Oh My

fukushima

Mr. X has taken me roundly to task for my Vermont Yankee post. He has some strong points, and suggests that my entire line of thought, throughout my posts, is in danger of contradicting itself. I think he’s wrong, but I’m going to have to do some thinking in order to explain why.

In the meantime, I turn on the computer this morning and see a shocking article on CNN written by an international nuclear consultant, “Why Fukushima is Worse Than You Think“. Oh my, indeed.

I haven’t followed the Fukushima story particularly closely, but my rough understanding of the incident before I read the article was this—after the tsunami the reactors lost power, which caused the cores to begin to overheat, and TEPCO eventually, at great risk to some workers, was able to pump water onto the cores to stabilize them, power was eventually restored to the area and total meltdown was avoided, but the water had become radioactive and had run into the basements, and had to be pumped into temporary holding tanks. Meanwhile, airborne releases of radioactivity did waft over hundreds of square miles, but mandatory evacuations kept most of the population there from being exposed. The incident caused no deaths, and recent reports have shown that radiation exposure to the Japanese population was minimal.

Indeed, everyone seems to discuss Fukushima in the past tense, as in this passage from a Time Magazine article, “According to a recent U.N. report, there will likely be no detectable health impacts from the radiation released by the Fukushima meltdown. The  biggest catastrophe in nuclear power since Chernobyl has turned out less catastrophic than it seemed.”

Well, apparently we haven’t been following this closely enough. If the CNN article is to be believed, and it certainly appears to have been written by someone who clearly knows what he’s talking about, Fukushima is far from over. The pumping of the cooling water has never stopped, and highly radioactive water still runs through the melted cores and into the basements at a rate of 400 tons a day. It is pumped from there to temporary tanks on-site, which currently store 400,000 tons of water. Some of the tanks and hoses leak, and hundreds of tons of radioactive water have soaked into the ground or run into the Pacific. No one can enter the reactors because the radiation is lethal, no one knows how far the containment was breached, and if they stop pumping the water the spent fuel would heat up and ignite, causing a release of radiation “dozens of times worse than Chernobyl.” Worse, I get the impression that no one quite knows how to fix it, and the author of the article is calling for an international crisis team to be assembled.

So, I’ll do some thinking about the “hard path” I outlined in the Vermont Yankee post, but this only reinforces my gut feeling that I’d rather live a simpler life powered by clean wind and solar, than an extravagant one powered at the risk of disasters like Fukushima.

In the balance, a better option.

In the balance, a better option.

9 Sept 13- Clarification— Apparently part of the 400 tons of water that accrues each day comes from groundwater flowing into the basements, where it mixes with the radioactive water that is already there, which is what the “ice wall” that has been in the news is designed to stop. The reactor cores themselves have been in “cold shutdown” since Dec. 2011, and part of the delay seems to be a normal multi-year pause before decommissioning begins, to allow radiation levels in the cores to stabilize. However, water must be maintained in the reactors cores and the spent fuel pools, and apparently some of the containments still leak into the basement. How much of the 400 tons a day comes from which source I can’t seem to figure out, but either way it’s a mess.

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Image credit: tonarinokeroro / 123RF Stock Photo