The Mysterious Case Of The Missing Fukushima Fuel
Richard Wilcox, PhD, Guest
“Nature knows no indecencies; man invents them.” – Mark Twain
As the world forever hurtles toward Armageddon, the Fukushima nuclear disaster has largely faded from the front pages. But the issue is far from resolved. Radiation from nuclear accidents is not easily dispelled with estimates of clean-up time at Fukushima ranging from 40 to 500 years, and nearly six years have already passed. Even safely stored nuclear material is dangerous for 100,000 years (1).
Elvis Has Left The Building
The major question regarding the situation at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi (no.1 nuclear power plant) regards the location of the melted fuel at reactor units 1, 2 and 3.
Recent evidence of the location of the fuel in unit 2 was disputed, with Tokyo Electric Co. (Tepco) and the mainstream media taking one view and independent scientists taking another. Is the melted fuel still inside the container in the reactor building, or has it leaked out and is now penetrating in scattered areas laterally and vertically into the ground?
Large amounts of melted fuel could reach the ground water, and even the aquifer which is ultimately connected to the Tokyo water supply.
Let’s compare two assessments on this important issue based on the use of “Muon tomography”:
According to the Asahi Shimbun (newspaper) version of reality which relies solely on the Tepco report:
Most of the nuclear fuel inside the No. 2 reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant apparently did not melt through the pressure vessel (2).
Is it that simple? Tepco’s record of reliability has become rather tarnished over the years.
Note that in the graphic image above, the word “believed” is used, which reinforces the word “apparently” used in the text of the article referring to the uncertainty of the location of the melted fuel. However, the title of the article is more confident, stating that “most fuel was contained.” The title is blatantly misleading and since most readers just skim the news, that will be what they take away from the report.
On the other hand, the independent scientists at the Simply Info website differ about the location of the fuel in relation to the container, the “Reactor Pressure Vessel” (RPV):
Tepco’s superimposed mask demarcates the bottom head too low including fuel inside the rpv which according to the refined image is clearly shown below the bottom head….”there is no fuel in the bottom of the RPV in any significant amount” (3).
This graphic indicates that a different method was used by these scientists to view the location of the melted fuel.
In this graphic the Simply Info scientists argue that the container drawing was placed too low in the Tepco version, whereas in their version, it is higher, making it less obvious that the fuel is in the container.
Careful reading of this article reveals that Tepco’s analysis, as so glibly presented by the mainstream media, was based on technological smoke and mirrors, clearly intended to deceive. Tepco and the media should report on the range of plausible possibilities, not only the small slice of reality they wish the public to see (4; 5).
So will the Asahi Shimbun correct their fallacious reporting? Both the Japan Times and the Asahi Shimbun are heavily owned and controlled by foreign investors and media. TheAsahi shares offices with the New York Times in Tokyo and many Japanese English dailies rely on Western news wires such as the agenda driven, oligarchic news sources, Reutersand the Associated Press (6).
Decommissioning Or Out Of Commission?
In fact, in over five years much progress has been made to control the situation at the destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant. Much of the rubble has been cleaned up and fresh coats of paints are on the buildings, but the place is still intensely radioactive, and no human can approach the specific reactor meltdown sites.
The second major issue at Dai-ichi concerns the future plans for the decommissioning of the plant. All along Tepco has said they will retrieve the melted fuel and complete decommissioning within 40 years. In fact the technology to retrieve the fuel has not yet been invented. Not only is it impossible for human workers to approach the area, but even robots break down due to the radiation short circuiting their wires.
It was recently revealed that Japan is still considering an option that many people feel would be very dangerous in the long term, and that is the “sarcophagus” solution (7). The only time this has been tried is at Chernobyl — it looks like a high-tech barn placed over the site (8). Unlike Chernobyl where the ground is rock hard, at Fukushima the ground is akin to a wet sponge with soft topsoil, so while covering it will reduce radioactive atmospheric fallout, the radiation will continue to leak downwards to the aquifer and outwards to the ocean unless appropriate engineering measures are taken.
Nevertheless, progress is slow with efforts “underway to develop the equipment needed to retrieve corium (melted fuel) samples from inside the containment structures of units 1-3 at the plant. No solid time frame” has yet been was mentioned (9).
The Nuclear Story
In an interesting aside, the best documentary film on Fukushima I have see so far, Fukushima: A Nuclear Story was released in 2015 (10). It is an Italian production but with English narration and subtitles. The plot follows journalist Pio d’Emilio during the nuclear crisis as he tries to uncover the real situation in Fukushima. The film is engaging and educational at the same time, covering new ground and combining dramatic events as they unfold at the time with scientific explanations done in an entertaining, “manga” comic book style.
The film emphasizes the near catastrophe of Tepco’s panic during the accident, and the courage and wisdom of then prime minister Naoto Kan, and the Fukushima 50, led by the plant manager Masao Yoshida whose snap judgement literally “saved the world.”
The film raises one very interesting piece of information that I did not know about which is that it was only the luck of the pool fuel gate at unit 4 not closing, in other words, malfunctioning, which allowed water in to cool the scorching fuel rods. Had that not occurred, the fuel rods could have caught fire spreading massive radiation for hundreds of miles.
Note that had the Fukushima accident happened at night or on the weekend there would have been far fewer workers at the plant to tackle the problem, possibly leading to a completely out-of-control situation.
The Ice Wall Cometh…
The “ice wall” that Tepco built in order to freeze the ground around the plant to block water flow in and out of the plant, continues to have problems. It is a very expensive operation to build and maintain, prone to technical problems and no one really knows when or if it will ever be fully implemented (i.e., taxpayer boondoggle) (11; 12). Even if the ice wall operates as intended it will not stop all of the water flow allowing some to be contaminated (13).
Is this why the sarcophagus option is still on the table? Critics have argued that the ice wall was poorly conceived from the start because it did not address dealing with the source of water flow which is at the water shed above the plant in the nearby mountains (Tepco balked at the project due to the high cost).
Japan Nuke News
Various nuclear related issues pop up from time to time around country. Since the nuclear accident in 2011, the overwhelming public sentiment has been strongly anti nuclear, despite efforts by the Abe administration to downplay the accident and restart as many of the reactors around the country as possible. The logic of the restarts against public opinion is in order to satisfy the big banks who have financed Japanese utility company operations while reactors have remained idle (expensive but not profit producing) over the past years.
Ever since the hugely destructive earthquakes earlier in 2016 on the island of Kyushu, nuclear plant restarts along the path of the fault line, which basically travels through the middle of the entire country, have been in doubt. Still we see for example in Shikoku that nuclear reactors are restarting despite local opposition (14).
Although prime minister Abe keeps pushing for resumption of nuclear operations, he probably would not want to work at the Fukushima nuclear disaster clean up site himself. It was recently reported by Japanese scientists that insoluble radioactive cesium has been detected in workers exposed to high levels of radiation at the plant (15).
Indeed, the wildlife in Fukushima prefecture has long been reported to be contaminated with radiation, recently a wild boar was detected with massive levels of radiation in its body (16). This is an indication of the general contamination of the environment there.
This doesn’t stop the Fukushima tourist board from advertising how safe and wonderful life is there. In order to drum up tourist dollars the national government has carried out a massive public relations campaign despite the lingering possibility of numerous radioactive hotspots in the area (17; 18).
Trump Threatens Nuclear Cartel
Maybe things will change a bit if Donald Trump can be elected president in the United States. Trump has promised to reduce US military presence in Japan and let them sort out their own military affairs. This does not bode well for the US-Japan military racket which siphons off billions of dollars in tax revenue to satisfy the greed of both country’s military industrial complexes, which are intensely tied up with the nuclear weapons and power industries (20).
Isn’t it ironic that the bogeyman of North Korea which is constantly conjured by Japan to justify its own growth in militarism, obtained its original nuclear weapon technology from Britain, a supposed Japan ally (21).
Funny old world ain’t it.
Nuclear pollution is not healthy for children and other living things
* Special thanks to the Simply Info website for their continuous work on the Fukushima issue; and to Activist Post for their continued reporting.
About the Author
Richard Wilcox is a contributing editor and writer for the book: Fukushima: Dispossession or Denuclearization? (2014) and a Tokyo-based teacher and writer who holds a PhD in environmental studies. He is a regular contributor to Activist Post. His radio interviews and articles are archived athttp://wilcoxrb99.wordpress.com and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 – Nuclear waste: keep out for 100,000 years
2 – New study on Fukushima reactor shows most fuel was contained
3 – Something Incredible Found In Fukushima Muon Scan
4 – First Fukushima Unit 2 Muon Scans Dispute New Scan Results
5 – Fukushima Unit 2 Muon Scan Not So Conclusive
6 – Democracy in Peril: Twenty Years of Media Consolidation Under the Telecommunications Act
7 – NDF Tries To Walk Back Fukushima Daiichi Sarcophagus Admission
8 – The Chernobyl Gallery: Sarcophagus
9 – Melted Fuel To Be Sampled From Fukushima Reactors Containment
10 – Fukushima: A Nuclear Story
11 – Fukushima Frozen Wall Sees Small Progress From Concrete Addition
12 – Fukushima Frozen Wall Report For June 23 2016
13 – Fukushima No. 1 plant’s ice wall won’t be watertight, says chief architect
14 – Shikoku MOX plant restarts amid outcry over fresh quake fears
15 – THREE-YEAR RETENTION OF RADIOACTIVE CAESIUM IN THE BODY OF TEPCO WORKERS INVOLVED IN THE FUKUSHIMA DAIICHI NUCLEAR POWER STATION ACCIDENT
16 – 960 Bq/kg of Cs-134/137 detected from wild boar in Fukushima
17 – Tokyo to Fukushima: Route to enjoy modern, old Japan
18 – Fukushima tourism making strong progress on recovery
19 – Trump rips U.S. defense of Japan as one-sided, too expensive
20 – North Korea used British technology to build its nuclear bombs
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