnie Gundersen, a nuclear engineer with Fairewinds Energy Education who has visited the site.
The 1,535 spent fuel rods would become exposed to the air and would likely catch fire, with the most-recently added fuel rods igniting first.
The incredible heat generated from that blaze, Gundersen said, could then ignite the older fuel in the cooling pool, causing a massive oxygen-eating radiological fire that could not be extinguished with water.
"So the fear is the newest fuel could begin to burn and then we'd have a conflagration of the whole pool because it would become hotter and hotter. The health consequences of that are beyond where science has ever gone before," Gundersen told in an interview from his home in Vermont.
Worst-case scenario
There are a couple of possible outcomes, Gundersen said.
Highly radioactive cesium and strontium isotopes would likely go airborne and "volatilize" -- turning into a vapour that could move with the wind, potentially travelling thousands of kilometres from the source.
The size of those particles would determine whether they remained in Japan, or made their way to the rest of Asia and other continents.
"And here's where there's no science because no one's ever dared to attempt the experiment," Gundersen said. "If it flies far enough it goes around the world, if the particles stay a little bigger, they settle in Japan. Either is awful."
Essentially, he said, Japan is sitting on a ticking time bomb.
The damaged Reactor 4 cooling pool was reinforced by workers who went in and "jury-rigged" it after the tsunami, but the structure still contains a massive amount of fuel, Gundersen said.
Reactor 3 has less fuel inside its cooling pool, but it has not been strengthened since the disaster and poses a greater risk of failing.
"Reactor 3 has a little less consequences but a little more risk, and Reactor 4 has more consequences but…a little less risk," he said.
Finding a fix
The solution, Gundersen said, is for the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to immediately begin the process of transferring the fuel rods from the cooling pools to dry cask storage -- a massive and costly endeavour, but one he said is absolutely essential.
To even begin the removal process at Reactor 4, TEPCO would first have to construct a crane capable of lifting the 100-tonne fuel rod canister, since the original crane was destroyed in the disaster last year.
In order to do that, they would have to build a massive structure around the existing pool to support the new crane, which would then be used to lift the fuel rod canister from the water, down to the ground and into a steel and concrete dry-cask.
All this of course, has to be done in a highly contaminated area where workers must wear protective suits and limit their radiation exposure each day, adding time and expense to the process.
Still, with the consequences so high, Gundersen said there's no time to lose.
"This is a 'now' problem, this is not a 'let's-wait-until-we-get-the-cash-flow-from-the-Japanese-government' problem. The consequences of a 7 or 7.5 earthquake don't happen every day, but we know it happened last year so you have to anticipate that it will happen," Gundersen said.
‘Fate of the world' depends on Reactor 4
He's not alone in pressing the Japanese government to adopt a sense of urgency about the Reactor 4 dilemma.
Robert Alvarez, a former top adviser at the U.S. Department of Energy, also expressed concern in a letter to Akio Matsumura, a Japanese diplomat who has turned his focus to the nuclear calamity.
Matsumura had asked Alvarez about the risk associated with Reactor 4.
"The No. 4 pool is about 100 feet above ground, is structurally damaged and is exposed to the open elements," Alvarez said in his response. "If an earthquake or other event were to cause this pool to drain this could result in a catastrophic radiological fire involving nearly 10 times the amount of Cesium-137 released by the Chernobyl accident."
Mitsuhei Murata, Japan's former ambassador to Switzerland and Senegal, has also made it his mission to convince the UN and the world that urgent action is needed.
"It is no exaggeration to say that the fate of Japan and the whole world depends on No. 4 reactor," Murata said in a recent letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in which he urged him to back efforts to address the problem.
Last week, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said most major threats have been eliminated and "cold shutdown" status had been achieved in December.
But Noda declined to comment directly on the risk posed by Reactor 4, only telling The Wall Street Journal's Asia edition that it was important to "remain vigilant."
"We have passed a situation where people have to run far away or evacuate," he said. "Ahead of us are time-consuming tasks like decontamination and decommissioning (of the plants). We will proceed with the utmost care."
Gundersen said the remaining challenges at the Fukushima Da-Ichi site are not technological. Everyone knows what needs to be done and how to do it, he said. The challenge lies, rather, in convincing Japan that action must be taken now.
That will require international pressure, as well as international investment, on a grand scale, he said.
"We're all in a situation of having to pray there's not an earthquake. And there's the other half of that, which is pray to God but row toward shore. And Tokyo's not really rowing toward shore right now," Gundersen said.


  1. hi Penny, as you say, this is nothing new. But it isn't exactly accurate either. Big surprise.

    The sub-script is that there is no ongoing problem at present but there might be a problem in the future. And that problem could be up to ten times the Chernobyl disaster. However it will be very expensive to fix things before it blows. So everybody had better dig deep and come up with the money pronto because the Japanese aren't.

    And it is going to be a lot cheaper (for you) to fix now than later when the nuclear particles are falling down on our heads (not that they aren't now!). I think they used to call this sort of thing blackmail.

    The truth is that the problems of irradiating the environment both in Japan and around the world are happening now and have been ongoing since the beginning. The disaster has already dwarfed that of Chernobyl many times over.

    The companies that own the power plants and those that have profited from them in any way should be sold up first to pay for the clean-up. They are avoiding that and wanting everybody else to pay for it.

    Who's paying Arnie Gundersen (nuclear engineer with Fairewinds Energy Education) to publicise this? His company no doubt works for these nuclear companies so he's peddling their agenda. Either that or Fairewinds is just a PR front for the nuclear industry. Same difference.

    Lock 'em all up!

    1. Arnie Gunderson has been talking Fukushima up all along
      On line.
      This was actually the first time I had ever seen him interviewed main stream. So that was a shocker.

      What else isn't mentioned in this article?
      And it is a big one
      If 4 collapses the ensuing...... what word to use?
      The ensuing fire,explosion, storm, radioactive nightmare, holocaust-you pick?

      What comes after will make any maintenance at the site virtually impossible!
      And 3 is on the verge also
      You may recall that # 3 is a plutonium reactor?
      You may recall that # 3 has already exploded
      You may recall that most of the 6 with the possible exception of # 5 and # 6 are in meltdown..
      (Going on recall here)
      I could click the Japan label and refresh my memory?

      Point being, if 4 goes, they will all go.

  2. I have been waiting to see if more people will discuss this subject. After everything we know about Chernobyl - How can the world be mostly ignoring the Fukushima disaster... They show Tokyo City with it s festival of lights or whatever on the news... Those people...are they not ALL contaminated with radiation? Why is no one talking about this aspect...I really don't understand at all!

    All there needs to be is a continuation of the quakes, which are almost daily... I don't hear countries offering help.... America has invaded countries on a flimsy premise...yet Japan is kind of left to the scientists to 'discuss'...

    Utter Madness!

    aka Marty

  3. Hey Mar/Mar

    I did a lot of work on Fukushima way back.

    'How can the world be mostly ignoring the Fukushima disaster... They show Tokyo City with it s festival of lights or whatever on the news... Those people...are they not ALL contaminated with radiation?'

    Most of the people are oblivious to the Fukushima disaster. The media helped with that!!
    Downplaying, covering up, excusing..
    They did their job, in service to the war industry very well.
    This is but one reason I call bullshit on the global warming agenda
    Nuclear power as green energy! On what planet?
    The covering up of this holocaust of humanity is part and parcel of so many agendas, I can't even begin to without getting annoyed beyond all belief
    Notice the drive to war just never stops?

  4. Grrr.. I should use the edit feature

    "The covering up of this holocaust of humanity is part and parcel of so many agendas, I can't even begin to without getting annoyed beyond all belief'

    should have read

    The covering up of this holocaust of humanity is part and parcel of so many agendas, I can't even begin to cover it, without getting annoyed beyond all belief

  5. Hi Penny, you are right, it is the media that is responsible for keeping people ignorant. My comments were not directed 'at you', I was really saying in general - why is there no coverage on the subject! How can we in the West just act like Fukushima is not a big deal! We have almost forgotten about it. I am glad that you are one of the few bloggers addressing the issue.

    1. marie/marty: I knew you were not directing your initial comment to me :)

      there is no western media coverage, your right. Which is why this story, seemed out of the blue, catching me off guard completely.

      Thinking of George Monbiot- the apologist from the Guardian...
      He was spinning pro nuclear energy right after the Fukushima disaster. And he is supposed to be "green"
      He never touched on the dire disaster that Fukushima was
      just kept on spinning...

      Is he still churning it out?
      I wonder.

    2. A day or two after the tsunami Monbiot had the temerity to say that the event had enhanced his view of nuclear power as the damage was so slight! Unfuckingbelievable - to borrow an expression from James (I think).

    3. Freethinker!

      Did he really? What a tool!
      Wonder how much pay one get's for being a mouthpiece for the military/industrial death industry?
      Wonder how much of his salary is actually paid by the Guardian?


    1. Thanks anonymous:
      I had actually read that over at Natural News.

      But, I am not really to sure about it...
      These Islands have long been disputed.
      Strategically they are important to Russia

      The evacuation of 40 million people seems highly implausible.
      Not impossible, just costly, very costly and likely not worth the cost to the bankster elite classes