Fukushima Crisis Demands a Global Response NOW
This post isn’t about the averted crisis everyone will be talking about today because there is no actual resolution to the political psychosis we’ve been subjected to the past couple weeks. After a cost of 24 billion dollars, we’ll be watching the same insanity unfold in February.
No, what this post is about is a crisis that could impact the ability of humans to live in the northern hemisphere, maybe the planet, because if the equivalent of 14,000 Hiroshima bombs is released, life as we know could drastically change.
In November, Tepco will begin removing 1,331 spent fuel assemblies from the damaged cooling pond in reactor 4. If something goes wrong, this could happen:
“There is a risk of an inadvertent criticality if the bundles are distorted and get too close to each other,” Gundersen said.
He was referring to an atomic chain reaction that left unchecked could result in a large release of radiation and heat that the fuel pool cooling system isn’t designed to absorb.
“The problem with a fuel pool criticality is that you can’t stop it. There are no control rods to control it,” Gundersen said. “The spent fuel pool cooling system is designed only to remove decay heat, not heat from an ongoing nuclear reaction.”
The rods are also vulnerable to fire should they be exposed to air, Gundersen said.
The fuel assemblies are situated in a 10 meter by 12 meter concrete pool, the base of which is 18 meters above ground level. The fuel rods are covered by 7 meters of water, Nagai said.
The pool was exposed to the air after an explosion a few days after the quake and tsunami blew off the roof. The cranes and equipment normally used to extract used fuel from the reactor’s core were also destroyed.
Tepco has shored up the building, which may have tilted and was bulging after the explosion, a source of global concern that has been raised in the U.S. Congress.
The utility says the building can withstand shaking similar to the quake in 2011 and carries out regular structural checks, but the company has a credibility problem. Last month, it admitted that contaminated water was leaking into the Pacific Ocean after months of denial.
The first question the global community should be asking is this: why the hell is Tepco still in charge? They have admitted lying about contaminated water seeping into the Pacific. Tepco has no credibility. There must be an international effort to add whatever resources/expertise exists in the global community, because if this goes wrong, we are all in serious trouble. And things have a really good chance of going wrong:
Removing the rods from the pool is a delicate task normally assisted by computers, according to Toshio Kimura, a former Tepco technician, who worked at Fukushima Daiichi for 11 years.
“Previously it was a computer-controlled process that memorized the exact locations of the rods down to the millimeter and now they don’t have that. It has to be done manually so there is a high risk that they will drop and break one of the fuel rods,” Kimura said.
Under normal circumstances, the operation to remove all the fuel would take about 100 days. Tepco initially planned to take two years before reducing the schedule to one year in recognition of the urgency. But that may be an optimistic estimate.
“I think it’ll probably be longer than they think and they’re probably going to run into some issues,” said Murray Jennex, an associate professor at San Diego State University who is an expert on nuclear containment and worked at the San Onofre nuclear plant in California.
“I don’t know if anyone has looked into the experience of Chernobyl, building a concrete sarcophagus, but they don’t seem to last well with all that contamination.”
Corrosion from the salt water will have also weakened the building and equipment, he said.
And if an another strong earthquake strikes before the fuel is fully removed that topples the building or punctures the pool and allow the water to drain, a spent fuel fire releasing more radiation than during the initial disaster is possible, threatening about Tokyo 200 kilometers (125 miles) away.
When asked what was the worst possible scenario, Tepco is planning for, Nagai said: “We are now considering risks and countermeasures.”
Reading about this sent my wife into a panic attack yesterday. Maybe there really is no benefit in broad media coverage of what could happen, since there is nothing we can do about it.
How much money did Tepco save putting these reactors next to the Pacific? And speaking of money, I’ll conclude this post with probably the most disturbing thing I’ve read about this disaster. Stunning Story from a Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Worker By OSHIDORI MAKO:
On April 11, I talked with a Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant worker and a young professor of theUniversityofTokyo.
Why skimp on money and time in the management of a level 7 nuclear accident?
Worker: I think that leaks here and there are a normal thing.
– Are you serious? Why?
Worker: Because it was a situation of emergency in which a lot of facilities were built in a rush. After the accident, facilities were being built in such a speedy fashion that it did not matter if they had to last for only one year or so.
Some constructors have even put the sentence “Quality is not guaranteed” in the contract. Facilities built and supposed “to last for only one year” are still being used. It is normal that their condition deteriorates.
Worker: In addition the effort to secure “cheaper commissions in order to cut down expenses” is also a problem. The government allocates funds to TEPCO for the management of the nuclear power plant accident, but the money is not a grant. It is a debt and must be refunded in the future.
Since the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is not expected to generate profit in the future, it is normal that TEPCO seek to reduce its debt as much as possible.
That is the reason why “cutting the budget, reducing the cost, and using lower price materials” for constructions and facilities in the management of the nuclear power plant accident is the order of the day.
On the ground, there are no such attempts as to gather the brains of the World in order to effectively deal with the nuclear accident.
– That is quite far from gathering the brains of the World. It’s just a get-together of stingy people, right?
Worker: It is stinginess not only with money but with time, too. Orders such as “It is the fiscal year-end. So hurry up and complete the construction work!” are common. Sometime you hear things such as “It is the fiscal year-end, there is no more funding available”. Why should the “fiscal year-end” take priority over any other matter in an unsettled situation of a Level 7 nuclear disaster?
Is it alright to entrust the management of a nuclear power plant accident to just one business entity such as TEPCO? As long as TEPCO is a business entity, it is in pursuit of profit and book closing at the year-end is part of that. So, I think that things won’t work if the management of the accident and the decommissioning project of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant are not separated from TEPCO and entrusted to an ad hoc specialized team.