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From April to September of 2013, as Bloomberg reports, TEPCO admits that levels of radiation measured from water samples around the destroyed Fukushima nuclear reactor were “significantly undercounted.” We assume it was mere coincidence that during this very time Shinzo Abe proclaimed the 2020 Olympics would be safe and used many of these readings as evidence. In addition to this debacle, The BBC reports, the likely scale of the radioactive plume of water from Fukushima due to hit the west coast of North America should be known in the next two months; and rather stunningly, The Japan Times reports a new study finds the lifetime risk of developing cancer has risen among 1-year-old girls in an area affected by the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant. But apart from that, everything’s great.
TEPCO admits radiation levels were “signicantly” undercounted… (Bloomberg)
Tokyo Electric Power Co. is re-analyzing 164 water samples collected last year at the wrecked Fukushima atomic plant because previous readings “significantly undercounted” radiation levels.
The utility known as Tepco said the levels were undercounted due to errors in its testing of beta radiation, which includes strontium-90, an isotope linked to bone cancer. None of the samples were taken from seawater, the company said today in an e-mailed statement.
“These errors occurred during a time when the number of the samplings rapidly increased as the result of a series of events since last April, including groundwater reservoir leakage and a major leak from a storage tank,” according to the statement.
Earlier today, Tepco suspended the removal of spent nuclear fuel rods at Fukushima plant after a cooling system failed due to a damaged power cable, the company said in a separate e-mailed statement. Work resumed at the reactor No. 4 spent fuel pool after activation of a backup system.
And then there’s the plume coming California’s way… (BBC)
The likely scale of the radioactive plume of water from Fukushima due to hit the west coast of North America should be known in the next two months.
Only minute traces of pollution from the beleaguered Japanese power plant have so far been recorded in Canadian continental waters.
This will increase as contaminants disperse eastwards on Pacific currents.
And this dismal study.. (The Japan Times)
The lifetime risk of developing cancer has risen slightly among 1-year-old girls in an area affected by the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, according to a study published online in a U.S. science journal Monday.
The assessment was based on a two-month study by Japanese researchers conducted about a year and a half after the March 2011 nuclear disaster. The study checked the radiation exposure of around 460 residents living near the crippled plant Fukushima Prefecture.
Health risk assessment indicates that post-2012 doses will increase the lifetime solid cancer incidence rate among 1-year-old girls by 1.06 percentage points in the Tamano area of Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, from the average rate of 31.76 percent, the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said.
It is the first time projections have been made regarding the probability of cancer risk related to the nuclear disaster, according to the team.
Akio Koizumi, a team member and Kyoto University professor of environmental health, acknowledged that lifetime cancer incidence likely rose slightly due to radiation exposurebut said he sees the impact of radiation exposure on health as “small.”
But apart from that, the clean-up is going great…
- *TEPCO SAYS PLANNED RESTART OF NUCLEAR PLANT DIFFICULT: MAINICHI
But this should make everyone feel better…
- *TEPCO TO GIVE CONDO RESIDENTS 5% DISCOUNT ON POWER: NIKKEI
Radiation cleanup work in 11 areas in Fukushima Prefecture was scheduled to be completed by March 31 under a government plan announced in January last year, according to Kyodo. The environment ministry expects a delay in the project to the year beginning April 2016 amid opposition from locals to the setup of temporary storage facilities, Kyodo said.
A record earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 wrecked the nuclear plant run by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501), causing radioactive leaks that forced the evacuation of about 160,000 people. The government said last week it will assume decontamination costs from the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns in order to accelerate the rebuilding of the region.
Decontamination costs near the Fukushima site, 150 miles (240 kilometers) north of Tokyo, are estimated at about 2.5 trillion yen ($24 billion), the government’s Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters said in a statement Dec. 20. The government plans to recover the costs through a sale of its shares in Tepco.
The environment ministry will release a revised schedule for the cleanup work soon, according to Kyodo.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Gearoid Reidy at email@example.com
Back in December 2012, we wrote that it was only a matter of time before Japan’s criminal lying about the radioactive exposure in the aftermath of the Fukushima catastrophe caught up with it, as well as with countless numbers of people who would soon succumb to radiation induced cancers and other diseases. What we found surprising back then, before the full scale of the Fukushima catastrophe become clear and before even Tepco admitted that the situation is completely out of control, is that those holding Japan accountable were not its own citizens but eight US sailors who have then filed a suit against semi-nationalized energy operator TEPCO – the company which repeatedly ignored internal warnings about the ability of the Fukushima NPP to withstand an earthquake/tsunami – seeking $110 million in damages.
“Eight U.S. sailors have filed a damages suit against Tokyo Electric Power Co., claiming they were exposed to radiation and face health threats as the utility did not provide appropriate information about the Fukushima nuclear disaster while they engaged in rescue operations on board an aircraft carrier, U.S. media reported.
The plaintiffs who filed the suit at the U.S. federal court in San Diego — seeking a total of $110 million, or 9.4 billion yen, in damages — were aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan when it was involved in “Operation Tomodachi,” a disaster relief effort shortly after a big earthquake and tsunami triggered the worst nuclear accident in decades, the reports said.”
What is sad is that while everyone in the alternative media was repeatedly warning about the radiation exposure being misrepresented by both TEPCO and various Japanese ministries, it was the mainstream media that was constantly complicit in disseminating official and unofficial lies that there is nothing to fear.
One year after our report, the lies are not only catching up (and overtaking), but are ruining and dooming innocent lives. As Fox reports, dozens of US soldiers who participated in the Fukushima cleanup effort, are succumbing to numerous radiation-related illnesses, including cancer, and their only error was believing the official media lies.
When the USS Ronald Reagan responded to the tsunami that struck Japan in March 2011, Navy sailors including Quartermaster Maurice Enis gladly pitched in with rescue efforts.
But months later, while still serving aboard the aircraft carrier, he began to notice strange lumps all over his body. Testing revealed he’d been poisoned with radiation, and his illness would get worse. And his fiance and fellow Reagan quartermaster, Jamie Plym, who also spent several months helping near the Fukushima nuclear power plant, also began to develop frightening symptoms, including chronic bronchitis and hemorrhaging.
They and 49 other U.S. Navy members who served aboard the Reagan and sister ship the USS Essex now trace illnesses including thyroid and testicular cancers, leukemia and brain tumors to the time spent aboard the massive ship, whose desalination system pulled in seawater that was used for drinking, cooking and bathing. In a lawsuit filed against Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the plaintiffs claim the power company delayed telling the U.S. Navy the tsunami had caused a nuclear meltdown, sending huge amounts of contaminated water into the sea and, ultimately, into the ship’s water system.
“At our level, we weren’t told anything,” Plym told FoxNews.com. “We were told everything was OK.” Now, Plym, Enis and dozens of others wonder if their service to their country and to Japan has left them doomed.
“I get so angry,” Plym said. “They said as long as the plume was avoided we would be fine. But we knew then that something was going to happen. Common sense tells you that the wind would blow it everywhere. You don’t need to be a nuclear scientist to figure that out.”
Why the anger though: after all everyone lied, starting with those in control, and certainly the media that supports the status quo (one must think of all those advertising dollars) constantly and repeatedly that it is simply preposterous to assume that a benevolent regime which only cares about the wealth effect (of both the US and Japan) would engage in such a vast conspiracy as to hide from the world just how destructive the fallour from Fukushima truly was (even as the fringe blogosphere was warning precisely about this day in, and day out).
But while the lies are easily explainable, what is more surprising is that the soldiers are blaming just Tepco instead of everyone in their chain of command for putting them in the line of gamma radiation fire.
San Francisco Attorney Charles Bonner,who is representing allegedly cancer-stricken sailors, initially filed a federal suit in the Southern District of California more than a year ago on behalf of a dozen sailors. The lawsuit was initially dismissed, when the court ruled that any ruling would hinge on interpreting communication between the Japanese and U.S. governments, which could violate the separation of powers. But Bonner is amending the suit to add new allegations that would fall under the court’s jurisdiction. And the number of plaintives has more than quadrupled as more service members come forward with radiation-related illnesses, he said.
“They went in to help with rescue efforts,” said Bonner, who plans to refile the suit on Jan. 6. “They did not go in prepared to deal with radiation containment.”
The plaintiffs don’t blame the U.S. Navy, which they believe acted in good faith, Bonner said. It was the plant’s operators who sat on the meltdown information during the crucial hours following the March 11, 2011 disaster, he said.
“TEPCO pursued a policy which caused rescuers, including the plaintiffs, to rush into an unsafe area which was too close to the [Fukushima nuclear power plant] that had been damaged,” Bonner charged in an April filing now being updated to add more plaintiffs. “Relying upon the misrepresentation regarding health and safety made by TEPCO, upon information and belief, the U.S. Navy was lulled into a false sense of security.
“The officers and crew of the U.S.S. Reagan (CVN-76) and other vessels believed that it was safe to operate within the waters adjacent to the FNPP, without doing the kinds of research and testing that would have verified the problems known to the defendant TEPCO at the time.”
Nathan Piekutoski, 22, who served aboard the USS Essex, which was in the same deployment as the Reagan, said sailors had no choice but to trust what they were told.
“They did say it was safe at the time,” Piekutoski said. “We had to take their word for it.”
Piekutowski says he suffered from leukemia and, while he is currently in remission, Doctors have told him that he may need a bone marrow transplant.
“Within a few months I started getting all these weird symptoms,” he recalled of the months following the disaster response. “Night sweats. Not sleeping. I started losing a lot of weight.
“It’s one of those things,” he added. “You’re angry that it happens but we had to go. It was our duty. I joined the military to help people in need.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Defense declined to comment on the pending lawsuit, but told FoxNews.com the Pentagon has been monitoring and collecting data on radiation exposure in the region.
Needless to say, the criminals at Tepco have nothing to say:
TEPCO officials did not respond to requests for comment. But a recent admission before members of the Japanese press on Dec. 12 during a meeting at the Tokyo Press Club, former Prime Minister Naoto Jan said the first meltdown occurred five hours after the tsunami, not the next day as reported at the time.
Bonner alleges that the statement means that the Japanese government knew radiation was being leaked and did not inform the U.S. Navy.
“They knew there was an active meltdown and they deliberately hid it from the public as well as the Navy,” Bonner said. “Those sailors went in there totally unaware and they were contaminated as a result.”
Plym says she is prepared to have her symptoms question in court, should the case go to trial. But with so many U.S. sailors coming forward, she believes justice will prevail.
“People will say that out lawsuit is fake and that we are doing this for money, but it’s really about getting the correct information out there,” Plym said.
And now back to a mythical reality in which insolvent governments tell the “truth” about the true, and very deplorable, state of affairs just behind the peeing facade. In the meantime, to all the sailors whose only crime was believing their criminal, corrupt superiors: our condolences.
With all the excitement about Japan’s soaring stock market (if plunging wages), crashing non-digital currency (leading to soaring energy prices), recent passage of an arbitrary secrecy bill (“Designed by Kafka & Inspired By Hitler“), and ongoing territorial spat with China, it is almost as if the Abe administration is desperately doing everything in its power, including some of the most ridiculous decisions taken by a government in recent history, to hide some key development behind the scenes. Such as this one perhaps: NHK reported today that TEPCO said radiation levels are extremely high in an area near a ventilation pipe at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. TEPCO found radiation of 25 sieverts an hour on a duct, which connects reactor buildings and the 120-meter-tall ventilation pipe.
Putting this number in context the estimated radiation level is the highest ever detected outside reactor buildings. People exposed to this level of radiation would die within 20 minutes.
The exhaust pipe in question was used to release radioactive gases following the outbreak of the accident 2 years ago.
TEPCO says radioactive substances could remain inside the pipes. Given TEPCO’s safety record, they could also leak outside of the pipes. And given the company’s “credibility” the world would be sure to learn about this… anywhere between 2 and 3 years after the fact.
In the meantime, we urge Japan to follow the bouncing, and so pleasantly distracting, Topix and Nikkei 225 balls, while sticking its head in the glow in the dark sand and completely ignore the radioactive monster in the closet.
… Which reminds us: on Thursday the following headline hit the Bloomberg tape:
- FUKUSHIMA RADIATION TO REACH U.S. COAST AT SAFE LEVEL: NRC
We are sure it is nothing, and the NRC is telling the truth.
The thousands of people who punch in every day at what is arguably the world’s most dangerous workplace are accustomed to facing risks.
But now workers at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant have embarked on their most precarious operation since the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami triggered meltdowns and explosions at the facility.
On Monday, select crews from Tokyo Electric Power Company began removing hundreds of highly radioactive spent fuel rods from a cooling pool inside a rickety reactor building, a job that is unprecedented in scale, and where one wrong move could have disastrous consequences.
Fuel rod quick facts
Workers at Fukushima Daiichi plan to remove more than 3,100 fuel rod assemblies from four reactor buildings.
Tokyo Electric Power Company officials say 80 of those assemblies are cracked — 70 in the reactor one building. They say holes and cracks in the damaged assemblies could cause radioactive particles to leak out.
Six teams of six workers will operate the crane to move the assemblies to the special containers. Each team can only work for two hours a day — they rotate to keep the operation moving, to minimize radiation exposure.
The amount of radioactive cesium-137 in the pool holding the fuel rod assemblies is said to be the equivalent of roughly 14,000 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs.
“It’s a totally different operation than removing normal fuel rods from a spent fuel pool,” Shunichi Tanaka, the chairman of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, said recently.
“They need to be handled extremely carefully and closely monitored. You should never rush or force them out, or they may break. I’m much more worried about this than I am about contaminated water.”
TEPCO’s checkered track record
But given that TEPCO has not exactly won over the Japanese public with its handling of the catastrophe, and that the amount of radioactive cesium-137 in the pool is said to be the equivalent of roughly 14,000 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs, this next step is turning into a crucial test for the beleaguered utility as much as it is an engineering challenge.
Few in Japan or abroad seem convinced that TEPCO can pull this off, given the company’s checkered track record.
This is the same utility, they point out, that used false inspection reports years ago to cover up faults at Fukushima Daiichi; that dismissed warnings in 2008 that a monster tsunami could engulf the plant; that waited weeks to admit meltdowns even happened in March 2011, and that waited many months to acknowledge radioactive water is leaking into the Pacific Ocean.
It has also held back key information and stumbled from problem to problem over the past two-and-a-half years.
In fact, TEPCO has performed so poorly that a task force for Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party is recommending it be split up so that the job of decommissioning the wrecked plant would be separated from the utility’s power-generating role.
The fuel rods to be removed over the next 12 months or so are mostly in reactor four, which was offline when Fukushima Daiichi was shaken by powerful tremors and swamped by towering waves.
In the subsequent hydrogen explosions and fires, debris rained down on the large pool that holds 1,533 fuel rod assemblies —1,331 used and 202 unused. Another roughly 1,500 assemblies in the three other reactors are to be removed as well.
Workers spent months shoring up the structure and the pool, fearing another strong quake could trigger a catastrophe.
TEPCO spokesperson Tatsuhiro Yamagishi told CBC News that along with cesium-137 and cesium-134, the radioactive isotopes contained in the fuel include strontium-90, radium-226, uranium-235, and plutonium-239, which has a half-life of approximately 24,000 years.
Yamagishi admits engineers don’t know exactly how many assemblies have been damaged. The current estimate is that 80 have cracks.
“We are managing different types of risks,” he said. “We are evaluating each case right now.”
John Froats, an associate professor and nuclear engineer in residence at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, says those risks can probably be dealt with if handled carefully.
“The Fukushima Daiichi plant evolution is no doubt complicated by the plant damage and debris,” he said. “These complications can be managed by careful inspection to understand the state of systems and equipment and the fuel, and then by careful planning of the step-by-step tasks that need to be achieved.”
TEPCO workers have already removed a good amount of debris, checked some fuel rod assemblies to make sure they weren’t corroded by the seawater that was used to cool the pool in the early days of the crisis, and stabilized the building.
- Crippled Fukushima reactor to get ice wall
- Removal of fuel rods begins at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant
They’ve also successfully removed two unused rod assemblies. This week they began using the specially constructed crane to extract the fuel units one-by-one, keeping them underwater as they move them into specially-designed containers and then to another location on site.
In a corporate video on the TEPCO website, a deep-voiced narrator cheerfully runs through a simplified version of the process.
“Moving the spent fuel out of the damaged reactor building and into safe, permanent storage lays the groundwork for moving forward with cleanup and remediation of the damaged reactor building,” the video says.
In the video, TEPCO also calls the removal of the fuel rod assemblies from the reactor four building “a milestone” in the recovery of Fukushima Daiichi.
The world is watching
Certainly, it’s a key part of the decades-long decommissioning process now underway, and perhaps key to the company’s survival.
But while utility managers have no choice but to show they’re up to the task, the reality is they’re tackling a challenge none in their industry has faced before, and they’ll be carrying out the work knowing people around the world will be watching with critical eyes.
Among the critics is Mitsuhiko Tanaka, a science journalist and engineer who helped build part of reactor four at Fukushima Daiichi (and who later admitted to helping cover up a manufacturing flaw with the unit).
As he sees it, “TEPCO is a selling-electricity company, not an engineering company.
“It is quite apparent that TEPCO doesn’t have enough ability to cope with the problems in progress now. That’s why [it] has made a lot of mistakes.”
Tanaka, who calls the current state of the nuclear plant “hopeless,” says that while the utility has plenty of experience in normal fuel removal work, this job is different because of the possibility that some of the rod assemblies have been damaged.
And although TEPCO spokespersons insist their inspections and those by outside experts confirm the reinforcement of the reactor building has made it seismically sound, Tanaka maintains the structure is still vulnerable.
“I think it is very dangerous,” he says. “Furthermore, this very difficult work is going to be done in an earthquake-prone country.”
TEPCO was given permission in late summer to take on the removal of the fuel rods. But just before the operation begain U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz visited the facility to offer American help.
“The success of the cleanup also has global significance,” Moniz said. “We all have a direct interest in seeing that the next steps are taken well, efficiently and safely.”
Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501) successfully removed the first nuclear fuel rods today from a cooling pool at the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant, an early milestone in decommissioning the facility amid doubts about whether the rods had been damaged and posed a radiation risk.
The first of the fuel-rod assemblies at the plant’s No. 4 reactor building was transferred from an underwater rack on the fifth floor to a portable cask just before 4 p.m., the utility known as Tepco said in an e-mailed statement.
A member of the media wearing a protective suit and a mask walks in front of a fuel handling machine on the spent fuel pool inside the building housing the No. 4 reactor at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s (Tepco) Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan on Nov. 7, 2013. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg
Tepco planned to remove 22 assemblies from the pool, which contains 1,331 spent fuel assemblies and 202 unused assemblies, by the end of tomorrow, the company said. Crews are beginning with the unused assemblies because they are less fragile, spokesman Yusuke Kunikage said by phone.
The operation is the most significant test to date of Tepco’s ability to contain the threat stemming from the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Were the rods to break or overheat, it could prompt a self-sustained nuclear chain reaction similar to the meltdowns at three Fukushima reactors following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
“Although moving spent fuel into long-term storage is a routine task that Tepco has taken more than 1,200 times over the years, the circumstances at Fukushima Dai-Ichi require special care,” Tepco president Naomi Hirose said in a video message on the company’s website. “The success of the extraction process therefore represents the beginning of a new and important chapter in our work.”
Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority assigned an inspector to oversee the removals, in addition to its existing staff at the plant, and is using video monitoring of the removal, the agency said in a statement Friday.
An uncontrolled nuclear reaction due to structural failures or mishandled fuel is highly unlikely because of safeguards and workers’ experience with the procedure, Akira Ono, the Dai-Ichi plant’s chief supervisor, said at a Nov. 7 news conference at the power station.
Removing the rods, bunched in assemblies, will take place from a large shoebox-shaped structure cantilevered atop the reactor building, which was damaged in an explosion after the earthquake and tsunami. The assemblies, each holding about 80 rods, will be moved to a more secure pool on the ground.
Tepco said that it plans to complete the removal of all the fuel in the pool by the end of 2014.
Scientists Warn of Extreme Risk
We’ve long said that the greatest short-term threat to humanity is from the fuel pools at Fukushima.
The Japanese nuclear agency recently green-lighted the removal of the spent fuel rods from Fukushima reactor 4′s spent fuel pool. The operation is scheduled to begin this month.
The head of the U.S. Department of Energy correctly notes:
The success of the cleanup also has global significance. So we all have a direct interest in seeing that the next steps are taken well, efficiently and safely.
If one of the pools collapsed or caught fire, it could have severe adverse impacts not only on Japan … but the rest of the world, including the United States. Indeed, a Senator called it a national security concern for the U.S.:
The radiation caused by the failure of the spent fuel pools in the event of another earthquake could reach the West Coast within days. That absolutely makes the safe containment and protection of this spent fuel a security issue for the United States.
Hiroaki Koide – a nuclear scientist working at the University of Kyoto – says:
I’m worried about whether Tepco can treat all the 1,331 [spent-fuel] assemblies without any problem and how long it will take.
Award-winning scientist David Suzuki says that Fukushima is terrifying, Tepco and the Japanese government are lying through their teeth, and Fukushima is “the most terrifying situation I can imagine”.
Suzuki notes that reactor 4 is so badly damaged that – if there’s another earthquake of 7 or above – the building could come down. And the probability of another earthquake of 7 or above in the next 3 years isover 95%.
Suzuki says that he’s seen a paper that says that if – in fact – the 4th reactor comes down, “it’s bye bye Japan, and everyone on the West Coast of North America should evacuate. Now if that’s not terrifying, I don’t know what is.”
The Telegraph reports:
The operator of Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant … will begin a dry run of the procedure at the No. 4 reactor, which experts have warned carries grave risks.
“Did you ever play pick up sticks?” asked a foreign nuclear expert who has been monitoring Tepco’s efforts to regain control of the plant. “You had 50 sticks, you heaved them into the air and than had to take one off the pile at a time.
“If the pile collapsed when you were picking up a stick, you lost,” he said. “There are 1,534 pick-up sticks in a jumble in top of an unsteady reactor 4. What do you think can happen?
“I do not know anyone who is confident that this can be done since it has never been tried.”
One slip-up in the latest step to decommission Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant could trigger a “monumental” chain reaction, experts warn.
Experts around the world have warned … that the fuel pool is in a precarious state – vulnerable to collapsing in another big earthquake.
Yale University professor Charles Perrow wrote about the number 4 fuel pool this year in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.
“This has me very scared,” he told the ABC.
“Tokyo would have to be evacuated because [the] caesium and other poisons that are there will spread very rapidly.
Perrow also argues:
Conditions in the unit 4 pool, 100 feet from the ground, are perilous, and if any two of the rods touch it could cause a nuclear reaction that would be uncontrollable. The radiation emitted from all these rods, if they are not continually cool and kept separate,would require the evacuation of surrounding areas including Tokyo. Because of the radiation at the site the 6,375 rods in the common storage pool could not be continuously cooled; they would fission and all of humanity will be threatened, for thousands of years.
Former Japanese ambassador Akio Matsumura warns that – if the operation isn’t done right – this could one day be considered the start of “the ultimate catastrophe of the world and planet”:
(He also argues that removing the fuel rods will take “decades rather than months.)
Move south of the equator if that ever happened, I think that’s probably the lesson there.
Harvey Wasserman wrote two months ago:
We are now within two months of what may be humankind’s most dangerous moment since the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Should the attempt fail, the rods could be exposed to air and catch fire, releasing horrific quantities of radiation into the atmosphere. The pool could come crashing to the ground, dumping the rods together into a pile that could fission and possibly explode. The resulting radioactive cloud would threaten the health and safety of all us.
A new fuel fire at Unit 4 would pour out a continuous stream of lethal radioactive poisons for centuries.
Former Ambassador Mitsuhei Murata says full-scale releases from Fukushima “woulddestroy the world environment and our civilization. This is not rocket science, nor does it connect to the pugilistic debate over nuclear power plants. This is an issue of human survival.”
Even Japan’s Top Nuclear Regulator Says that The Operation Carries a “Very Large Risk Potential”
Even the head of Japan’s nuclear agency is worried. USA Today notes:
Nuclear regulatory chairman Shunichi Tanaka, however, warned that removing the fuel rods from Unit 4 would be difficult because of the risk posed by debris that fell into the pool during the explosions.
“It’s a totally different operation than removing normal fuel rods from a spent fuel pool,” Tanaka said at a regular news conference. “They need to be handled extremely carefully and closely monitored. You should never rush or force them out, or they may break.”
He said it would be a disaster if fuel rods are pulled forcibly and are damaged or break open when dropped from the pool, located about 30 meters (100 feet) above ground, releasing highly radioactive material. “I’m much more worried about this than contaminated water,” Tanaka said
The same top Japanese nuclear official said:
The process involves a very large risk potential.
A task of extraordinary delicacy and danger is about to begin at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power station.
One senior official told me: “It’s going to be very difficult but it has to happen.”
Why It’s Such a Difficult Operation
CNN notes that debris in the fuel pool might interfere with operations:
South China Morning Post notes:
Nothing remotely similar has been attempted before and … it is feared that any error of judgment could lead to a massive release of radiation into the atmosphere.
A spokesman for Tepco … admitted, however, that it was not clear whether any of the rods were damaged or if debris in the pool would complicate the recovery effort.
The Wall Street journal notes:
Among the risks [Hiromitsu Ino, professor emeritus of nuclear engineering at the University of Tokyo] and other experts cite is the possibility that a container being used to move the units falls and breaks apart, exposing the fuel to the air.
Similarly, Edwin Lyman – a nuclear expert and the chief scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientistsnotes:
The biggest risk with Unit 4 pool unloading is that a spent fuel cask might drop and damage the pool, causing a leak that could expose some fuel and cause overheating.
Professor Richard Broinowski – former Australian Ambassador to Vietnam, Republic of Korea, Mexico, the Central American Republics and Cuba – and author of numerous books on nuclear policy and Fukushima, says some of the fuel rods are probably fused.
Murray E. Jennex, Ph.D., P.E. (Professional Engineer), Professor of MIS, San Diego State University,notes:
The rods in the spent fuel pool may have melted …. I consider it more likely that these rods were breached during the explosions associated with the event and their contents may be in contact with the ground water, probably due to all the seawater that was sprayed on the plant.
Fuel rod expert Arnie Gundersen – a nuclear engineer and former senior manager of a nuclear power company which manufactured nuclear fuel rods – recently explained the biggest problem with the fuel rods (at 15:45):
I think they’re belittling the complexity of the task. If you think of a nuclear fuel rack as a pack of cigarettes, if you pull a cigarette straight up it will come out — but these racks have been distorted. Now when they go to pull the cigarette straight out, it’s going to likely break and release radioactive cesium and other gases, xenon and krypton, into the air. I suspect come November, December, January we’re going to hear that the building’s been evacuated, they’ve broke a fuel rod, the fuel rod is off-gassing.
I suspect we’ll have more airborne releases as they try to pull the fuel out. If they pull too hard, they’ll snap the fuel. I think the racks have been distorted, the fuel has overheated — the pool boiled – and the net effect is that it’s likely some of the fuel will be stuck in there for a long, long time.
In another interview, Gundersen provides additional details (at 31:00):
The racks are distorted from the earthquake — oh, by the way, the roof has fallen in, which further distorted the racks.
The net effect is they’ve got the bundles of fuel, the cigarettes in these racks, and as they pull them out, they’re likely to snap a few. When you snap a nuclear fuel rod, that releases radioactivity again, so my guess is, it’s things like krypton-85, which is a gas, cesium will also be released, strontium will be released. They’ll probably have to evacuate the building for a couple of days. They’ll take that radioactive gas and they’ll send it up the stack, up into the air, because xenon can’t be scrubbed, it can’t be cleaned, so they’ll send that radioactive xenon up into the air and purge the building of all the radioactive gases and then go back in and try again.
It’s likely that that problem will exist on more than one bundle. So over the next year or two, it wouldn’t surprise me that either they don’t remove all the fuel because they don’t want to pull too hard, or if they do pull to hard, they’re likely to damage the fuel and cause a radiation leak inside the building. So that’s problem #2 in this process, getting the fuel out of Unit 4 is a top priority I have, but it’s not going to be easy. Tokyo Electric is portraying this as easy. In a normal nuclear reactor, all of this is done with computers. Everything gets pulled perfectly vertically. Well nothing is vertical anymore, the fuel racks are distorted, it’s all going to have to be done manually. The net effect is it’s a really difficult job. It wouldn’t surprise me if they snapped some of the fuel and they can’t remove it.
The Japan Times writes:
The consequences could be far more severe than any nuclear accident the world has ever seen. If a fuel rod is dropped, breaks or becomes entangledwhile being removed, possible worst case scenarios include a big explosion, a meltdown in the pool, or a large fire. Any of these situations could lead to massive releases of deadly radionuclides into the atmosphere, putting much of Japan — including Tokyo and Yokohama — and even neighboring countries at serious risk.
Experts question whether it will be able to pull off the removal of all the assemblies successfully.
No one knows how bad it can get, but independent consultants Mycle Schneider and Antony Froggatt said recently in their World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2013: “Full release from the Unit-4 spent fuel pool, without any containment or control, could cause by far the most serious radiological disaster to date.”
Nonetheless, Tepco inspires little confidence. Sharply criticized for failing to protect the Fukushima plant against natural disasters, its handling of the crisis since then has also been lambasted.
“There is a risk of an inadvertent criticality if the bundles are distorted and get too close to each other,” Gundersen said.
The rods are also vulnerable to fire should they be exposed to air, Gundersen said. [The pools have already boiled due to exposure to air.]
[Here is a visual tour of Fukushima’s fuel pools, along with graphics of how the rods will be removed.]
Tepco confirmed the Reactor No. 4 fuel pool contains debris during an investigation into the chamber earlier this month.
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.
Corrosion from the salt water will have also weakened the building and equipment, he said.
ABC Radio Australia quotes an expert on the situation (at 1:30):
Richard Tanter, expert on nuclear power issues and professor of international relations at the University of Melbourne:
Reactor Unit 4, the one which has a very large amount of stored fuel in its fuel storage pool, that is sinking. According to former prime Minister Kan Naoto, that has sunk some 31 inches in places and it’s not uneven.
And Chris Harris – a, former licensed Senior Reactor Operator and engineer – notes that it doesn’t help that a lot of the rods are in very fragile condition:
Although there are a lot of spent fuel assemblies in there which could achieve criticality — there are also 200 new fuel assemblies which have equivalent to a full tank of gas, let’s call it that. Those are the ones most likely to go critical first.
Some pictures that were released recently show that a lot of fuel is damaged, so when they go ahead and put the grapple on it, and they pull it up, it’s going to fall apart. The boreflex has been eaten away; it doesn’t take saltwater very good.
Nuclear engineers say that the fuel pool is “distorted”, material was blown up into air and came down inside, damaging the fuel, the roof fell in, distorting things inside.
Indeed, Fukushima documents discuss “fuel that is severely damaged” inside cooling pool, and show illustrations of “deformed or leaking fuels”.
The Urgent Need: Replace Tepco
Tepco is severely downplaying the risks involved in removing fuel rods. For example, Tepco’s head of the Fukushima plant, Akira Ono, says:
We have removed spent fuels many times. Therefore, we don’t think we are going to be doing anything that is very dangerous.
That is idiotic given that (as shown above) this is anything but a normal fuel removal operation.
Top scientists and government officials say that Tepco should be removed from all efforts to stabilize Fukushima. They say that an international team of the smartest engineers and scientists should instead handle this difficult mission.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is being told by his own party that Japan’s response is failing.Plant operator [Tepco] alone isn’t up to the task of managing the cleanup and decommissioning of the atomic station in Fukushima. That’s the view of Tadamori Oshima, head of a task force in charge of Fukushima’s recovery and former vice president of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party.
[There’s] a growing recognition that the government needs to take charge at the Fukushima station…. “If we allow the situation to continue, it’ll never be resolved” [said Sumio Mabuchi, a government point man on crisis in 2011].
Because the U.S. controls Japanese nuclear policy, Americans should demand of our political representatives that they pressure Japan to kick Tepco off the job … and let an international team of scientists and engineers take over.
Postscript: As challenging as removing the fuel rods from the pool at unit 4 will be, it will be even harder at units 1 through 3. Specifically, it’s too radioactive for Tepco to even get a look at what’s going on in those 3 reactor pools, and they have no idea how to do it. Indeed, the technology does not even exist to approach those reactors, as the high radiation levels quickly destroy even robots.
Nuclear fuel rod expert Gundersen says the pool at unit 3 is in much worse shape than at 4:
Unit 3 is worse [than No. 4]. Mechanically its rubble, the pool is rubble. It’s got less fuel in it [than unit 4, but] structurally the pool has been dramatically weakened. And, god nobody has even gotten near it yet.
Tepco’s not up to it … we need a focused, well-funded international effort to fix this mess
Removal of 1,300 spent fuel rods deemed “humankind’s most dangerous moment since Cuban Missile Crisis”
Regulators with Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority gave the final OK Wednesday for the operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to begin to remove the 1300 spent fuel rods from the badly damaged Unit 4 pool, thus initiating a decommissioning process which anti-nuclear activist Harvey Wasserman describes as “humankind’s most dangerous moment since the Cuban Missile Crisis.”
According to Associated Press, the NRA announced that the proposal to manually remove the radioactive rods put forth by the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. or TEPCO, was “appropriate” and that the removal “can start in November as planned, following an on-site inspection by regulators.”
TEPCO estimates that the complete decommissioning process will last decades. Detailing the process, AP reports:
TEPCO has prepared a massive steel structure that comes with a remote-controlled crane to remove the fuel rods, which will be placed into a protective cask and transferred to a joint cooling pool inside a nearby building. To make room for the Unit 4 fuel rods, the company has been moving those already in the joint pool to safer storage in dry casks at a separate plant location.
The utility plans to empty the Unit 4 pool by end of 2014, and remove fuel rods from other pools at three other wrecked reactors over several years before digging into their melted cores around 2020.
However, according to nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen, the spent fuel rods in the Unit 4 core are “bent, damaged and embrittled to the point of crumbling.” And NRA chairman Shunichi Tanaka warned that removing the rods would be difficult because of the risk posed by debris that fell into the pool during the explosions triggered by the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and subsequent three reactor meltdowns at the plant.
“It’s a totally different operation than removing normal fuel rods from a spent fuel pool,” Tanaka said during the news conference Wednesday. “They need to be handled extremely carefully and closely monitored. You should never rush or force them out, or they may break.”
Wasserman warns that there are “some 400 tons of fuel in that pool [that] could spew out more than 15,000 times as much radiation as was released at Hiroshima.”
Wasserman, Gundersen and other nuclear watchdogs have warned that neither TEPCO nor the Japanese government has the “scientific, engineering or financial resources to handle” the job and that the situation instead demands a “coordinated worldwide effort of the best scientists and engineers our species can muster.”
Over 100,000 people have thus far signed a petition echoing that call. “The impending removal of hugely radioactive spent fuel rods from a pool 100 feet in the air presents unparalleled scientific and engineering challenges,” caution the signatories, who are calling on President Obama and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to intercept the Japanese authority’s process. “We ask the world community…to take control of this uniquely perilous task.”
– Lauren McCauley, Common Dreams
- National › Fukushima plant prepares for dangerous fuel rod removal (japantoday.com)
- Fukushima’s fuel rod removal plan (bbc.co.uk)