Japan Diplomat: Ground underneath Fukushima Unit 4 is sinking — More than 30 inches in some areas — Now in danger of collapse
Interview with Nuclear Engineer Chris Harris
Chris Harris, former licensed Senior Reactor Operator and engineer: Their own word is that Tepco believes that the core is definitely eating through the floor, it’s already gone through the bottom of at least No 1’s reactor vessel, and he said eating its way through the concrete. I probably believe that it’s already eaten through the concrete. I think that’s past tense.
Inside Evacuation Zone: Cattle sick, dying — “We call it Fukushima syndrome” — Severe diarrhea, skin problems, weakened immune systems
Diarrhea like water, snivel, spreading dermatitis, their immune system is being weaken, which is obvious even for amateur. It might be because of simply the lack of nutrition, epidemic disease, or radiation exposure. Probably it’s only in this hazard area, where series of cattle die one after one. We call it Fukushima syndrome, which was born from Tepco and the government.
Why Fukushima Is a Greater Disaster than Chernobyl and a Warning Sign for the U.S.
The radioactive inventory of all the irradiated nuclear fuel stored in spent fuel pools at Fukushima is far greater and even more problematic than the molten cores.
In the aftermath of the world’s worst nuclear power disaster, the news media is just beginning to grasp that the dangers to Japan and the rest of the world posed by the Fukushima-Dai-Ichi site are far from over. After repeated warnings by former senior Japanese officials, nuclear experts, and now a U.S. Senator, it is sinking in that the irradiated nuclear fuel stored in spent fuel pools amidst the reactor ruins may have far greater potential offsite consequences than the molten cores.
After visiting the site recently, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) wrote to Japan’s ambassador to the U.S. stating that, “loss of containment in any of these pools could result in an even greater release than the initial accident.”
This is why:
- Each pool contains irradiated fuel from several years of operation, making for an extremely large radioactive inventory without a strong containment structure that encloses the reactor cores;
- Several pools are now completely open to the atmosphere because the reactor buildings were demolished by explosions; they are about 100 feet above ground and could possibly topple or collapse from structural damage coupled with another powerful earthquake;
- The loss of water exposing the spent fuel will result in overheating can cause melting and ignite its zirconium metal cladding – resulting in a fire that could deposit large amounts of radioactive materials over hundreds of miles.
Irradiated nuclear fuel, also called “spent fuel,” is extraordinarily radioactive. In a matter of seconds, an unprotected human one foot away from a single freshly removed spent fuel assembly would receive a lethal dose of radiation within seconds. As one of the most dangerous materials in the world, spent reactor fuel poses significant long-term risks, requiring isolation in a geological disposal site that can protect the human environment for tens of thousands of years.
It’s almost 26 years since the Chernobyl reactor exploded and caught fire releasing enormous amounts of radioactive debris. The Chernobyl accident revealed the folly of not having an extra barrier of thick concrete and steel surrounding the reactor core that is required for modern plants in the U.S., Japan and elsewhere. The Fukushima Dai-Ichi accident revealed the folly of storing huge amounts of highly radioactive spent fuel in vulnerable pools, high above the ground.
What both accidents have in common is widespread environmental contamination from cesium-137. With a half-life of 30, years, Cs-137 gives off penetrating radiation, as it decays. Once in the environment, it mimics potassium as it accumulates in biota and the human food chain for many decades. When it enters the human body, about 75 percent lodges in muscle tissue, with perhaps the most important muscle being the heart. Studies of chronic exposure to Cs-137 among the people living near Chernobyl show an alarming rate of heart problems, particularly among children.As more information is made available, we now know that the Fukushima Dai-Ichi site is storing 10,833 spent fuel assemblies (SNF) containing roughly 327 million curies of long-lived radioactivity About 132 million curies is cesium-137 or nearly 85 times the amount estimated to have been released at Chernobyl.
The overall problem we face is that nearly all of the spent fuel at the Dai-Ichi site is in vulnerable pools in a high risk/consequence earthquake zone. The urgency of the situation is underscored by the ongoing seismic activity around NE Japan in which 13 earthquakes of magnitude 4.0 – 5.7 have occurred off the NE coast of Honshu in the last 4 days between 4/14 and 4/17. This has been the norm since the first quake and tsunami hit the site on March 11th of last year. Larger quakes are expected closer to the power plant.
After several decades and billions of dollars, the United States effectively abandoned the “closed” nuclear fuel cycle 30 years ago for cost and nuclear non-proliferation reasons. Over the past 60 years, the history of fast reactors using plutonium is littered with failures the most recent being the Monju project in Japan. Monju was cancelled in November of last year, dealing a fatal blow to the dream of a “closed” nuclear fuel cycle in Japan.
Nuclear Tuna and NPR’s Trivialization
NPR shouldn’t trivialize the risk of radioactive tuna from the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Yesterday, National Public Radio (NPR) ran a story asserting that cesium-137 from the Fukushima nuclear accident found in Bluefish tuna on the west coast of the U.S. is harmless.
It’s not harmless. The Fukushima nuclear accident released about as much cesium-137 as a thermonuclear weapon with the explosive force of 11 million tons of TNT. In the spring of 1954, after the United States exploded nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands, the Japanese government had to confiscate about 4 million pounds of contaminated fish.
Radiation from Fukushima spread far and wide. Like American hydrogen bomb testing, the Fukushima nuclear accident deposited cesium-137 over 600,000 square-miles of the Pacific, as well as the Northern Hemisphere and Europe. With a half-life of 30 years, cesium-137 is taken up in the meat of the tuna as if it were potassium, indicating that the metabolism holds on to it.According to a previously secret 1955 memo from the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission regarding concerns of the British government over contaminated tuna, “dissipation of radioactive fall-out in ocean waters is not a gradual spreading out of the activity from the region with the highest concentration to uncontaminated regions, but that in all probability the process results in scattered pockets and streams of higher radioactive materials in the Pacific. We can speculate that tuna which now show radioactivity from ingested materials have been living, in or have passed through, such pockets; or have been feeding on plant and animal life which has been exposed in those areas.”
In 2001, the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry noted that “…concentrations of cesium within muscle tissue are somewhat higher than the whole-body average. Cesium has been shown to cross the placental barrier of animals...”
There are several reasons why it’s not advisable to eat Bluefin tuna:
- Cesium-137 adds to the contaminant risk of harm to humans eating the Bluefin tuna, especially pregnant women and infants, who are the most vulnerable, and will for some time to come.
- Bluefin tuna is an endangered species because of over-fishing and contamination.
- Bluefin tuna accumulate other contaminants such as mercury from sources such as coal-fired power plants.
If NPR had been around in the 1950’s, would it also have trivialized the impacts of open-air hydrogen bomb testing?