An unprecedented look at the disastrous handling of the accident at TEPCO’s nuclear power station explains why Japan still doesn’t trust nukes.
By Bill Powell and Hideko Takayama, April 20
FORTUNE — More than a year has passed since a massive earthquake and a series of tsunamis triggered the worst accident at a nuclear power plant since Chernobyl in 1986, but the epic debacle at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station remains front and center in Japan, at the very core of a historic debate over the future of nuclear energy””one that comes down to a fundamental question: Should nuclear power, which prior to the accident last year generated 30% of the electricity for the world’s third-largest economy, have any future at all in Japan?
On April 13, the government of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda tipped its hand. With summer approaching, and with it peak demand for electricity, the Japanese government approved the restart of two nuclear reactors in the small fishing town Oi, in Fukui prefecture on Japan’s west coast.
The nine power companies in Japan have the legal authority to fire up the nuclear plants once they have received regulatory approval from Tokyo, in practice. But the Noda administration now must seek the assent of the local and prefectural governments affected by a restart–as it will have to do for each of the other 48 reactors across the country should it seek to bring them back online in order to avoid crippling brown outs this summer.
On December 16, Kan’s successor, Yoshihiko Noda, announced that the stricken reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station had reached “a state of cold shutdown.” Japan’s worst-ever nuclear accident, the Prime Minister said, had finally been brought under control.
The moment was meant to be a calming milestone, psychological balm for a wounded country in the process of trying to heal. The only problem with it, as workers today at the nuclear power plant, will tell you, is this: it wasn’t true then, and it’s still not true today. “The coolant water is keeping the reactor temperatures at a certain level, but that’s not even near the goal [of a cold shut down,]” says an engineer working inside the plant. “The fact is, we still don’t know what’s going on inside the reactors.”
The Top Short-Term Threat to Humanity: The Fuel Pools of Fukushima
Washington’s Blog, April 7
We noted in February:
Scientists say that there is a 70% chance of a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hitting Fukushima this year, and a 98% chance within the next 3 years.
Given that nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen says that an earthquake of 7.0 or larger could cause the entire fuel pool structure collapse, it is urgent that everything humanly possible is done to stabilize the structure housing the fuel pools at reactor number 4.
Japan’s former Ambassador to Switzerland, Mr. Mitsuhei Murata, was invited to speak at the Public Hearing of the Budgetary Committee of the House of Councilors on March 22, 2012, on the Fukushima nuclear power plants accident. Before the Committee, Ambassador Murata strongly stated that if the crippled building of reactor unit 4””with 1,535 fuel rods in the spent fuel pool 100 feet (30 meters) above the ground””collapses, not only will it cause a shutdown of all six reactors but will also affect the common spent fuel pool containing 6,375 fuel rods, located some 50 meters from reactor 4. In both cases the radioactive rods are not protected by a containment vessel; dangerously, they are open to the air. This would certainly cause a global catastrophe like we have never before experienced. He stressed that the responsibility of Japan to the rest of the world is immeasurable. Such a catastrophe would affect us all for centuries. Ambassador Murata informed us that the total numbers of the spent fuel rods at the Fukushima Daiichi site excluding the rods in the pressure vessel is 11,421 (396+615+566+1,535+994+940+6375).
Based on U.S. Energy Department data, assuming a total of 11,138 spent fuel assemblies are being stored at the Dai-Ichi site, nearly all, which is in pools. They contain roughly 336 million curies (~1.2 E+19 Bq) of long-lived radioactivity. About 134 million curies is Cesium-137 ”” roughly 85 times the amount of Cs-137 released at the Chernobyl accident as estimated by the U.S. National Council on Radiation Protection (NCRP). The total spent reactor fuel inventory at the Fukushima-Daichi site contains nearly half of the total amount of Cs-137 estimated by the NCRP to have been released by all atmospheric nuclear weapons testing, Chernobyl, and world-wide reprocessing plants (~270 million curies or ~9.9 E+18 Becquerel).
Anti-nuclear physician Dr. Helen Caldicott says that if fuel pool 4 collapses, she will evacuate her family from Boston and move them to the Southern Hemisphere. This is an especially dramatic statement given that the West Coast is much more directly in the path of Fukushima radiation than the East Coast.
Via OpEd News: Is Fukushima’s Doomsday Machine About to Blow?