It’s the kind of stuff those infamous Japanese horror movies are made from. Only this time there is no guy in a plastic Godzilla suit and the potential for disaster is very real.
Two and a half years after the meltdown at Fukushima, things are about to get dicey again.
There is 400 tons of extremely radioactive spent fuel underneath the damaged Reactor #4. Japan is about to try to remove it from the site, in an operation of a type which has never been attempted before. The potential for catastrophe is very great. A mishap during this clean-up phase could actually result in a radiation release far worse than that which occurred during the original event in March of 2011 or the 1986 Chernobyl release.
Scientists from the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2013 say, “Full release from the Unit-4 spent fuel pool, without any containment or control, could cause by far the most serious radiological disaster to date”
This is a groundbreaking operation. There have thankfully been few disasters of this type from which to garner experience in the cleanup. That overall positive works against this specific operation as the likelihood of mistakes is increased with the lack of experience.
The task at hand is formidable and mind boggling. There are 1,300 used fuel rod assemblies containing radiation equal to 14,000 Hiroshima nuclear bombs. They are resting in a cooling pool and will need to be removed. It’s like a giant radioactive game of pickup sticks. All of these fuel rods are lying interwoven on top of one another. If you drop one or knock it into another and a breakage occurs, you’ve got the potential for a chain reaction which could rapidly and completely overtax the ability of the cooling pool. The process will need to be carried off perfectly 1,300 times, a very daunting challenge.
The operation has been tried before – but only with the aid of computers. This time it will be a painstaking manual process.
If the fuel pool becomes critical, there is no way to control the reaction. The cooling pool itself was damaged in the original disaster in 2011 in an explosion which blew the roof off of the building.
Timing is also a factor. The high level of earthquake activity in the region, the cause of the initial disaster, leaves Fukushima vulnerable to a subsequent leak at any time. If things start shaking violently enough to knock the spent rods around, anything could happen.
The entire region is a ticking radioactive time bomb which can go off at any moment. The potential for a new worst nuclear accident in history is very real.
Interesting question from a friend of mine in reaction to this:
“I’m not sure if this particular take on the removal of the rods was before or after they considered pouring concrete into it for 50 years. Could this possibly be the dragon’s breath, considering the amount of heat, that could well kill 1/3 of the sea life?”
All I know is that, if nothing else, that bolded item in the quote should be turning everyone’s heads.