Monday, 2 September 2013
Fukishima crisis far, far more important than Syria
For those not up to speed, very little has been done since the 2011 earthquake and multiple meltdown. At least 2 of the 3 cores suffered total meltdown and a storage unit for spent fuel rods and plutonium used for nuclear weapons making remains in a critical condidtion. The Japanese government has done little to help and has left everything to Tepco to sort out until some announcements last week. The wider world, including Russia who have their Chernobyl experience, have been ignored and not called to the site. To try and cool the plant millions of gallons of water have been pumped in and used in a recycling system, this has resulted in the site being full of hastily made water tanks, now containing millions of gallons of highly contaminated water. This is the source of many of the leaks which you may have read about in recent weeks.
What they do not say is there is NO long-term plan for this water, which will be poisonous for eons, except to eventually drop it into the Pacific Ocean. Not only that, but in the case of another earthquake, this jerry-rigged mess will be unable to withstand any major incident, irradiating the whole area and making the rest of the site untreatable. In a good scenario, the leaks are contained and a slow rate of release established that will be diluted enough in the pacific to make only small long-term damage.
But then the next step is trying to remove the fuel rods from Unit 4. This is a highly technical piece of work that has to be done under the most exacting standards. Any break of a rod, and there could be a re-start of the chain reaction and a huge release of radiation, far more toxic than anything yet seen. Due to the damage at the site and difficult working conditions, it will be a miracle (built on the back of superhero men and women working on the project)to avoid this and prevent yet more massive pollution. Even if the cooling water can be maintained to stop chain reactions, the water will become ever more irradiated, creating more problems for the future.
Finally, where are the molten cores? Nobody knows what has happened to the molten cores since the explosion. Whilst wild claims of china syndrome feel extreme it is hard to know in a situation never faced before. Will the cores melt into the earth polluting groundwater with unimaginable levels of radiation for eons? Will they cool on touch water and just release streams of irradiated steam for a few years? Will somehow they solidify? Unlike Chernoblyl the cores are made of MOX fuel, far more dangerous and unstable than those of the Russian disaster which was contained fairly rapidly. There is no insight into where the cores are or there state. In the best case, Fukushima will poison Northern Japan and the Pacific, maybe even the northern hemisphere for decades until containment. In the very worst case, the situation can deteriorate to a situation that could irradiate much of the world and lead to huge cancers throughout all life.
Yet we obsesses with Syria and allow the Japanese Government and media to lead us astray as to the events at Fukushima. hopefully, with the resources of the world focused on the site and massive investment, the best outcome can be achieved. At the moment this seems very unlikely.