NOT MUCH HAS CHANGED AT FUKUSHIMA DAI NO. 1 – SITUATION STILL CRITICAL
GOOD NEWS IS Thus far, neither Japan’s 75 aftershocks of magnitude 6.0 or greater (the latest of which struck on 23 Jun), nor inclement weather, has halted ongoing efforts to cool the stricken nuclear power plant. In good news of sorts, Bill Borchardt, executive director for operations at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission(NRC) noted last month that the (decay) heat continues to decline.: “As time goes by, the decay heat gets less and less, and in around 90 to 100 days, the problem becomes much less severe”. Such appears to be the case now.
BAD NEWS IS: cooling the fuel with water must continue, even though it is source of additional problems, as highly contaminated water threatens to overwhelm the plant and its environs. Fukushima Dai No.1 Nuke complex remains flooded with a mix of fresh and sea water contaminated with the radioactive residue created by three(3) melted-thru nukes, and four(4) spent fuel pools of still very radioactive nuclear fuel.
MAIN PROBLEM IS STILL RADIOACTIVE WATER DISPOSAL: Every day, an additional 500 metric tons of seawater is poured onto the still hot nuclear fuel in the three melted-thru nukes, and four(4) “spent fuel pools”. Already, more than 100,000 metric tons of highly radioactive water sits in the basement and trenches of the nukes or evaporates inside the hot reactor buildings.
Recall that in early June 2011, Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) installed a series of water filtration devices, intended to filter and recycle the cooling water. The Filtration system(s) were made by AREVA and KURION; However, trial run of the new filtration system was halted on June 18, when it captured as much radioactive cesium-137 in only five(5) hours, as was expected to be filtered in a month. In an interim measure, massive contaminated water holding tanks have been delivered. Now, with just centimeters remaining before the radioactive water overtops its storage however, another release of contaminated water to the ocean looks ever more likely; The French firm Areva said on 24 Jun 2011 that the new water decontamination system had processed 2,200 tons of water as of Thursday afternoon. Unfortunately, Some 11,000 Tons of contaminated water were dumped in early April 2011. SUCH CONTAMINATED WATER RELEASES HAVE AN ENORMOUS EFFECT ON SEA-LIFE AND THE FOOD CHAIN.
In addition to the water filtration system being “tweaked” for now, TEPCO has proposed ENSHROUDING in plastic the reactor buildings torn apart by hydrogen explosions, in an effort to prevent further releases into the air of radioactive material. Please note TEPCO is no longer using the euphemistic term “A Plastic SARCOPHAGUS”. That too is slow in coming.
DIFFERENT TACK ON RADIOACTIVITY NEUTRALIZATION. Arnie Gundersen a nuclear consultant said: “The nukes weren’t designed to have water poured in the top, pour out the bottom and pool in the basement…What TEPCO should be doing is building a trench around the nukes down to bedrock, 20 meters deep and 1.5 meters wide, and fill that trench with zeolite.” Zeolite minerals capture radioactive particles, and are used in the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.
CONCERN ABOUT ABANDONED “HOT” TOWNS Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research said: “It’s going to be very complicated to decommission this thing…The handling equipment has been destroyed, it was a complete meltdown, it’s a highly radioactive environment and there’s radioactive water…When you have an accident for months and certain patterns of rainfall, you get hotspots,”; As a result, entire towns, such as Date, Iitate and Iwaki City, may have to be permanently abandoned and roughly 80,000 people have lost their homes to radioactive contamination. Makhijani is really saying rain and wind are taking toxic isotopes to far away places; Unfortunately, this is verifiably true; academic experts said air currents had carried radioactive contaminants from the Fukushima facility across North America and to Switzerland in under 10 days, the Asahi Shimbun reported on Friday.
TEPCO WORKERS PAYING A HIGH PRICE More than 3,700 workers continue diligently in an attempt to control and contain the Fukushima Dai No.1 crisis. Nine(9) of those workers have already reached the legal “emergency limit” of 250 milliSieverts(mS) of cumulative radiation exposure, and 124 have received more than 100 mS, the prior limit. In the U.S., annual exposure for nuclear power plant workers is limited to 50 mS per year and it is estimated by some, that their risk of cancer increases by 4 % per Sievert; However this figure remains questionable even among scientists who study the impact of radiation on health, primarily based on data collected after the 1945 detonation of the bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
TEPCO’s goal plans now call for “cold shutdown” of the plant by April 2012. Accomplishing that goal pre-supposes that the Areva and Kurion water decontamination equipment(or similar water treatment system) for hundreds of thousands of metric tons of radioactive cooling water will be operational ASAP; Beyond that, lies the enormous challenge of finding, removing, and disposal of hundreds of thousands of metric tons of soil contaminated with long-life radioactive isotopes across at least 600 square kilometers of northeastern Japan. Lofty goals indeed. Let us hope for the best, and prepare for the worst.
Thanks to Scientific American, David Biello, 24 Jun 2011