Fuel Danger at Fukushima

SUBHEAD: Before it's too late, let's immediately start removing all intact fuel rods from Fukushima Daiichi site.

By Juan Wilson in 27 September 2013 for Island Breath -

Image above: A view of nuclear plant from northern Fukushima province or a dirt road sunset at Yellowstone Park? From (http://www.gdefon.com/download/the_dirt_road_to_the_nuclear_blast_site_wild_sunse/542070/4132x2784).

In November TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) is scheduled to begin removing fuel from the Spent Fuel Pool of Reactor #4 at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant. For the whole world this is a vitally important and necessary task.

However, to date Tepco has shown incompetence and deceit in handling the events at Fukushima following the tsunami that hit Japan on March 11, 2011. Read the two articles below and you will see that the world faces an existential crisis. One that could make much of the northern hemisphere a deadly place to live.

This may be the scourge that "fixes" the human population "problem". If you'd rather find another way forward I recommend that before Tepco tries removing the crumbling fuel rods from Reactor Building #4, that an international body. United Nations ought step in and take over operations. See also Ea O Ka Aina: Dear Ban Ki-moon, about Fukushima.

Moreover, the Japanese Nuclear Regulatory Agency (NRA) should immediately identify all available nuclear fuel cooling ponds in Japan and with the full help of the other nations with nuclear experience begin an emergency relocation of all Fukushima Daiichi intact fuel rods to those cooling ponds. This should include the Untied States, France, Russia, Germany, England etc.

This process should begin now and be on a critical path schedule for completion as soon as possible. All heavy equipment, personnel and supplies needed for this task should be appropriated by the Japanese and other governments as required.

The Reactor #4 fuel pool must be emptied now, but the risk of any accident that would make the overall site too radioactively dangerous for human entry will be worse than just Reactor #4 a nuclear criticality, fire or explosion... by an order of magnitude.

There would be six reactor buildings with nuclear material plus the common fuel pool that could not be maintained by humans or even robots.

Removing nuclear fuel from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is the NUMBER ONE PRIORITY for humanity at this time.

If we can accomplish this goal we can later worry about cleaning up the mess and decommissioning all nuclear plants after Reactor #4 Spent Fuel Pool is emptied (or goes critical).

It is ridiculous for the world to sit by as the Japanese government and Tepco play down the risks and underestimate the mistakes they have made handling this disaster. Is it to save face?

That would more than just doom Japan, it would doom the world. I don't want Japan committing harikari and taking us all with them. At this point there is no more face to save... only lives.

If there was ever a poster-child for closing down all the world's nuclear power plants - Fukushima is it. Could no engineer see that the failure of a few diesel electric generators in some seaside nuke plant in a below grade basement could very well end human civilization? If not, we shouldn't be building such stupid contraptions.

If we continue with nuclear power there will be no end to the mistakes or the magnitude of the failures. Forget about Global Warming (for now). Human extinction is a real possibility. Let's get on this.

One Wrong Move by Tepco
SUBHEAD: A mistake removing Reactor #4 fuel rods could unleash a nuclear disaster equivalent to 85 Chernobls.

By Brian Kloniski on 26 September 2013 for RYOT News -
See also (http://www.ryot.org/one-wrong-move-at-fukushima-could-unleash-a-nuclear-disaster-equivalent-to-85-chernobyls/388813)

Image above: Workers in protective suits and masks wait to enter the emergency operation center at the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station in Okuma, Japan, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011. From original aticle.

More than two years after a massive earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan, the Fukushima power plant sits in ruins, leaking 300 tons of contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean every day. But that’s small potatoes compared to what might happen in November.

In what could be humankind’s most dangerous moment since the Cuban Missile Crisis, TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Co). — the Japanese company that owns the Fukushima power plant — will attempt to remove approximately 1,300 fuel rods from the heavily damaged Reactor Unit 4. Why should you care? Because many experts feel that neither TEPCO nor Japan have the scientific, engineering or financial resources to handle the repair. And you know what happens if they screw up? Nuclear disaster.

We’re talking more than 15,000 times as much radiation as was released during the bombing of Hiroshima in WWII. That’s the equivalent of 85 Chernobyl disasters.

So what’s the problem? Essentially, the damaged fuel rods are submerged in a chamber near the top of Reactor Unit 4. There’s no roof. The chamber is crumpled. The integrity of the entire building and even the fuel rods themselves is dubious at best. The situation needs to be corrected. If it isn’t, another earthquake, tsunami or even strong winds could force the pool to collapse, exposing the the fuel rods to air and causing them to ignite, which would release ridiculous amounts of radiation into the atmosphere. It would be an unprecedented event.

But if TEPCO doesn’t have its sh*t together, like many people feel they don’t, the rods could touch one another or break during the removal process, exposing the radioactive material to air — the likelihood of which is considered high. In that case, sparks fly, things start to blow up and radiation takes to the air like a flock of desperate birds released from a cage. Only these aren’t pigeons; they’re radioactive, cancer-causing, death birds.

Don’t believe us? OK. Here’s what Yale Professor Charles Perrow has to say about the matter:

[...] Much more serious is the danger that the spent fuel rod pool at the top of the nuclear plant number four will collapse in a storm or an earthquake, or in a failed attempt to carefully remove each of the 1,535 rods and safely transport them to the common storage pool 50 meters away. 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. [...]
The extent of the devastation depends on what, exactly, blows up. If it’s just Reactor Unit 4, then Japan and neighboring countries will be at risk. The Tokyo metropolitan area —  home to 35 million people — may even have to be evacuated, according to the Japan Times.

In November, Tepco plans to begin the delicate operation of removing spent fuel from Reactor No. 4 [with] radiation equivalent to 14,000 times the amount released by the Hiroshima atomic bomb. …. It remains vulnerable to any further shocks, and is also at risk from ground liquefaction. Removing its spent fuel, which contains deadly plutonium, is an urgent task…. 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 entangled while 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.

The explosion of Reactor Unit 4 would also be bad news for Americans. Nuclear dust would likely ride wind currents across the Pacific, bringing radiation to the West Coast of the U.S. Americans living there would be forced to remain indoors with their windows closed, according to Truth-Out.org.

But here’s the thing. Fukushima is littered with spent fuel assemblies submerged in unprotected pools. These assemblies are essentially clusters of rods containing spent nuclear fuel that remains highly radioactive. They’re just laying there in big puddles of water. If Reactor Unit 4 blows up during TEPCO’s attempted removal of the spent fuel rods, it’s entirely conceivable the blast could trigger an even larger explosion that engulfs all of Fukushima (including all those fuel assemblies, of which there are 11,000), leading to the release of nuclear contaminants on an unimaginable scale.

How bad would it be? One scientist, who lives in Boston, plans to move her family to the Southern Hemisphere (which is expected to receive much less radiation) if the Fukushima Doomsday scenario were to unfold. The exact implications aren’t clear, but we’re looking at a centuries-long spate of poisonous, nuclear materials, which would prompt mass evacuations throughout the Northern Hemisphere.

And just to be clear, this isn’t a conspiracy theory. Fuel Pool Number 4 has been called the greatest short-term threat to humanity. A U.S. Senator considers Fukushima a national security risk. Nuclear experts have cautioned that the Northern Hemisphere should be evacuated if the fuel pool collapses. Former U.N. adviser Akio Matsumura calls the impending removal of the fuel rods an issue of human survival.

In other words, this is for real.

The heart of the issue now centers on who has the authority, responsibility and skills to safely handle the removal of the fuel rods. Japan has already ceded control of the project to TEPCO, which has thus far proven to be incompetent and irresponsible. Progressive outlets are clamoring for a global takeover of the delicate project, but the mainstream media has failed to adequately cover the story.

So here’s where we’re at: TEPCO is slated to begin removing the spent fuel rods from Reactor Unit 4 in November, people are starting to freak out and nobody is really taking command of the situation.

Will President Obama step up? How about the UN? Maybe Japan will come to its senses, realize the gravity of the situation, fess up to their inability to deal with the task at hand and ask for help. At this point, it’s unclear.

The greatest nuclear disaster in history is quietly unfolding, and the clock continues to tick, tick, tick away.

Risk of Removing Reactor #4 Fuel

SUBHEAD: Risky repair of Fukushima could spill 15,000x radiation of Hiroshima, create 85 Chernobyls.

By Gaius Publius on 23 September 2013 for America Blog -

Does the planned November 2013 removal of the spent fuel rods stored at Fukushima’s heavily damaged Reactor 4 need a global intervention, or should TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company, a for-profit company) be allowed to go it alone?

So far, the Japanese government is allowing TEPCO to handle it. Why should you care? Read on.
As you should know by now, the nuclear power plant at Fukushima underwent a great deal of damage in 2011 due to an earthquake and a tsunami. Wikipedia (my emphasis; some reparagraphing):
The plant comprised six separate boiling water reactors originally designed byGeneral Electric (GE) and maintained by the Tokyo Electric Power Company(TEPCO). At the time of the earthquake, reactor 4 had been de-fueled and reactors 5 and 6 were in cold shutdown for planned maintenance.

Immediately after the earthquake, the remaining reactors 1–3 shut down the sustained fission reactions automatically, inserting control rods in what is termed the SCRAM, following this, emergency generators came online to power electronics and coolant systems. The tsunami arrived some 50 minutes after the initial earthquake.

The 13m tsunami overwhelmed the plant’s seawall, which was only 10m high, quickly flooding the low-lying rooms in which the emergency generators were housed (The tsunami was photographed). The flooded diesel generators failed, cutting power to the critical pumps that must continuously circulate coolant water through a Generation II reactor for several days to keep it from melting down after shut down.

After the secondary emergency pumps (run by back-up batteries) ran out, one day after the tsunami, the pumps stopped and the reactors began to overheat due to the normal high radioactive decay heat produced in the first few days after nuclear reactor shutdown (smaller amounts of this heat normally continue to be released for years, but are not enough to cause fuel melting).
We want to focus on reactor unit 4. Here’s a schematic of what one of these reactor units looks like (skillfully designed by GE, who wants you to know they “bring good things to life”):

Image above: Schematic section of Fukushima Mark I-style reactor and  fuel storage unit. From original article.

What you care about is ” SFP,” where the fuel rods are stored. 

Here’s the legend provide with this sketch:
Rough sketch of a typical Boiling water reactor (BWR) Mark I Concrete Containment with Steel Torus including downcomers, as used in the BWR/1, BWR/2, BWR/3 and some BWR/4 model reactors.
DW = Drywell
WW = Wetwell
SFP = Spent Fuel Pool
RPV = Reactor Pressure Vessel
SCSW = Secondary Concrete Shield Wall
Notice where the fuel rods are stored — high off the ground and in water, in the area marked SFP.

Here’s what Fukushima unit 4 looks like today:

Notice that it has no roof. The spent fuel rods (and about 200 “fully loaded” unspent rods — remember that “reactor 4 had been de-fueled” prior to the accident) are stored in a water-containing chamber high off the ground in a crumbling room and building without a roof.

How will “they” get the damaged fuel rods out of that crumbling room?

This is the problem today. There are about 1300 fuel rods stored in that room, packed together vertically in racks. Think of a pack of cigarettes standing upright with the top of the pack removed. Normally, the movement of fuel rods is done by a computer-driven machine that reaches into the room from above and removes or replaces a fuel rod by drawing it upward or lowering it downward.
The machine knows to the millimeter where each fuel rod is located. Also, the rods are undamaged — perfectly straight.

The problem is that this pack of cigarettes is crumpled, and the process must done manually. Therefore, the likelihood that some of the fuel rods will break is high. If that happens and fuel rods are exposed to the air — BOOM. What does “boom” look like?
Fukushima’s owner, Tokyo Electric (Tepco), says that within as few as 60 days it may begin trying to remove more than 1300 spent fuel rods from a badly damaged pool perched 100 feet in the air. The pool rests on a badly damaged building that is tilting, sinking and could easily come down in the next earthquake, if not on its own.
Some 400 tons of fuel in that pool could spew out more than 15,000 times as much radiation as was released at Hiroshima.

Meanwhile, at the rest of the site:
More than 6,000 fuel assemblies now sit in a common pool just 50 meters from Unit Four. Some contain plutonium. The pool has no containment over it. It’s vulnerable to loss of coolant, the collapse of a nearby building, another earthquake, another tsunami and more.

Overall, more than 11,000 fuel assemblies are scattered around the Fukushima site. According to long-time expert and former Department of Energy official Robert Alvarez, there is more than 85 times as much lethal cesium on site as was released at Chernobyl.
If the whole site blows, “boom” could mean the release of 85 times as much radioactive cesium into the air as was released at Chernobyl. Into the air. Into a stiff cross-Pacific breeze.

There are a number of people warning of this danger; none are getting much play. For example, this from the Japan Times (quoted here):
In November, Tepco plans to begin the delicate operation of removing spent fuel from Reactor No. 4 [with] radiation equivalent to 14,000 times the amount released by the Hiroshima atomic bomb. …. It remains vulnerable to any further shocks, and is also at risk from ground liquefaction. Removing its spent fuel, which contains deadly plutonium, is an urgent task….

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 entangled while 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.
A lot depends on what blows up, if anything. If only Unit 4 blows up, Japan is at risk, including Tokyo, and the nuclear dust will pass across the Pacific to the U.S. People on the West Coast will be warned to keep their windows closed for a while.
If the whole facility blows up, one scientist is talking about moving her family to the southern hemisphere. From the article quoted above:
Chernobyl’s first 1986 fallout reached California within ten days. Fukushima’s in 2011 arrived in less than a week. A new fuel fire at Unit 4 would pour out a continuous stream of lethal radioactive poisons for centuries.
We’re in very apocalyptic territory, with a wide and unknown range of outcomes. Take that for what it’s worth — little could go wrong, or much.

Should TEPCO be allowed to attempt this on its own? Should Japan be allowed to attempt this on its own?

This is the heart of today’s problem. In reality, the events that are about to unfold at Fukushima in the next 60 days will affect much of the world. They could in fact change life in the northern hemisphere, if the worst of the worst occurs.

The Japanese government has ceded control of the next phrase — removing more than 1300 fuel rods from Reactor 4 — to TEPCO. (Seems that Japan has a “corporate capture of government” problem similar to our own.) Reuters (quoted here):
Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) is already in a losing battle to stop radioactive water overflowing from another part of the facility, and experts question whether it will be able to pull off the removal of all the assemblies successfully.

“They are going to have difficulty in removing a significant number of the rods,” said Arnie Gundersen, a veteran U.S. nuclear engineer and director of Fairewinds Energy Education, who used to build fuel assemblies.

The operation, beginning this November at the plant’s Reactor No. 4, is fraught with danger, including the possibility of a large release of radiation if a fuel assembly breaks, gets stuck or gets too close to an adjacent bundle, said Gundersen and other nuclear experts. … The utility says it recognizes the operation will be difficult but believes it can carry it out safely.

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.
Who has sovereignty here? Who has control? Better, who should have sovereignty and control?
TEPCO has sovereignty, ceded by the government of Japan. But should Japan itself be allowed sovereignty, or should “the world” take over the problem in its own interest?

Theoretically, it’s an interesting question, since we don’t generally talk about removing sovereignty from other first-world nations — only little guys in places like the Middle East or Latin America who bother us. Yet some writers are in fact worried that the consequences for Japan include bankrupting the economy and … loss of sovereignty. Japan Focus:
This is literally a matter of national security – another mistake by TEPCO could have incredibly costly, even fatal, consequences for Japan.
And according to former U.N. adviser Akio Matsumura (quoted here):
The meltdown and unprecedented release of radiation that would ensue is the worst case scenario that then-Prime Minister Kan and other former officials have discussed in the past months. He [Kan] warned during his speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos that such an accident would force the evacuation of the 35 million people in Tokyo, close half of Japan and compromise the nation’s sovereignty.

Such a humanitarian and environmental catastrophe is unimaginable. Hiroshi Tasaka, a nuclear engineer and special adviser to Prime Minister Kan immediately following the crisis, said the crisis “just opened Pandora’s Box.”
That’s then-Prime Minister Kan quoted in the bolded comment. As I said, it’s an interesting theoretical problem. Too bad it’s not just theoretical. This will all happen in November.

Bottom line — Should TEPCO be allowed to manage the removal of the fuel rods in November?

It comes down to this — TEPCO has shown itself to be both incompetent and deceitful. The government of Japan has shown itself willing to allow TEPCO to control the “cleanup” and “decommissioning” of the Fukushima facility.

Who should have control at Fukushima? TEPCO (after all, they “own it”)? The government of Japan (after all, it’s “their” country)? Or others in the world, acting in their own real interest? Harvey Wasserman, writing in Common Dreams (my emphasis and paragraphing):
We are now within two months of what may be humankind’s most dangerous moment since the Cuban Missile Crisis. There is no excuse for not acting. All the resources our species can muster must be focused on the fuel pool at Fukushima Unit 4. … Neither Tokyo Electric nor the government of Japan can go this alone. There is no excuse for deploying anything less than a coordinated team of the planet’s best scientists and engineers. …

We have two months or less to act. For now, we are petitioning the United Nations and President Obama to mobilize the global scientific and engineering community to take charge at Fukushima and the job of moving these fuel rods to safety.
If you have a better idea, please follow it. But do something and do it now. The clock is ticking.
I swear, the world is closer and closer to reading like a series of thrillers, isn’t it? I’m not sure what to make of all this.

If you want to read more, your key articles (including lots of embedded links) are these:

Guess we’ll find out in November whether this works out or not. In the meantime, I thought you should know that some people are having this discussion, even if it’s not happening on TV, yet. (Know anyone at MSNBC you’d like to alert? Feel free; you don’t need permission to talk to the media.)

See also: (only some of posts with "Fukushima" in title)
Ea O Ka Aina: Fukushima is Not Going Away  9/9/13
Ea O Ka Aina: X-Men like Ice Wall for Fukushima  9/3/13
Ea O Ka Aina: Fukushima out of control 9/2/13
Ea O Ka Aina: Fukushima Radioactive Dust 8/20/13
Ea O Ka Aina: Fukushima Apocalypse  8/21/13
Ea O Ka Aina: Fukushima House of Horrors  8/21/13
Ea O Ka Aina: Fukushima radiation coverup 8/12/13
Ea O Ka Aina: G20 Agenda Item #1 - Fix Fukushima  8/7/13
Ea O Ka Aina: Leakage at Fukushima an emergency 8/5/13
Ea O Ka Aina: Fukushima Burns on and On 7/26/13
Ea O Ka Aina: Fukushima Unit 4 Danger  7/22/13
Ea O Ka Aina: What the Fukashima? 7/24/13
Ea O Ka Aina: What the Fukushima? 7/11/13
Ea O Ka Aina: Fukushima Spiking 7/12/13
Ea O Ka Aina: Nuclear Power on the Run 7/18/13
Ea o Ka Aina: Techno-optiminst & Nuke Flack views 7/26/13
Ea O Ka Aina: Fukushima & Hypothyroid in Hawaii 4/1/13
Ea O Ka Aina: Fukushima Fallout  9/14/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Fukushima worse than Chernobyl  4/24/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Japan condemns Fukushima children 3/8/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Fukushima fights chain reaction 2/7/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Fukushima dangers continue  12/4/11
Ea O Ka Aina: The Non Battle for Fukushima 11/10/11
Ea O Ka Aina: Deadly Radiation at Fukushima 8/3/11
Ea O Ka Aina: Fukushima Radiation Danger 7/10/11
Ea O Ka Aina: New Fukushima data discomforting 6/7/11
Ea O Ka Aina: Fukushima #2 & #3 meltdown 5/17/11
Ea O Ka Aina: Fukushima sustained chain reaction 5/3/11
Ea O Ka Aina: Chernobyl & Fukushima 4/26/11
Ea O Ka Aina: Ocean Radioactivity in Fukushima 4/16/11
Ea O Ka Aina: Fukushima No Go Zone Expanding  4/11/11
Ea O Ka Aina: Fukushima Abandoned 4/8/11
Ea O Ka Aina: Fukushima Poisons Fish 4/6/11
Ea O Ka Aina: Fukushima Leak goes Unplugged 4/3/11
Ea O Ka Aina: Fukushima reactors reach criticality 3/31/11
Ea O Ka Aina: Fukushima Non-Containment 3/30/11
Ea O Ka Aina: Fukushima Water Blessing & Curse 3/28/11 



Mauibrad said...

The ground is already subsiding in the area. The odds are some or all of those buildings will collapse.

Juan Wilson said...

Aloha Brad,

All the more reason to evacuate all radioactive material possible before the site is too dangerous for humans.


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