Dienstag, 27. März 2012

The End of Japan as we know it ?

The "Atomic Age" is definitely over. So over. 1 year after the Fukushima meltdowns and reactor catastrophes, Japan and important parts could be literally standing on the edge of a razor blade. Not only 4 crippled reactors are still posing an immense health threat, but also the 6 spent fuel basins on the site of the Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant, with spent uranium rods are heavily damaged and are considered by international experts as a huge problem. A new earthquake could very well damage the spent fuel pools and lead to massive leaks of both radioactive materials and cooling water into the ground water and Pacific, but furthermore an uncontrolled chain reaction triggered by the used fuel could mean the end of Japan as we know it today, and trigger a catastrophe of epic proportionThis is not a panicky wake up call, but a desperate description of the situation in Fukushima as it presents itself today. What makes the spent fuel pools in the case of Fukushima so dangerous:
...the spent fuel rod pools that sit right next door to the reactors. The storage pools are packed with radioactive uranium, rise several stories above ground and are always close to the reactor, thus facilitating easy transfer of the fuel rods. Their name— especially “spent” and “pool”— conveys calm dissipation. But spent fuel rod pools are actually highly radioactive, very unstable, extremely dangerous and, compared with reactors, not well supported, contained or looked over. The spent rods give off considerable amounts of “decay heat” and thus must be submerged in constantly circulating water. Expose them to air for a day or two, and they begin to combust, giving off large amounts of radioactive cesium-137, a very toxic, long-lasting, aggressively penetrating radioactive element with a half-life of thirty years. When cesium-137 it enters the environment, it essentially acts like potassium and is taken up by plants and animals that use potassium....(The Nation, C. Parenti 15.03.2012)
The spent fuel pools are situated in the reactor bulding on one of the top floors. We know from the satellite fixes that most roofs of the 4 reactors have collapsed and smoke is still evaporating from the spent-fuel level. This can only lead to the conclusion that the water in the spent-fuel pools is evaporating or worse boiling. Once the cooling waters gone, the used fuel will just catch fire and thus create a chain reaction, a heavy chain reaction in open air, like an open-air reactor, making it impossible to work on any of the other crippled reactors and thus provoking chain reactions in the other fuel tanks and reactors on the Dai-chi site. German State television ZDF recently called this scenario "likely to happen". If that would be the case they had found a word to describe it "Armageddon". Japan would thus cease to exist as we know it today. Chernobyl would be a scratch in comparison to a multiple open-air meltdown & chain reaction, and disturbingly, the Dai-ichi Fukushima Plant has enough material to match up this disaster:

... the spent fuel pools are of significant concern, Marvin Resnikoff, a radioactive waste management consultant, said in a Wednesday press briefing organized by the nonprofit organization Physicians for Social Responsibility. Resnikoff noted that the pools at each reactor are thought to have contained the following amounts of spent fuel, according to Mainichi Daily News 
Reactor No. 1: 50 tons of nuclear fuel, Reactor No. 2: 81 tons, Reactor No. 3: 88 tons, Reactor No. 4: 135 tons, Reactor No. 5: 142 tonsReactor No. 6: 151 tons 
Also, a separate ground-level fuel pool contains 1,097 tons of fuel; and some 70 tons of nuclear materials are kept on the grounds in dry storage... (Scientific American, K. Harmon 17-03-2012)

The fuel pools are already in a desolate state in reactor 4's spent fuel pools, evaporation and steam could be seen for months now. Ant the spent fuel pools are even visible from outside. The roof has supposedly collapsed.
The blueish area on the center of the picture is the spent fuel pool (c) D. Gutterfelder, AP

The spent fuel pool can be seen from the crane. On this picture TEPCO took a sample measuring both the temperature and isotopes found in the pool. Note the steam on the right side of the picture.
(c) TEPCO / Reuters

What personally strikes me most are metaphysical and sheer existentialist questions, that nuclear energy confronts us with: Not only have we to provide security and stability for the waste of the power plants for more than 200'000 years, that's over 6000 generations, the only human activity that forces us to think in such numbers, but Fukushima could very well be the first time that nuclear energy threatens the integrity of a whole country and region. It is time to end this. And we can, without further ado!  Not tomorrow, but now. Japan has only 1 reactor left in operating mode, 53 are now shut down. China is reviewing their plans of massively building new reactors, even if they are far from perfect, the European stress tests triggered more protests all over the continent. A quick exit is possible in most countries. It is this generation's duty to end the "Atomic Age" or it will end us. This is not a cheesy and pathetic end to an article but a last wake up call, for an industry and political class that failed to learned the lessons from Mayak, Three Mile Island, Sellafield and Chernobyl.

Big Hug and Thanks to my fellow good soul Véronique who proof-read my article so late at night


  1. Further reading:

  2. today I read a similar commentary in the Times! good job phil, lets hope for the best

  3. Can't agree more. "It's this generation's duty to end the Atomic Age or it will end us". Amen.


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