Letting Tepco “Clean Up” Fukushima Is Like Letting a Murderer Do Brain Surgery On a VIP

In 3 Months, Do We Want to Entrust U.S. “National Security” and Perhaps Even “Human Survival” In the Northern Hemisphere to These Guys?

If an incompetent doctor killed numerous patients doing routine surgery – and then lied and tried to cover it up – would you let him perform brain surgery on a VIP such as the president?

Of course not?

So why are we letting Tepco to remove the fuel rods from Fukushima?

Tepco has an abysmal track record:

  • Tepco just admitted that it’s known for 2 years that massive amounts of radioactive water are leaking into the groundwater and Pacific Ocean
  • Tepco’s recent attempts to solidify the ground under the reactors using chemicals has backfired horribly.  And NBC News notes: “[Tepco] is considering freezing the ground around the plant. Essentially building a mile-long ice wall underground, something that’s never been tried before to keep the water out. One scientist I spoke to dismissed this idea as grasping at straws, just more evidence that the power company failed to anticipate this problem … and now cannot solve it.”

And yet Tepco is going to attempt the equivalent of brain surgery on the president.

Specifically – as we noted in 2012 – the greatest short-term threat to humanity is from the fuel pools at Fukushima.

If one of the pools collapsed or caught fire, it could have severe adverse impacts on 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.

Nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen and physician Helen Caldicott have both said that people should evacuate the Northern Hemisphere if one of the Fukushima fuel pools collapses. Gundersen said:

Move south of the equator if that ever happened, I think that’s probably the lesson there.

Former U.N. adviser Akio Matsumura calls removing the radioactive materials from the Fukushima fuel pools “an issue of human survival”.

So the stakes in decommissioning the fuel pools are high, indeed.

But – in 3 months – Tepco is going to start doing this very difficult operation on its own.

Reuters reports today:

The operator of Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant is preparing to remove 400 tons of highly irradiated spent fuel from a damaged reactor building, a dangerous operation that has never been attempted before on this scale.

Containing radiation equivalent to 14,000 times the amount released in the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima 68 years ago, more than 1,300 used fuel rod assemblies packed tightly together need to be removed from a building that is vulnerable to collapse, should another large earthquake hit the area.

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.

That could lead to a worse disaster than the March 2011 nuclear crisis at the Fukushima plant, the world’s most serious since Chernobyl in 1986.

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.”

***

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.

***

The process will begin in November and Tepco expects to take about a year removing the assemblies, spokesman Yoshikazu Nagai told Reuters by e-mail. It’s just one installment in the decommissioning process for the plant forecast to take about 40 years and cost $11 billion.

Each fuel rod assembly weighs about 300 kilograms (660 pounds) and is 4.5 meters (15 feet) long. There are 1,331 of the spent fuel assemblies and a further 202 unused assemblies are also stored in the pool, Nagai said.

***

Spent fuel rods also contain plutonium, one of the most toxic substances in the universe, that gets formed during the later stages of a reactor core’s operation.

***

“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 pools have already boiled due to exposure to air.]

***

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 fuel assemblies have to be first pulled from the racks they are stored in, then inserted into a heavy steel chamber. This operation takes place under water before the chamber, which shields the radiation pulsating from the rods, can be removed from the pool and lowered to ground level.

The chamber is then transported to the plant’s common storage pool in an undamaged building where the assemblies will be stored.

[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.

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.

What’s the bottom line?

Top scientists and government officials say that Tepco should be removed from all efforts to stabilize Fukushima. And an international team of the smartest scientists should handle this difficult “surgery”.

Note 1: Americans should not assume that we can’t have any effect on internal Japanese politics. It is the American government which is calling the shots in terms of Japanese nuclear policy … and has been for many decades.

Note 2:  This situation is identical to the financial crisis, mass surveillance by the NSA and other scandals. Specifically, no amount of debate can fix the problem. If we don’t fire the people who caused the problems in the first place – and have no motivation to actually fix things – they will never get fixed.

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  • jadan

    This is a leaderless country. Real leaders are rejected by the political process in favor of clever imposters like Obama, a spineless poll watcher. This is the most urgent environmental problem the world community currently faces, but there are no leaders to confront it. There is no constituency to argue that nuclear pollution is benign, or to deny that it exists, as with the global warming issue. Only a strong voice is required to galvanize nations into action. The Secretary General of the UN could make a name for himself by stepping up to the plate. Does Bill McKibben imagine that global warming is a more clear and present danger? It is difficult not to believe that humanity has a death wish!

  • Marlena

    I agree with Jadan. This persisting catastrophe requires a global response, I also totally agree an international team of humanity’s smartest scientists should take over, and should have early on after the event. Perhaps being an island nation and having such a defensive ‘saving face’ culture initially discouraged this, but it has been apparent since mid to late 2011 that their efforts were pathetically mismatched to the enormity of the problem. What to do?? Why isn’t even Greenpeace up in hellatious arms over this? I looked up the names of those who head up Greenpeace, the US Academy of Sciences, and the UN head of their Environment Council figuring to send them all the same pleading letter to take collective action. Do all our poor intelligent sea mammals have to die before this raging sore is noticed? I applaud your snynopsis with wonderful links on this topic, And actually there is no better place to begin than by mobilizing the world’s population via the power of the world wide web.

  • HS

    I’ve always felt that the elite are well aware that we are quickly reaching the carrying capacity of the planet and, consequently, have usurped power globally in an attempt to maximize resource reallocation from the lower classes to themselves. The elite know that at some point, in the not so distant future, a significant fraction of the population must be eliminated, to preserve the remaining resources for themselves. Therefore, I don’t think it is out of the realm of possibility for Fukushima to be exploited with the intent of dramatic population reduction. While I’m not saying that Fukushima is deliberate, but as they say, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

  • gozounlimited

    Electing Hilliary with her seedy hedge fund and cronie capitalist “Global Initiative” for President Is Like Letting a Murderer Do Brain Surgery On a VIP…….. http://www.activistpost.com/2013/08/big-money-at-clinton-foundation.html

  • Lance Sanders

    “This persisting catastrophe requires a global response”. No doubt about this at all!

 

 

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