Fear of new catastrophe
at Fukushima spurs
Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki is warning of a new catastrophe at the stricken nuclear power plant in Japan.
AN EXTREMELY RISKY but desperate attempt is under way to clean up the most dangerous part of the nuclear plant devastated by an earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011.
Workers began Monday removing the first of about 1,500 uranium fuel rods from Reactor 4 at the Fukushima plant – the one considered in most danger of a total collapse that could lead to a new nuclear disaster worse than the original one.
But the private company TEPCO is racing against the clock. Experts have warned that another earthquake in the area is highly likely and it could bring the entire structure containing the radioactive fuel crashing to the ground.
The fallout would be global.
THE NEWS WAS reported Monday by the BBC in the story Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant begins fuel rod removal.
“Workers at Japan’s stricken Fukushima nuclear plant have begun removing fuel rods from a storage pond at the Unit 4 reactor building,” the BBC reported.
The BBC News story about the beginning of salvage attempts this week. Click image to enlarge.
“It will take about two days to remove the first 22 fuel rod assemblies, plant operator Tepco says.
“Overall, more than 1,500 assemblies must be removed in what correspondents describe as a risky and dangerous operation set to take a year.”
The fuel rod assemblies are four-meter long tubes containing pellets of uranium fuel, and the fear is that some may have been damaged during the disaster.
But the dangers of the undertaking are less well known. They were detailed in a Nov. 12 report from Reuters headlined Fukushima: now for the tough part.
“The operator of Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant will … begin removing 400 tonnes of highly irradiated spent fuel in a hugely delicate and unprecedented operation fraught with risk,” wrote Aaron Sheldrick.
A story detailing the dangers of the Fukushima salvage efforts appeared on Reuters. Click image to enlarge.
Carefully plucking more than 1,500 brittle and potentially damaged fuel assemblies from the plant’s unstable Reactor No. 4 is expected to take about a year.
“If the rods – there are 50-70 in each of the assemblies, which weigh around 660 pounds and are 15 feet long – are exposed to air or if they break, huge amounts of radioactive gases could be released into the atmosphere.”
Sheldrick explained the urgency of clearing the fuel rods “is because of the risk in having spent fuel stored at such a height – some 18 meters above ground level – in a building that has buckled and tilted and could collapse if another quake strikes.
“Also … there could be a fire that releases more radiation than during the 2011 disaster, threatening Tokyo, some 125 miles to the south.”
Any single mishap during the year-long process of removing the highly radioactive fuel could cause a another disaster, but the most severe one is explained in an exhaustive analysis of the situation at Bill Moyers & Company titled What You Need to Know About Fukushima.
John Light and Karin Kamp first lay out the background leading to this week’s efforts:
“The operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant has come under severe criticism from nuclear energy experts for its handling of the cleanup at the crippled facility, decimated after the March 2011 tsunami,” they report.
An in-depth analysis of the dangers at Fukushima is available at Moyers & Company web site. Click image to enlarge.
“Many say Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco), the Japanese utility company that operates the plant, has been grossly incompetent, deceptive and guilty of downplaying the health impacts resulting from the meltdown.”
These are the same folks now undertaking the high-risk effort to prevent another disaster of unimaginable proportions.
But, it seems, doing nothing is not an option. The 1,500 fuel rods are suspended on the third floor of a damaged structure which could collapse if another earthquake were to hit the area – and that, scientists say, is highly likely.
“The Earthquake Research Institute at the University of Tokyo said earlier this year that there’s a 70 percent chance a 7.0-magnitude or higher quake will strike Tokyo, near Fukushima, by 2016,” the Moyers story reports.
“Last month Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki expressed his fears that further damage to the Fukushima facility could prove catastrophic.
“Should the fourth reactor collapse, Suzuki said, it would be “bye bye Japan,” and “everybody on the west coast of North America should evacuate. Now if that isn’t terrifying, I don’t know what is.”
It is certainly terrifying.
“The rods contain radiation at levels 14,000 times greater than what was released when America dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. It’s a highly dangerous operation that has never been attempted on such a scale before,” the Moyers report adds.
This is a situation that demands global attention. There are so many things that could go wrong, and each has potentially far-reaching consequences.
If another quake hits the area before the current operation is complete, all bets are off. And, this is only the beginning. There are still two other damaged reactors that need decommissioning.
Those of us on the West Coast need to pay close attention because what happens thousands of miles away across the Northern Pacific could have immediate consequences for us – and the entire planet.
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