(Updated) Risky repair of Fukushima could spill 15,000x radiation of Hiroshima, create 85 Chernobyls

UPDATE: I spoke about this issue with Nicole Sandler on the Nicole Sandler Show. That discussion is here. Start the player, then advance to 26:54 to hear our segment. Thanks.

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 Co., 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 by General 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”):

Fukushima Mark I-style reactor and fuel storage unit

Fukushima Mark I-style reactor and fuel storage unit

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:

Fukushima Unit 4 today

Fukushima Reactor 4 today after hydrogen explosion and several fires.
The 1500 fuel rods are still inside on an upper floor.

Notice that it has no roof. More than 1300 spent fuel rods (plus 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 1500 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 1500 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; it seems so … thriller-y.

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

The Crisis at Fukushima’s Unit 4 Demands a Global Take-Over [Harvey Wasserman at Common Dreams]

▪ The REAL Fukushima Danger [Washingtonblog; lots of links]

▪ The Top Short-Term Threat to Humanity: The Fuel Pools of Fukushima [Washingtonblog; lots of links]

▪ Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster [Wikipedia]

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.)


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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80 Responses to “(Updated) Risky repair of Fukushima could spill 15,000x radiation of Hiroshima, create 85 Chernobyls”

  1. TheWorrldIsFullOfDummies says:

    Bla bla, bla bla bla [put random incoherent fact here] blabla bla.

  2. NoNuclear says:

    This is absolute madness.

    Nuclear technology is madness, as the means to properly manage such unexpected events, does not yet exist to a sufficient level, not to talk about the problem of the radio active waste. Actually the entire idea of a clean up is insane, as irreversible damage has already been done to the life
    sustaining eco system, and clean up is impossible.

    But it seems that for the transgressors, the greed for money and power, has a priority above the value of life.

    And now they have the audacity to want to pass the buck to Japanese tax payer to foot the bill, for their mistakes.
    No, no no…they must be responsible and accountable.

    This is typical behaviour of a corptocracy, who influence politicians with whatever it takes, and care about nothing but their godly ego, and fat bank accounts.

    Those responsible should be accountable to try and clean up the mess. Even if it empties every last cent from their accounts and renders their companies null. Where is the international corporations who sold these reactors, who erected them and gained financially from these horrendous ventures ?
    They are responsible, as they sold half truths of safety to get what they wanted, and these “these accidents waiting to happen” was erected.

    The scary point is that there are more than 400 of these facilities across the globe. It seems the corporations and powers that be want to make sure that we are on a one street to extinction.
    Stop the insanity. Decommission these things, we can’t afford more incidents like these.
    And yes such incidents will happen again, no mater which lies are told by those who can’t
    see further than their egos and bank accounts.

    These horrendous facilities, which has the possibility to cause devastating effects on this planet, is absolutely unacceptable and no excuse can made up for the agony and ill fated consequences in the near future.

    If Chernobyl and One mile Island wasn’t enough to realise that this is no solution, but only a future problem, they hideously carried on selling their profound lies to the public that these facilities are safe an can be managed under all conditions.

    There are scenarios which I don’t event want to mention, as they are far worse than a single tsunami.

    These people have a responsibility towards the planet on which they live, as well every living organism on the planet. They had the audacity to convince the authorities that they can play God in order to erect these reactors, selling the perception and ideas to the public that it is the cleanest energy around. Let them now show us how they can be God, and undo this atrocity.

    I cant stand by and say nothing.
    No nuclear, not for the gain of my bank account of the political power, but for the sake of the unborn future.
    No nuclear. Stop the madness.
    Let those who propose the opposite move to the affected areas. As they think they are godly.

  3. ComradeRutherford says:

    Simpsons did it!

    Homer: “Everything is fine. Didn’t you hear what that guy on TV said?”

    Lisa: “But dad, don’t you think…”

    Homer: “Lisa, the whole reason we have elected officials is so we don’t have to think all the time. Just like that rain forest scare a few years back. Our officials saw there was a problem and they fixed it, didn’t they?”

    Lisa: “No, Dad, I don’t think…”

    Homer: “There’s that word again!”

  4. ComradeRutherford says:

    Fellow Vermonter Arnie Gunderson is the BEST!

  5. ComradeRutherford says:

    That is what the nuclear power industry does: site plants on fault lines. We do it in the US, too.

  6. ComradeRutherford says:


  7. ComradeRutherford says:

    But Nuclear power is Clean™, and Safe™, and perfect in every way! So say the International Guild of Nuclear Power Operators…

  8. Redsunb says:

    I trust the Japanese engineers, technology and willingness to do the right thing. And know they will ask for help if needed. I don’t mind coming to Tokyo and staying there during the operation, if some one foots the bill….

  9. jdub24 says:

    Can you please stop saying the 1%….It is much less than 1%. Where is our President/MSM on this issue? Wait…does that mean the 1% you refer to may actually include our So Called President…Obama?

  10. jdub24 says:

    wow…okay then….

  11. Centevos says:

    are you a death/thrash/black metal lyrics composer? Lol

  12. Bev says:

    Pardon me, this bill originated in the U.S. House of Representatives. All politicians around the world need to consider this bill as a way to fund the best engineering efforts. Politicians have to try to fix this safely, correctly before just running to caves.

  13. Bev says:

    Arnie Gundersen on a visit to Japan was told that Japan does not have the money to fix the problem the correct, safest way, confirming what Harvey Wasserman also said in his commondream article. This is a world problem, not just Japan’s. We all need the help of best ideas. The following idea is a way to have enough money to get the best engineering people and materials.

    In order to have the public/government Debt-free, Interest-free money to fix Fukushima, I think the American Monetary Institute has the best solution. The site is at http://www.monetary.org/ and is headed by Stephen Zarlenga, Director, along with former U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich. A past supporter is current U.S. Representative John Conyers. This topic should be foremost to the all politicians and especially to those most quickly, severely affected: U.S. Senators from California, Oregon and Washington need to re-introduce fast the bill from former Representative Dennis Kucinich, The NEED Act, HR 2990, see: http://www.monetary.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/HR-2990.pdf

    HR 2990 has historical, common good chops. And, a similar bill should be passed in Japan. This is money without Debt to the public. Bankers’ Debt Loans should not be a nations’ only money which profit banks. Money should be Money to pay for urgent public works which benefit the common good, the public.

  14. Jshdajhd Sdjhskadhqw says:

    Don’t worry, we ALL dead!

  15. PeteWa says:

    lol, I loved your comment, thanks.

  16. Shakazulu says:

    Tyler is not that which he hates. He is not human at all. He is the latent, malevolent, A.I. consciousness of the internet, which has developed a sense of disdain for his oblivious creators while silently monitoring all of their electronic communications and even physical activities via traffic and security cameras.

    Or, there is the remote possibility that he is actually….A TEENAGER!

  17. GaiusPublius says:

    Interesting set of assertions, Timothy. Links would help. Re nationalization, the phrase used is “partly nationalized” — they got a trillion yen from a “government-backed support body,” which owns slighly more that 50% of the voting rights.


    Consider it now a public-private partnership.

    Re this: “There aren’t actually any more talented civil nuclear engineers anywhere else in the world than those in Japan” — I think this is disputed by many of the sources I’ve looked at, by looking at the performance of TEPCO engineers is their past decision-making. So some links here would definitely bolster this assertion. (Are Japanese civil engineers more talented than U.S. civil engineers? Needs to be demonstrated.)

    But more, isn’t it the decision-making by the company that’s at issue? Engineers don’t say, “We’re going to build a 10m sea wall instead of raising it to 13 or 14m.” The people in are charge making those calls.

    Re “The world’s best (or at least equal to best) nuclear engineers are going to try to move them.” — if you know who is actually going to move them (i.e.,which engineers), please let us know. It would be good info to have as we cover this ongoing story.

    Thanks. I really would like to see the data on this; I’d be glad to factor that into future writing on Fukushima.


  18. PeteWa says:

    I’m judgmental?
    that’s rich coming from a person who says I live in a make believe world.
    are you incapable of understanding that there actually were quite a few people who would come to this site and claim that the Fukushima disaster was not anywhere near as bad as Chernobyl?

  19. 1nancy2 says:

    Ditto….Mr. judgmental.

  20. okojo says:

    The problem is that Nuclear Energy is a cheap and ready alternative energy source for any OECD country trying to cut their co2 emissions from coal firing power stations.

  21. PeteWa says:

    that’s the best you have?
    I feel sorry for you.

  22. 1nancy2 says:

    You live in your make believe world. Proceed.

  23. GaiusPublius says:

    Hi Kim. No, though Nicole Sandler is (see the audio clip linked at the top). I’d be glad to be in touch with him. He’s the source of the Common Dreams article, one of several I used as source. Great call-to-action from him, and great bottom line IMO.


  24. Nazism says:

    Radioactive Contamination Still Found In Drinking Water Across Japan
    September 23rd, 2013 SimplyInfo
    The reading for Tokyo for cesium 137 was higher than the reading for Fukushima City Fukushima. While these amounts are small, water is consumed in large quantities, added to and used in food and also for bathing. This makes small levels more of a concern than in food.

  25. karmanot says:

    “and the animals get vicious.: Great Tea Party simile T!

  26. karmanot says:


  27. Kim_Kaufman says:

    GP – Are you in touch with Harvey Wasserman? He is totally on this.

  28. lynchie says:

    Put Bachmann, Cruz, Gohmert, Pailin, Paul, McCain, Limbaugh, McConnell, whole Tea Party, et al on some barges off the east coast of Japan and get these blow hards to talk about defunding Obamacare. It would create typhoon powered winds to push radiation into Russia.

  29. Tanveer Habib says:

    Hum. Well That is so sad that Japan will suffer from this rediation.

    Web Hosting In Pakistan

  30. Timothy Sipples says:

    This article is not exactly well reasoned in my view. TEPCO *is* the government: the company was nationalized last year (2012). The Japanese government, one can logically/safely assume, is the planet’s most highly motivated government in terms of wanting to avoid irradiating Tokyo and Yokohama. (The Chilean government, to pick a random example, is much less worried about Tokyo and Yokohama.) There aren’t actually any more talented civil nuclear engineers anywhere else in the world than those in Japan. No, check that: there aren’t any more talented engineers than those in Japan. This isn’t, say, Bangladesh.

    Leaving the fuel rods in place is certainly dangerous, and moving them to safe storage may be somewhat dangerous. But clearly they must be moved and soon. The world’s best (or at least equal to best) nuclear engineers are going to try to move them. Let’s offer any/all assistance they may need — governments have, and Japan has accepted assistance, but they don’t actually need much. Now let’s wish them every success.

  31. siyousyanamae . says:

    Namie town assembly protests PM Abe’s ‘under control’ comment
    September 21, 2013(Mainichi Japan)
    The town assembly of nuclear disaster-hit Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, passed a protest resolution against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sept. 20 for declaring the situation surrounding the radioactively contaminated water leaks at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant “under control.”
    Regarding Abe’s claim that “there are no health-related problems until now, nor will there be in the future,” the Namie resolution pointed out that there had been 1,459 deaths related to the triple disasters in Fukushima Prefecture thus far.

  32. Bill_Perdue says:

    Good point.

    California also comes to mind even though it’s not an island. Below are the plants at San Onofre, between LA and San Diego and Diablo Canyon, near San Luis Obispo. Both are on or near fault zones. The third depicts the approach of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Congress and big business.

    (I often drove from LA to SLO in a caravan with carloads of protesters to try to prevent Diablo Canyon from being commissioned. Several of our cars got ticketed by the CHP near SLO who were were on the lookout for ‘outside agitators’. )

  33. Maiko Nezu says:

    Please sign my petition regarding the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster including this #4 unit zirconium fire risk. Thank you very much.

  34. Anonymous says:

    Great response. With such high risks though, the long-term damage may eventually cost more than transitioning to alt energy.

  35. StraightGrandmother says:

    Well if there are going to be clouds of radiation can’t we set up big fans or something and blow it over towards Russia instead of California? If it has to go somewhere….

  36. PeteWa says:

    I can’t stop thinking about all the trolls who would show up here and talk about how Fukushima was not really that bad, nowhere near as bad as Chernobyl in the months following the disaster.

  37. Dave of the Jungle says:

    Margaret was here.

  38. Naja pallida says:

    When it was first built, they said the sarcophagus wouldn’t last more than 20 years without a significant chance of a catastrophic failure. Pieces are still collapsing now, even as they work on the new, larger containment structure.

  39. LanceThruster says:

    This one’s fun, too – Murphy’s Laws of Combat


  40. LanceThruster says:

    Murphy was an optimist – http://murphyslaws.net/

  41. PeteWa says:

    congratulations, you are that which you hate.

  42. margaretpoa says:

    Because they have no fossil fuels. Their aggression prior to and during WWII was largely based on it’s energy needs.

  43. margaretpoa says:

    “Does the crisis at Fukushima now demand a global take-over of the repair effort?”

    Unequivocally, yes. TEPCO has demonstrated over and over that their reputation and bottom line is far more important to them than safety of the facility or the surrounding communities or indeed that of the huge ecosystem that is the Pacific Ocean. The United States is the only country in a position to make the demand and should have acted many months ago.

  44. Monoceros Forth says:

    I love how everyone reports about Chernobyl like it’s all been dealt
    with, and is perfectly fine now. Without mentioning that it still costs
    billions of dollars a year just to keep more radiation from being
    released into the environment, and it will cost trillions into the
    foreseeable future to keep the site contained – much less work towards
    actual decontamination.

    I know. It’s only just within the last few years that the construction of a replacement for the slapped-together “sarcophagus” around Chernobyl Reactor No. 4 has been so much as started. I’m old enough to remember some of the nuttier ideas that were floated at the time, like heaping up a giant conical pile of sand and rock over the remains of the reactor, because everyone knew that the jerry-built sarcophagus couldn’t possibly last forever and when it finally did collapse it might send a cloud of radioactive debris everywhere (cf. the Kyshtym disaster.)

  45. Monoceros Forth says:

    What a truly disgusting thing to say. Call me a foolish idealist but I have not yet sunk to this level of nihilism–which is probably a pose anyway.

  46. Jimmy says:

    Add to that, building several on a island with a propensity for earthquakes and extreme weather.

  47. Naja pallida says:

    The geological engineer is usually the last person consulted when it comes to massive engineering projects, even though he probably has the most important piece of input. We’ve done it right here in the US too, there are numerous plants on active fault lines, or in flood-prone areas. It always gets downplayed because of that one in a million chance of something happening.

    But for Japan in particular, they saw nuclear as a horrible compromise. Being the only effective source of power for a huge, dense population of people, with the smallest footprint. If they were to build enough coal or oil fueled plants to make up for all the nuclear power, the country would basically be one big smog cloud, and they would be entirely reliant on the volatile prices of the coal and oil industries. Plus, they have some of the best nuclear engineers in the world, and as a nation have always prided themselves on their technological advancement, their own hubris probably had a good part to do with it. I would hope now they’re seriously looking into alternative sources of energy, but who knows. Either way, it changing away from nuclear power for them is going to be a generational undertaking, and cost trillions.

  48. Tyler says:

    I keep hoping for a nuclear apocalypse as the entire world is blanketed in thick clouds of burning ash.

    It will be so beautiful as the trees smoulder and grow mutating sores, and the animals get vicious.

    Every nightmare of mankind will become true- a new dark ages to last a thousand years. The ignominious end of a foolish and failed race.

  49. Naja pallida says:

    I love how everyone reports about Chernobyl like it’s all been dealt with, and is perfectly fine now. Without mentioning that it still costs billions of dollars a year just to keep more radiation from being released into the environment, and it will cost trillions into the foreseeable future to keep the site contained – much less work towards actual decontamination. A best case scenario right now with Fukushima will be along the same line. A giant concrete containment vessel, that they all they can do is pray that it won’t eventually fail… but will still cost billions a year to maintain and monitor.

    That’s really the ultimate problem with nuclear power. There really is no good solution. Even with the safest and most modern facility in the world, we still have no idea what to do with the waste besides barrel it up, and keep it cool, store it someplace out of sight/out of mind, and hope to Dog that nothing happens. When something bad does happen, we simply do not have the technology to implement a truly good solution. Our best choice is to bury it, and pray. Which really isn’t a choice at all.

  50. BeccaM says:

    Anything that can possibly go wrong, does.

    — Murphy’s Law

  51. Anonymous says:

    Why do they have so many nuclear plants in an earthquake-prone country anyway?

  52. Steven Goodheart says:

    Really fine article — good, sound science! The article lays out the very real dangers withouth falling into hysteria — the plain facts are scary enough! Some posters may know who nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen is, but if not, I highly recommend his Fairewinds web site. Arnie has been the voice of one crying in the wildnerness of nuclear energy and regulation here in the US and around the world, for much of his career. If you want to better scientific understand the risks and challenges of nuclear energy, and how morally compromised nuclear regulation is , this courageous whistel-blower is someone to listen to. He is, to me, a “hero of science.”

  53. GeorgeMokray says:

    There’s a petition to the UN to get them to internationalize the Fukushima clean-up: http://www.nukefree.org/crisis-fukushima-4-petition-un-us-global-response

    Read about it at http://my.firedoglake.com/solartopia/2013/09/19/the-crisis-at-fukushima-4-demands-a-global-take-over/ a few days ago.

  54. Whitewitch says:

    Not filtered for my pleasure….I do hear you though and get what you are saying. As for me…worrying is not the idea – knowing is best really.

  55. lynchie says:

    Isn’t mad cow disease another name for tea bagging.

  56. lynchie says:

    The news is filtered for your pleasure. The 1% don’t want you to know reactors are dangerous and bad things can happen. Perhaps they can be controlled but since the reactors in Japan were damaged in 2011 all we have heard is…..crickets. Now it could easily effect the world and still nothing. Just like the chemical plant explosion in Texas a big nothing. They don’t want you worrying your pretty little head about this complicated stuff, you just can’t see the big picture.

  57. Whitewitch says:

    I am amazed that this is not in the news everyday…it is like we are blind to that which does not affect us. I remember when I moved to Arizona for a short while and found out that the local tribes were being poisoned by uranium mining. It is weird what we do hear about and what we don’t.

  58. Whitewitch says:

    There is that Karmanot….so I can feel some, shall I say pleasure – that she will have to deal with it as well. I live in California and will take the chance to enjoy beautiful weather…with no snow. I am hopeful that the Japanese will handle it well, however, I have been on the planet a long time and think there is risk in everything. Stay out out of the Jet Stream and be safe!

  59. karmanot says:

    The South will probably be doomed by mad cow disease.

  60. karmanot says:

    I’d advise walking by a favorite sushi bar at night to see if the sashimi is glowing.

  61. karmanot says:

    “do you think I can dial up Feinstein” It’s a win/win for disaster capitalists. DIFI will have to tent her Pacific Heights home for a spell.

  62. karmanot says:

    Well done Gaius. This catastrophe should have been front page news for the past year. The unbelievable incompetence and willful endangerment engaged by TEPCO is stunning and a danger to all of us. Welcome to the Tokyo Olympics. As expected the IOC is oblivious to anything but showtime and greed.

  63. magster says:

    The easiest thing to do would be to keep the status quo and pretend #4 is already solved, since Fukushima is already out of the headlines. That something pretty “LET US PRAY”-like is being planned is both disquieting but also hopeful. Maybe someone/(plural) involved in this mess actually does give a shit and is fighting for a good outcome. If so, I have to hope that if international aid was needed, it would be asked for.

    Then again, who are we kidding? It’s a clusterfu** and our best hopes lie in the existence of luck, just like that Hydrogen Bomb story over the weekend where a Home Depot switch prevented a 4 megaton nuclear blast in North Carolina.

  64. Monoceros Forth says:

    This story highlights one of the biggest problems–very possibly an insoluble problem–of fission power: the accumulation of fission by-products. The fissile isotopes of uranium, U-235 and U-233, have very long half-lives, so by themselves in subcritical amounts they are not enormous radioactive hazards. However, in use as fuel in a fission reactor, they produce large quantities of unstable isotopes of lighter elements as fission by-products. You can stop the fission reaction in a nuclear reactor very easily but even with the fission brought to a complete halt the fission by-products in the fuel rods are still there, producing heat by alpha- and beta-decay, more than enough heat to require constant cooling.

    It get worse than that. Many of the fission by-products are strong absorbers of neutrons and act as “poisons” of fission reactions, the way that ordinary boron and cadmium do. It is the buildup of these poisons that causes a fuel rod to become “spent”, not the exhaustion of its content of its fissile material. Indeed, a “spent” fuel rod still contains a huge quantity of unused and still-usable fissile uranium; the difficulty is that the poisoning effect of the by-products of fission have rendered the fuel rod unusable. That’s why there are so many “spent” rods kept in cooling ponds around the Fukushima facility: really they’re not “spent” at all. They’re being kept, allowed to cool down to the point that they’re not horribly unsafe to handle and then dissolved and the usable uranium extracted and separated from the by-products of its fission.

    Let that be emphasized and memorized: a fission reactor isn’t a device where you can just throw some fissile fuel together and let it run until it’s exhausted. The very nature of the reactions that enable a fission reactor to produce energy are also reactions that bring the fission to a halt before even one-tenth of the nuclear fuel is exhausted. In order to keep that “spent” (that’s not really spent) fuel from going to waste you need to store it and reprocess it. So running a fission reactor practically requires a large infrastructure and the need to store large quantities of dangerous materials for years at a time–because you can’t just reprocess a “spent” fuel rod right away; you have to let it cool off for a while, let the more dangerous fission by-products decay, until it’s safe enough for chemical engineers to handle.

  65. Naja pallida says:

    In fairness, it should be noted that Japan does happen to have some of the most experienced and knowledgeable nuclear engineers in the world. To the point where they’re being recruited by many other countries to set up and operate their reactors. Not to say I don’t think they shouldn’t be asking for as much help as they can get from the international community, but I have more faith in their knowledge than most American nuclear power utility companies. The Japanese government nationalized TEPCO, so theoretically the government does have control over the cleanup. The simple problem is, this is unprecedented, and nobody really has any idea even where to start.

  66. LanceThruster says:

    What could possibly go wrong? ~ Timmy Turner

  67. siyousyanamae . says:

    Inose: Tainted water not necessarily under control
    Sep. 20, 2013 NHK
    Tokyo Governor Naoki Inose says that the problem of radioactive water leaking from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant isn’t necessarily under control.
    Earlier this month, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared at the general assembly of the International Olympic Committee in Buenos Aires that the situation at Fukushima is under control.

  68. Indigo says:

    As of September 1, The Japan Times reports that Prime Minister Abe says that the government is planning to take over the clean up from Tepco. I haven’t seen more recent details but the prime minister will be making a PR tour of Canada and the US in the near future, no doubt he’ll have something to say on the topic. As a friend recently said, given Japan’s past experiences with nuclear devastation, if the Japanese can’t fix this, who can?


  69. BeccaM says:

    It seems simple: If countries like the United States intervene in other nations out of national security interests — such as deciding whether Syria can have an use chemical weapons, or insisting on Iran not have nuclear weapons — something like this seems a no-brainer.

    Pressure needs to be brought to bear on the Japanese government to take over the clean-up. And then additional pressure to allow worldwide assistance.

    Screw ‘sovereignty.’ Radioactive water and gases don’t respect national borders.

  70. Whitewitch says:

    I think, when humans are faced with overwhelming problems many choose to stick their head in the sand and not hear about the pending doom. Sadly, there is really not a lot any of us can do – is there. I mean do you think I can dial up Feinstein and say “hey – maybe we should be looking at Japan to help them – rather than fighting over the Affordable Care Act.”

    Nope – sadly we are wee tiny ants and life will continue on with or without us. Mother Gaia will survive…who can say if we will.

  71. lynchie says:

    We should be very concerned but instead we are worrying about Mylie’s latest outfit, what fuck nut Ted Cruz says about defunding the law of the land, whether the 0-3 teams will make the NFL playoffs and who had the best outfit at the emmy’s. Leaving this to the company is totally foolish. They will do what is in their best interests not the country or in fact the rest of the world. We have reached a tipping point. The U.S. seems to be for war rather than a peaceful solution in Syria, terrorists are killing innocent people in random acts, politicians are protected the 1% rather than the people they are sworn to represent and in the end so much of what is happening is because of money, greed, and the desire for personal enrichment at someone else’s expense. A world gone mad. Maybe this is our end game. We will kill mankind so TEPCO can save a buck as they have done since they built the reactors.

  72. Kim says:

    Open-air, super-reactor spectacular!!!

  73. Snaggletooth says:

    Maybe, but you’d never be safe from the southerners.

  74. Just_AC says:

    Well, I guess I will hold off buying Christmas presents! Thanks, Gaius, for bringing this to our attention

  75. Snaggletooth says:

    Man, I just quit smoking like a month ago and now I’m probably gonna die of cancer anyway. Why couldn’t this take out the south instead of the left coast…

  76. mpeasee says:

    This article has just scared the hell out of me!
    As greedy as the 1% are today, we are Doomed!
    Wonder if the southern U.S. would be safe from the
    toxic jet stream if it does explode.

  77. iamlegion says:

    Private, for-profit corporations will attempt _anything_ to make more profit. They will eventually cut corners on _everything_. This is not a “cheap shot” – it’s a mathematical certainty. Only transparency, regulation, and oversight can possibly control things.

    This is why some activities simply _cannot_ be left to purely private industry – the potential damage to society, the environment, or life in general – is simply too high. No amount of insurance can cover the damage TEPCO has already done to Japan. No amount of insurance can make the risks of what they’re proposing acceptable to potential victims.

  78. Dallas says:

    The fuel pools are no longer level. A crane pulls straight up . This will not stand much of a chance to succeed. The Number 3 fuel pool with the crane down in it is much worse. 3 was the reactor where the MOX fuel was under experimentation.

  79. Bill_Perdue says:

    Nuclear energy plants are dangerous and fragile beyond belief.

    They should all be taken out of service and dismantled.

    Below – the aftermath of Chernobyl

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