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Fuel Removal From Fukushima’s Reactor 4 Threatens ‘Apocalyptic’ Scenario

Fuel Removal From Fukushima’s Reactor 4 Threatens ‘Apocalyptic’ Scenario thumbnail

An operation with potentially “apocalyptic” consequences is expected to begin in a little over two weeks from now – “as early as November 8″ – at Fukushima’s damaged and sinking Reactor 4, when plant operator TEPCO will attempt to remove over 1300 spent fuel rods holding the radiation equivalent of 14,000 Hiroshima bombs from a spent fuel storage tank perched on the reactor’s upper floor.

Fukushima Reactor 4

While the Reactor 4 building itself did not suffer a meltdown, it did suffer a hydrogen explosion, is now tipping and sinking and has zero ability to withstand another seismic event.

The Japan Times explained:

To remove the rods, TEPCO has erected a 273-ton mobile crane above the building that will be operated remotely from a separate room.

[…] spent fuel rods will be pulled from the racks they are stored in and inserted one by one into a heavy steel chamber while the assemblies are still under water. Once the chamber is removed from the pool and lowered to the ground, it will be transported to another pool in an undamaged building on the site for storage.

Under normal circumstances, such an operation would take little more than three months, but TEPCO is hoping to complete the complicated task within fiscal 2014.

A chorus of voices has been sounding alarm over the never-been-done-at-this-scale plan to manually remove the 400 tons of spent fuel by TEPCO, who so far has been responsible for mishap after mishap in the ongoing crisis at the crippled nuclear plant.

Arnie Gundersen, a veteran U.S. nuclear engineer and director of Fairewinds Energy Education, warned this summer that “They are going to have difficulty in removing a significant number of the rods,” and said that “To jump to the conclusion that it is going to work just fine is quite a leap of logic.”  Paul Gunter, MD, Director of the Reactor Oversight Project with Takoma Park, Md.-based Beyond Nuclear, also sounded alarm on Thursday, telling Common Dreams in a statement that “Given the uncertainties of the condition and array of the hundreds of tons of nuclear  fuel assemblies, it will be a risky round of highly radioactive pickup sticks.”  Gundersen offered this analogy of the challenging process of removing the spent fuel rods:

If you think of a nuclear fuel rack as a pack of cigarettes, if you pull a cigarette straight up it will come out — but these racks have been distorted. Now when they go to pull the cigarette straight out, it’s going to likely break and release radioactive cesium and other gases, xenon and krypton, into the air. I suspect come November, December, January we’re going to hear that the building’s been evacuated, they’ve broke a fuel rod, the fuel rod is off-gassing. […]

I suspect we’ll have more airborne releases as they try to pull the fuel out. If they pull too hard, they’ll snap the fuel. I think the racks have been distorted, the fuel has overheated — the pool boiled – and the net effect is that it’s likely some of the fuel will be stuck in there for a long, long time.


The Japan Times adds:

Removing the fuel rods is a task usually assisted by computers that know their exact location down to the nearest millimeter. Working virtually blind in a highly radioactive environment, there is a risk the crane could drop or damage one of the rods — an accident that would heap even more misery onto the Tohoku region.

As long-time anti-nuclear activist Harvey Wasserman explained, the

Spent fuel rods must be kept cool at all times. If exposed to air, their zirconium alloy cladding will ignite, the rods will burn and huge quantities of radiation will be emitted. Should the rods touch each other, or should they crumble into a big enough pile, an explosion is possible.

“In the worst-case scenario,” RT adds,

the pool could come crashing to the ground, dumping the rods together into a pile that could fission and cause an explosion many times worse than in March 2011.

Wasserman says that the plan is so risky it requires a global take-over, an urging Gunter also shared, stating that the “dangerous task should not be left to TEPCO but quickly involve the oversight and management of independent international experts.”

Wasserman told Common Dreams that

The bring-down of the fuel rods from Fukushima Unit 4 may be the most dangerous engineering task ever undertaken.  Every indication is that TEPCO is completely incapable of doing it safely, or of reliably informing the global community as to what’s actually happening.  There is no reason to believe the Japanese government could do much better.  This is a job that should only be undertaken by a dedicated team of the world’s very best scientists and engineers, with access to all the funding that could be needed.

The potential radiation releases in this situation can only be described as apocalyptic.  The cesium alone would match the fallout of 14,000 Hiroshima bombs.  If the job is botched, radiation releases could force the evacuation of all humans from the site, and could cause electronic equipment to fail.  Humankind would be forced to stand helplessly by as billions of curies of deadly radiation pour into the air and the ocean.

As dire as Wasserman’s warning sounds, it is echoed by fallout researcher Christina Consolo, who told RT that the worst case scenario could be “a true apocalypse.” Gunter’s warning was dire as well.

“Time is of the essence as we remain concerned that another earthquake could still topple the damaged reactor building and the nuclear waste storage pond up in its attic,” he continued. “This could literally re-ignite the nuclear accident in the open atmosphere and inflame it into hemispheric proportions,” said Gunter.

Wasserman says that given the gravity of the situation, the eyes of the world should be upon Fukushima:

This is a question that transcends being anti-nuclear.  The fate of the earth is at stake here and the whole world must be watching every move at that site from now on.  With 11,000 fuel rods scattered around the place, as a ceaseless flow of contaminated water poisoning our oceans, our very survival is on the line.


15 Comments on "Fuel Removal From Fukushima’s Reactor 4 Threatens ‘Apocalyptic’ Scenario"

  1. Ghung on Mon, 28th Oct 2013 12:59 pm 

    Got your KI pills?

  2. rollin on Mon, 28th Oct 2013 1:01 pm 

    “The fate of the earth is at stake here…”
    Our very survival and the ocean life survival was already on the line without this pandoric problem. This is only one of many similar storage sites around the world.
    Will engineers and scientists ever be trusted again, even if they are successful? Are there other storage sites at Fukishima that can be compromised in the future?

  3. SilentRunning on Mon, 28th Oct 2013 1:43 pm 

    Scary Stuff! The biggest problem for Wasserman and others who have made a cottage industry of anti-nuclear hysteria following Fukushima is how to maintain that hysteria as people continue to not die in droves, there fails to be a “Nuclear Volcano”, the ocean fails to catch fire, etc, etc

    I suggest more maps with ever larger number of “nuclear” symbols, more garish color schemes with plumes stretching around the planet, etc.

    Plans will have to be put into place as the fuel rods are removed, completely failing to burst into flames (as they aren’t hot enough to do so), explode, release tons of additional cesium into the environment, etc. The immediate crisis for Wasserman et al will be what imaginary scenario he can invent to keep the public afraid.

  4. Bruce Arkwright on Mon, 28th Oct 2013 1:46 pm 

    Soooo, what is Wasserman solution? Do nothing? All these reactors need to be decommissioned and stored to stop the damage this is doing to Japanese people, land, food, and ocean.

  5. paulo1 on Mon, 28th Oct 2013 1:47 pm 

    As an NA west coaster, I hope it works. I also think it should be a requirement to only work in an ‘onshore’ wind condition. Accident? Let the mess stay home. But they won’t. Tepcos idea of a fix is to let it go into the ocean and atmosphere and say…”oh well, we tried”.

    This is a bullshit energy technology with failure built in. The idea building these things with onsite storage and no way to safely store waste for the required ‘safety window’ is beyond imagination. And now so many want to get in on the building of these projects and also make more bombs? We are truly a dumb species. Clever and stupid at the same time. My wife and I just want to build up our homestead and garden….watch the grand-children grow up…on the other side of the world.

    Is this too much to ask?

    Talk about engineering hubris. Go for a technology that requires 6X recorded history of the 1/2 life of some of these compounds. What did they think, the “Jetsons” would solve the problems? I am reminded of my ant farm I had when I was a kid. They ants had their little waste corner. Left alone to reproduce they would eventually die in their own filth without new soil. In nature they moved their nest.

    Ants are smarter than people. Unbelieveable hubris. Unfortunately, it will be us ‘little folk’ who get to suffer the consequences and not those who allowed these plants to be built. We have a responsibility to this planet that goes beyond our wants and what we think we need. We either start ‘powering down’, or it will be done for us. This is a gamechanger, for sure.


  6. bobinget on Mon, 28th Oct 2013 2:11 pm 

    Mommy, can we have Christmas early cause I’m gonna die?

  7. mike on Mon, 28th Oct 2013 3:08 pm 

    Pffft nuclear is safe, it said so on the back of the plutonium packet. You lot are a bunch of doomers.

  8. rollin on Mon, 28th Oct 2013 3:19 pm 

    Silent said “The biggest problem for Wasserman and others who have made a cottage industry of anti-nuclear hysteria following Fukushima is how to maintain that hysteria as people continue to not die in droves,”

    How about cancer? Studies that are not run using narrow parameters or distorted parameters show definite links of increased cancer rates near nuclear power plants. Rates of 5X or more generally and increases in rare cancers only related to radiation. The pain and dying get covered up in the general disease category.
    Since those were uncompromised facilities, how bad will it be near Fukishima? How bad will it be if the waste gets out of control?

  9. Kenz300 on Mon, 28th Oct 2013 9:05 pm 

    TEPCO can not be trusted….. they are like the Keystone cops and make mistake after mistake…………..

    Quote — “the plan is so risky it requires a global take-over, an urging Gunter also shared, stating that the “dangerous task should not be left to TEPCO but quickly involve the oversight and management of independent international experts.”


    International experts need to be brought in to help and provide input to any solution.

  10. Hugh Culliton on Mon, 28th Oct 2013 11:38 pm 

    In the media we’re always hearing people talking smack about Gunderson and others, claiming that they have hidden motives for being supercritical of TEPCO’s efforts. I would submit that they do have a hidden agenda: wanting to see civilization continue into the future. And I would presume that any sane individuals shares this bias. At this point I would feel better if Curly, Moe and Larry were running this clean up rather then TEPCO. Ghung’s right, we’d better stock up on iodine.

  11. bobinget on Tue, 29th Oct 2013 12:01 am 

    If ‘Rollin On’ believes some sort of ‘victim shortage’
    this soon BEFORE the main attraction disaster, will
    calm folks, he is mistaken.
    Haven’t we seen farmer’s produce in Fukushima being boycotted around Japan?
    What value can we place on Pacific fish stocks?
    If it comes to it, will North Americans avoid West Coast produce?

    Not a single person has ever been harmed in any manner by irradiated, preserved food. (At least not because of Irradiation process). Yet, the only product
    we find in our groceries are a few spices that have been exposed to cobalt for a fraction of a second.
    No mangoes or pineapple pick ripe instead of green,
    no longer shelf life dairy, no tasty strawberries or blueberries.. Put that Dept. of Ag nuclear label on any food product and few will touch it.

    We, as a nation eat about 250 pounds of GMO food
    products annually. Again, year after year no victims.
    Lack of victims never stops folks from being fearful.
    (right here I’ve ‘lost’ 90% of my readers).
    To the remaining 10%, this current Fuk disaster is real,
    but it won’t be the end of the world. When atomic bombs were being tested in the air we endured far more harm then could befall Japan. Rollin on might get plenty of argument from Nevada families who lost
    parents and grand parents prematurely because of 1950’s testing.

  12. bobinget on Tue, 29th Oct 2013 12:13 am 

    In some states, Oregon included, one cannot buy iodine pills because of its use in formulating meth.
    HOWEVER one can buy Potassium Plus Iodine legally .

    I believe if one’s thyroid ‘fills up’ with supplement type iodine it will reject the radio-active stuff. I hope.

  13. Newfie on Tue, 29th Oct 2013 12:39 am 

    The world ends not with bang but quietly, with an intense glow emanating from Japan.

  14. Welch on Tue, 29th Oct 2013 1:08 am 

    Global Research is full of this kind of hype and s**t.

  15. SilentRunning on Tue, 29th Oct 2013 4:45 am 

    The little “Fallout Map” that’s used as an icon for this story is VERY, VERY scary!

    It shows a dosage of 750 rads for the entire West Coast of the USA – covering at least Washington, Oregon, and California.

    There’s only one small problem: IT NEVER HAPPENED. How can I be so sure? Simple. A dosage of just 400 rads will kill approximately 50% of people exposed to it – from acute radiation poisoning.

    Have you heard that over 50% of people on the west coast of the USA have dropped dead from radiation? No? Neither have I.

    It never happened. The map is a fake – designed to scare people who don’t understand any science.

    Yes, Fukushima is a disaster. It will (and should) urge on governments to make changes to nuclear safety guidelines and close older reactors that are reaching end of life.

    BUT IT WILL NOT lead to the deaths of millions of people – especially as far away as the West Coast of the USA.

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