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Fukushima apocalypse: Years of ‘duct tape fixes’ could result in ‘millions of deaths’(RT)

Underwater silt fence with orange floats being set in the sea near the drain of TEPCO's Fukushima nuclear power plant at Okuma town in Fukushima prefecture (AFP Photo)

Underwater silt fence with orange floats being set in the sea near the drain of TEPCO’s Fukushima nuclear power plant at Okuma town in Fukushima prefecture (AFP Photo)

Even the tiniest mistake during an operation to extract over 1,300 fuel rods at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan could lead to a series of cascading failures with an apocalyptic outcome, fallout researcher Christina Consolo told RT.

Fukushima operator TEPCO wants to extract 400 tons worth of spent  fuel rods stored in a pool at the plant’s damaged Reactor No. 4.  The removal would have to be done manually from the top store of  the damaged building in the radiation-contaminated environment.

In the worst-case scenario, a mishandled rod may go critical,  resulting in an above-ground meltdown releasing radioactive  fallout with no way to stop it, said Consolo, who is the founder  and host of Nuked Radio. But leaving the things as they are is  not an option, because statistical risk of a similarly bad  outcome increases every day, she said.

RT: How serious is the fuel rod situation compared to  the danger of contaminated water build-up which we already know  about?

Christina Consolo: Although fuel rod removal happens on a  daily basis at the 430+ nuclear sites around the world, it is a  very delicate procedure even under the best of circumstances.  What makes fuel removal at Fukushima so dangerous and complex is  that it will be attempted on a fuel pool whose integrity has been  severely compromised. However, it must be attempted as Reactor 4  has the most significant problems structurally, and this pool is  on the top floor of the building.

There are numerous other reasons that this will be a dangerous  undertaking.

– The racks inside the pool  that contain this fuel were damaged by the explosion in the early  days of the accident.

– Zirconium cladding which  encased the rods burned when water levels dropped, but to what  extent the rods have been damaged is not known, and probably  won’t be until removal is attempted.

– Saltwater cooling has caused  corrosion of the pool walls, and probably the fuel rods and  racks.

– The building is  sinking.

– The cranes that normally  lift the fuel were destroyed.

– Computer-guided removal will  not be possible; everything will have to be done  manually.

– TEPCO cannot attempt this  process without humans, which will manage this enormous task  while being bombarded with radiation during the extraction and  casking.

– The process of removing each  rod will have to be repeated over 1,300 times without  incident.

– Moving damaged nuclear fuel  under such complex conditions could result in a criticality if  the rods come into close proximity to one another, which would  then set off a chain reaction that cannot be stopped.

What could potentially happen  is the contents of the pool could burn and/or explode, and the  entire structure sustain further damage or collapse. This chain  reaction process could be self-sustaining and go on for a long  time. This is the apocalyptic scenario in a nutshell.

The water build-up is an extraordinarily difficult problem in and  of itself, and as anyone with a leaky basement knows, water  always ‘finds a way.’

‘Trivial in light of other problems at Fukushima, water  situation could culminate in the chain reaction scenario’

 

At Fukushima, they are dealing with massive amounts of  groundwater that flow through the property, and the endless  pouring that must be kept up 24/7/365 to keep things from getting  worse. Recently there appears to be subsidence issues and  liquefaction under the plant.

Workers spraying resin on the ground near the reactor buildings to protect the spread of radioactive substances at TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant at Okuma town in Fukushima prefecture (AFP Photo)

Workers spraying resin on the ground near the reactor buildings to protect the spread of radioactive substances at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant at Okuma town in Fukushima prefecture (AFP Photo)

TEPCO has decided to pump the water out of these buildings. However, pumping water out of the buildings is only going to increase the flow rate and create more of these ground issues around the reactors. An enormous undertaking – but one that needs to be considered for long-term preservation of the integrity of the site – is channelling the water away, like a drain tile installed around the perimeter of a house with a leaky basement, but on an epic scale.

Without this effort, the soils will further deteriorate,  structural shift will occur, and subsequently the contents of the  pools will shift too.

Any water that flows into those buildings also becomes highly  radioactive, as it is likely coming into contact with melted  fuel.

Without knowing the extent of the current liquefaction and its  location, the location of the melted fuel, how long TEPCO has  been pumping out water, or when the next earthquake will hit, it  is impossible to predict how soon this could occur from the water  problem/subsidence issue alone. But undoubtedly, pumping water  out of the buildings is just encouraging the flow, and this water  problem needs to be remedied and redirected as soon as possible.

RT: Given all the complications that could arise with  extracting the fuel rods, which are the most serious, in your  opinion?

CC: The most serious complication would be anything that  leads to a nuclear chain reaction. And as outlined above, there  are many different ways this could occur. In a fuel pool  containing damaged rods and racks, it could potentially start up  on its own at anytime. TEPCO has been incredibly lucky that this  hasn’t happened so far.

  ‘One of the worst, but most important jobs anyone has ever had to  do’

 

My second biggest concern would be the physical and mental  fitness of the workers that will be in such close proximity to  exposed fuel during this extraction process. They will be the  ones guiding this operation, and will need to be in the highest  state of alertness to have any chance at all of executing this  plan manually and successfully. Many of their senses, most  importantly eyesight, will be hindered by the apparatus that will  need to be worn during their exposure, to prevent immediate death  from lifting compromised fuel rods out of the pool and placing  them in casks, or in the common spent fuel pool located a short  distance away.

Think for a moment what that might be like through the eyes of  one of these workers; it will be hot, uncomfortable, your senses  shielded, and you would be filled with anxiety. You are standing  on a building that is close to collapse. Even with the strongest  protection possible, workers will have to be removed and replaced  often. So you don’t have the benefit of doing such a critical  task and knowing and trusting your comrades, as they will  frequently have to be replaced when their radiation dose limits  are reached. If they exhibit physical or mental signs of  radiation exposure, they will have be replaced more often.

It will be one of the worst, but most important jobs anyone has  ever had to do. And even if executed flawlessly, there are still  many things that could go wrong.

RT: How do the potential consequences of failure to  ensure safe extraction compare to other disasters of the sort –   like Chernobyl, or the 2011 Fukushima meltdown?

CC: There really is no comparison. This will be an  incredibly risky operation, in the presence of an enormous amount  of nuclear material in close proximity. And as we have seen in  the past, one seemingly innocuous failure at the site often  translates into a series of cascading failures.

  ‘The site has been propped up with duct tape and a kick-stand for  over two years’

 

Many of their ‘fixes’ are only temporary, as there are so many  issues to address, and cost always seems to be an enormous factor  in what gets implemented and what doesn’t.

As a comparison: Chernobyl was one reactor, in a rural area, a  quarter of the size of one of the reactors at Fukushima. There  was no ‘spent fuel pool’ to worry about. Chernobyl was treated  in-situ…meaning everything was pretty much left where it was  while the effort to contain it was made (and very expeditiously I  might add) not only above ground, but below ground.

At Fukushima, we have six  top-floor pools all loaded with fuel that eventually will have to  be removed, the most important being Reactor 4, although Reactor  3 is in pretty bad shape too. Spent fuel pools were never  intended for long-term storage, they were only to assist  short-term movement of fuel. Using them as a long-term storage  pool is a huge mistake that has become an ‘acceptable’ practice  and repeated at every reactor site worldwide.

We have three 100-ton melted fuel blobs underground, but where  exactly they are located, no one knows. Whatever ‘barriers’ TEPCO  has put in place so far have failed. Efforts to decontaminate  radioactive water have failed. Robots have failed. Camera  equipment and temperature gauges…failed. Decontamination of  surrounding cities has failed.

  ‘If and when the corium reaches the Tokyo aquifer, serious and  expedient discussions will have to take place about evacuating 40  million people’

 

We have endless releases into the Pacific Ocean that will be  ongoing for not only our lifetimes, but our children’s’  lifetimes. We have 40 million people living in the Tokyo area  nearby. We have continued releases from the underground corium  that reminds us it is there occasionally with steam events and  huge increases in radiation levels. Across the Pacific, we have  at least two peer-reviewed scientific studies so far that have  already provided evidence of increased mortality in North  America, and thyroid problems in infants on the west coast states  from our initial exposures.

We have increasing contamination of the food chain, through  bioaccumulation and biomagnification. And a newly stated concern  is the proximity of melted fuel in relation to the Tokyo aquifer  that extends under the plant. If and when the corium reaches the  Tokyo aquifer, serious and expedient discussions will have to  take place about evacuating 40 million people from the greater  metropolitan area. As impossible as this sounds, you cannot live  in an area which does not have access to safe water.

The operation to begin removing fuel from such a severely damaged  pool has never been attempted before. The rods are unwieldy and  very heavy, each one weighing two-thirds of a ton. But it  has to be done, unless there is some way to encase the entire  building in concrete with the pool as it is. I don’t know of  anyone discussing that option, but it would seem much ‘safer’  than what they are about to attempt…but not without its own set  of risks.

And all this collateral damage will continue for decades, if not  centuries, even if things stay exactly the way they are now. But  that is unlikely, as bad things happen like natural disasters and  deterioration with time…earthquakes, subsidence, and corrosion,  to name a few. Every day that goes by, the statistical risk  increases for this apocalyptic scenario. No one can say or know  how this will play out, except that millions of people will  probably die even if things stay exactly as they are, and  billions could die if things get any worse.

RT: Are the fuel rods in danger of falling victim to  other factors, while the extraction process is ongoing? After  all, it’s expected to take years before all 1,300+ rods are  pulled out.

CC: Unfortunately yes, the fuel rods are in danger every  day they remain in the pool. The more variables you add to this  equation, and the more time that passes, the more risk you are  exposed to. Each reactor and spent fuel pool has its own set of  problems, and critical failure with any of them could ultimately  have the end result of an above-ground, self-sustaining nuclear  reaction. It will not be known if extraction of all the fuel will  even be possible, as some of it may be severely damaged, until  the attempt is made to remove it.

RT: Finally, what is the worst case scenario? What  level of contamination are we looking at and how dire would the  consequences be for the long-term health of the region?

CC: Extremely dire. This is a terrible answer to have to  give, but the worst case scenario could play out in death to  billions of people. A true apocalypse. Since we have been  discussing Reactor 4, I’ll stick to that problem in particular,  but also understand that a weather event, power outage,  earthquake, tsunami, cooling system failure, or explosion and  fire in any way, shape, or form, at any location on the Fukushima  site, could cascade into an event of that magnitude as well.

  ‘Once the integrity of the pool is compromised that will lead to  more criticalities’

 

At any time, following any of these possible events, or even all  by itself, nuclear fuel in reactor 4’s pool could become  critical, mostly because it will heat up the pool to a point  where water will burn off and the zirconium cladding will catch  fire when it is exposed to air. This already happened at least  once in this pool that we are aware of. It almost happened again  recently after a rodent took out an electrical line and cooling  was stopped for days.

Once the integrity of the pool is compromised that will likely  lead to more criticalities, which then can spread to other fuel.  The heat from this reaction would weaken the structure further,  which could then collapse and the contents of the pool end up in  a pile of rubble on the ground. This would release an enormous  amount of radioactivity, which Arnie Gundersen has referred to as  a “Gamma Shine Event” without precedence, and Dr.  Christopher Busby has deemed an “Open-air super reactor  spectacular.”

This would preclude anyone from not only being at Reactor 4, but  at Reactors 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, the associated pools for each, and the  common spent fuel pool. Humans could no longer monitor and  continue cooling operations at any of the reactors and pools,  thus putting the entire site at risk for a  massive radioactive release.

  ‘At least the northern half of Japan would be uninhabitable, and  some researchers have argued that it already is’

 

Mathematically, it is almost impossible to quantify in terms of  resulting contamination, and a separate math problem would need  to be performed for every nuclear element contained within the  fuel, and whether or not that fuel exploded, burned, fissioned,  melted, or was doused with water to try to cool it off and poured  into the ocean afterward.

 

Some researchers have even ventured to say that other nuke plants  on the east coast of Honshu may need to be evacuated if levels  get too high, which will lead to subsequent failures/fires and  explosions at these plants as well. Just how profound the effect  will be on down-winders in North America, or the entire northern  hemisphere for that matter, will literally depend on where the  wind blows and where the rain falls, the duration and extent of a  nuclear fire or chain-reaction event, and whether or not that  reaction becomes self-sustaining. At least the northern half of  Japan would be uninhabitable, and some researchers have argued  that it already is.

This is already happening to the nuclear fuel in the ground under  the plant, but now it would be happening above ground as well.  There is no example historically to draw from on a scale of this  magnitude. Everything is theory. But anyone who says this can’t  happen is not being truthful, because nobody really knows how bad  things could get.

The most disturbing part of  all of this is that Fukushima has been this dangerous,  and precarious, since the second week of March 2011.  The ante will definitely be upped once the fuel removal  starts.

  ‘The mainstream media, world governments, nuclear agencies,  health organizations, weather reporters, and the health care  industry has completely ignored three ongoing triple meltdowns  that have never been contained’

 

An obvious attempt to downplay this disaster and its consequences  have been repeated over and over again from ‘experts’ in the  nuclear industry that also have a vested interest in their  industry remaining intact. And, there has been a lot of  misleading information released by TEPCO, which an hour or two of  reading by a diligent reporter would have uncovered, in  particular the definition of ‘cold shutdown.’

Over 300 mainstream news outlets worldwide ran the erroneous  ‘cold shutdown’ story repeatedly, which couldn’t be further from  the truth…[it was] yet another lie that was spun by TEPCO to  placate the public, and perpetuated endlessly by the media and  nuclear lobby.

Unfortunately, TEPCO waited until a severe emergency arose to  finally report how bad things really are with this latest  groundwater issue…if we are even being told the truth.  Historically, everything TEPCO says always turns out to be much  worse than they initially admit.

  ‘Unfortunately there is no one better qualified to deal with this  than the Russians, despite their own shortcomings’

 

I think the best chance of success is…that experts around the  world drop everything they are doing to work on this problem, and  have Russia either lead the containment effort or consult with  them closely. They have the most experience, they have decades of  data. They took their accident seriously and made a Herculean  effort to contain it.

Of course we also know the Chernobyl accident was wrought with  deception and lies as well, and some of that continues to this  day, especially in terms of the ongoing health effects of  children in the region, and monstrous birth defects.  Unfortunately there is no one better qualified to deal with this  than the Russians, despite their own shortcomings. Gorbachev  tried to make up for his part in the cover-up of Chernobyl by  opening orphanages throughout the region to deal with the  affected children.

 

But as far as Fukushima goes, the only thing that matters now is  if world leaders and experts join forces to help fix  this situation. Regardless of what agendas they are trying to  protect or hide, how much it will cost, the effect on Japan or  the world’s economy, or what political chains this will yank.

The nuclear industry needs to come clean. If this leads to every  reactor in the world being shut down, so be it. If the world  governments truly care about their people and this planet, this  is what needs to be done.

Renowned theoretical physicist Michio Kaku stated  in an interview a few weeks after the initial accident that   “TEPCO is literally hanging on by their fingernails.” They still  are, and always have been. The Japanese have proven time and time  again they are not capable of handling this disaster. Now we are  entrusting them to execute the most dangerous fuel removal in  history.

We are extremely lucky that this apocalyptic scenario hasn’t  happened yet, considering the state of Reactor 4. But for many,  it is already too late. The initial explosions and spent fuel  pool fires may have already sealed the fate of millions of  people. Time will tell. Anyone who tells you otherwise is not  being honest, because there is just no way to know.

 

http://rt.com/news/fukushima-apocalypse-fuel-removal-598/

 

Filed under: 8.Eathquake & Nuclear accident