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

Mittwoch, 21. März 2012

Fukushima: Newsreel & links for last week

Dear readers,
I decided to post a vast link collection of the hottest news from last week around the Fukushima Dai-ichi incident with small annotations.
Thank you, Good reading, keep up the good fight,

                                           Philippe Schockweiler

Kyodo News 19-3-2012:
Woman collapsing in No-Entry Zone aswell as workers - confirmed deaths.

Manichi News, Kyodo 20-3-2012:
March Tsunami & Earthquake damaged also other nuclear power plants. Tokai NPP leaked 1.5 tons of radioactive water into environment.

Japan Times, 20-3-2012
Iitate ground highly radioactive - up to 153'000 bq/kg.

Bloomberg, 18-3-2012
Food (in)security in Japan: 1% of the controls in comparision with Belarus & Chernobyl

... Inadequate testing by the government of rice, milk and fish from the region has prompted consumers to leave them on supermarket shelves and instead select produce from other regions or from overseas. Checks conducted nationwide so far are only 1 percent of what Belarus checked in the past year, a quarter century after the Chernobyl disaster, according to Nobutaka Ishida, a researcher at Norinchukin Research Institute...

Bloomberg 18-3-2012
Devastating Impact of Fukushima Disaster on Japanese Farmers: 
... Almost 100,000 farmers lost about 58 billion yen ($694 million) by March 1, or 25 percent of production, according to JA, the country’s biggest agricultural group. Imports of farm products jumped 16 percent to 5.58 trillion yen in 2011, according to the agriculture ministry... 


The Yomiuri Shibun, 18-3-2012
Radioactive Plankton found 600km away from Fukushima
... The research team collected animal plankton at 17 locations between 30 kilometers and 600 kilometers east of the plant in June last year, about three months after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that triggered the nuclear crisis. Cesium-137 was detected in all of the collected plankton, which in a dry state was found to contain 0.3 to 56.4 becquerels per kilogram. The farther away the plankton was collected, the less radiation it contained, according to the team...


Fukushima Diary, 16-3-2012
Reactortype of Fukushima: Problems known since the 1980's

In the 1980's simulations showed catastrophic results in the GE-Mk1 reactor (the one used in Fukushima) during meltdowns & accidents.

Japanese Investigation Committee for the Accident in Fukushima, 15-3-2012Tepco still waits with the final report - only preliminary conclusions published!

Tepco's plant statuts report,  16-3-2012
Note the unusually high hydrogen concentration and temperatures in reactor 3. Aswell as the

Yomiuri Shibun, 16-3-2012
High Concentration of Caesium in Japanese wildlife! Rabbits contaminated with 560bq/kg above safe limit! 

More and more studies show the devastating effect of the incident on Japanese wild- and naturelife.

Kyodo News, 15-3-2012
Difficult task to remove spent fuel from reactor.
Chaotic state of the reactor makes it (nearly) impossible to decommission the plant properly.

Dr. Helen Caldicott Interview, 15-3-2012
Nobel Prize Nominee claims: Very early and high number of lumps in thyroid with Fukushima children

A phenomenon seldomly observed that a nuclear incident causes so many lumps and complications only one year after the catastrophe.

ENENEWS, via NHK, 15-3-2012
Radiation too high for workers to continue repairs in suppression chamber of Reactor 2 & 3

Interview with Prof. Karl Grossmann, 14-3-2012:"Fukushima's toll will be worse"

Arnold "Arnie" Gunderson via Xinhua 14-3-2012:
"Fukushima as bad or worse then Chernobyl

Chernobyl was a single reactor running at about 7 percent capacity when rupture ... [Fukushima] had three reactors running at 100 percent capacity and seven other reactors with spent fuel pools that were crippled

French Nuclear Experts: Risk of Explosion in Fukushima still imminent! 14-3-2012
via France 24:

The Economic Times: 1-3-2012
Subcontractor workers report of their treatment by Tepco. Tepco denies deaths at plant although they occur!

25km from Fukushima, Radiation sickness strikes an 18 year old teacher
via Al-Jazzera correspondant in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture

Mysterious highly radioactice powder found all over Fukushima region:

Further reading:

Dienstag, 13. März 2012

Interview with Keith Baverstock

During the “Fukushima 1 Year” Conference, organized in the European Parliament by the Green Group (Greens/EFA) I had the chance to interview Keith Baverstock. “Docent (adjunct professor) in the Department of Environmental Science at the University of Eastern Finland, Keith Baverstock studies the effect of ionizing radiation on the cells and has taken over the years a special interest in effects of low doses of radiation, the toxicity of depleted uranium and the consequences of accidents such as Chernobyl and now Fukushima.”*
Photo: Christian Gapp (c)

Approximately 1 year after the Fukushima catastrophe, how do you see the situation in Japan:

Baverstock: Well, I think the situation is pretty desperate. But I am limited in what I can say and what that might involve in terms of health effects. Because we simply do not have enough information with which to do that. It's pretty clear that in the village of Iiate and around there, there are people which have been exposed to months to levels which are similar to levels which are present in the settlements around the Chernobyl reactor, and where people stay only for 12 days roughly, at the highest. Those people we haven't been able to study because they've been dispersed. But I think there should be a study of these inhabitants of Iiate, because this is potentially valuable information. But the situation in Japan is quite unprecedented: There are 3 cores that have melted down, actually melted trough almost certainly and the secondary containment has been blown away. So there has been no limit to the release and we saw this huge release of Xenon-133, that's an indication that the fuel has melted and all the volatiles have come of. It is perhaps surprising that not more cesium has come out, certainly there must be still a lot retained in the molten fuel but precisely what is the state of the molten fuel, is it just lying on the reactor floor? Has it eaten into the concrete? Is there a danger of eating all the way trough the concrete? That's getting more remote as time goes by. And nobody can find this out, because nobody can get close enough to see what's happening. So, it's an extremely desperate situation, not at all like the situation that national governments have tried to suggest that, well I mean that one of the most ridiculous things is that the IAEA(International Atomic Energy Agency) reporting several months after the initial meltdown, that in fact these reactors are under cold shutdown. “Cold shutdown” doesn't mean anything if the fuel has run out and is at the bottom of the reactor.

After “Chernobyl” it was difficult for scientists to refer to comparable data. Some people tried to compare at the time “Chernobyl” to the data which had been collected from the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Now we have a lot of data from “Chernobyl”, can we use it to compare it to Fukushima?

Baverstock: Well I think we do have a lot of data which I think is useful to compare to Fukushima, but even tough it's 26 years since the “Chernobyl accident”, this long delay periods for diseases to appear after exposure. So there's still a lot to learn from the Chernobyl accident, and the European Commission has commissioned a study back in 2008, to see what else could be learned from the Chernobyl accident. And that study, which I was a part of in 2010, with a main recommendation that a long-term lifespan study should be setup, along the lines of the RERS-Study. And so far no action has been taken. We are now in 2012. We've had the Fukushima accident and there's undoubtedly a huge amount of information that would be gained from further studies of the Chernobyl accident in terms of setting up from existing cohorts, a lifespan study. The second thing is at the time of Chernobyl, it may not have looked appropriate to compare the effects of a low dose of radiation spread over a long period of time with the Japanese bomb survivor data. But now, we have enough data from Tetcha-River (river contaminated by the “Mayak Incident”), from radiation worker studies, to show us that there is in fact no difference. In fact it is even possible that exposure at a low-dose rate is even more damaging than exposure to a very short-lived flash of radiation. So it is quite legitimate to use the precisely the values that you get from Japanese bomb survivors and apply them to situations like Chernobyl or Fukushima.

* http://www.kbaverstock.org/ (Keith's personal Webpage with lots of information on both Fukushima and Chernobyl, his publications and interesting data)
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