Japan: it looks like they’re going to have to go for the Chernobyl solution

ie, cover all the stricken reactors with sand, lead and boron, and then emtomb them. For four, and possibly, six reactors this will be a massive undertaking, costing billions of dollars.

Hopefully it won’t come to this. Engineers have almost completed restoring mains power to parts of the Fukushima Daiichi plant (see here), so that cooling pumps can run again. For those who are wondering why they couldn’t have earlier brought in portable generators to do the job, it should be noted that it’s not just pumps that require electrical power, but also the control systems that run and monitor the pumps. The power required runs to many MegaWatts. There isn’t a portable generator that can handle such a load.

But, this is probably superfluous anyway, since the pumps seem to have been destroyed by the tsunami. Amongst many things making the rounds today has been a (now removed) blog post by someone who was working in the Fukushima Daiichi plant until Monday (when they evacuated most of the staff due to explosions and high radiation levels). Amongst other things the blogger said:

The machine that cools the reactor is just by the ocean, and it was wrecked by the tsunami. Everyone worked desperately to try and restore it. Fighting fatigue and empty stomachs, we dragged ourselves back to work. (see here)

They can still bring in back-up pumps, or if the cooling system is too damaged for this they can use portable pumps to spray the reactors and spent fuel pools. These portable pumps can be operated remotely. Incidentally, for those who are wondering what happens to all this sea water they’re using for cooling, a large part of it is turned into steam (radioactive steam of course). Some of this water does return to the land and sea, which is one reason why, even if they can manage to get the plant under control, this is an environmental catastrophe of epic proportions.

But, I’m afraid I’m even more pessimistic about things. Today TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company, who run the plant) released footage taken from a helicopter. Look at the damage to the reactor buildings, particularly reactor No.3 (which is the one that runs on MOX fuel, which has a high degree of plutonium)…

On Monday there was the biggest explosion yet, at reactor No.3. It seems highly likely that the spent fuel cooling pool was damaged by that explosion, and also cooling pools in neighbouring reactors 2 and 4 (remember, until that huge explosion on Monday there had been no mention of problems with cooling pools). If the cooling pools are leaking badly, or have been breached (reactor 3’s pool looks like it’s been blown apart), no amount of water poured into them will prevent fuel rods overheating and releasing dangerous levels of radiation into the atmosphere.

Radiation levels are made publicly available in Japan. However in Fukoshima and Ishikawa prefectures they are being censored at the moment (see here). TEPCO and Japanese government officials have been making conflicting and confusing statements since the start of this crisis. So have all the ‘experts’. If you’re coming to the conclusion that none of them know what they are talking about, well, you are quite correct. A good example of this is the debate about whether spent fuel can go ‘critical’ (ie, whether the fission process can restart in spent fuel). The science says it can; many ‘experts’ say it can’t.

The ‘experts’ are now also saying that everything is under control at the Fukushima Daiichi plant; this, whilst radiation levels are so high that human beings can’t venture much beyond the main gate.

Perhaps now is the time for the Chernobyl solution, before the mad bastards kill many thousands more people.

If you’ve watched the above news video, which mentions how much spent fuel is stored by the reactors, you should be aware that much of the nuclear waste at Fukushima Daiichi is stored in what’s known as the ‘Common Spent Fuel Storage Pool’, which is near reactor No.4. There are more than 6,000 spent fuel rods in this location; although it should be added that these are much older fuel rods than those stored alongside the reactors, and aren’t quite as dangerous.

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