Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant Current Situation: An analogy (UPDATED on May 22nd, May 30, June 21, July 3rd, August 4th, September 22nd, and October 17th, 2011).
I’ve updated this post, adding the following today:
UPDATED October 17th, 2011: Although I expect an update to the Roadmap soon, it’s worth reporting now that last week the first cover over one of the reactor buildings was completed. Here’s a brief article on it, including a photograph of it: http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/news/20111015p2a00m0na019000c.html
There is a sense of calm in seeing it, perhaps, and it is significant. Now that the air around the reactor is enclosed, it can be “processed”, i.e., run through air filters to remove the radioactive particulates. That’s a big public health benefit. But, to put this into perspective, it is just a temporary step. This is going to be a decades-long project. This cover alone is only meant to last two years, and they still have to put covers on two of the other reactors whose buildings’ walls were blown out by explosions. And, it’s not meant to serve all phases of the decontamination process, either:
TEPCO is also considering replacing the cover with a stronger one should the firm decide to remove the fuel from the reactor.
I’ve been reading some of the commentary on the accident that emphasizes that there haven’t been immediate deaths due to radiation release from it. I really don’t get that complacent reaction. There have been mass evacuations and relocations, abandoned homes, homesteads, farms, croplands and herds. Some schools in use are dealing with radioactivity in their schoolyards. Even if you think nobody is going to be hurt (which is unrealistic), these plants are now big sores on the landscape that require massive amounts of attention and money.
There are piles of radioactive refuse already, and they will continue to be produced. Here’s an article about the problem of used radioactive gear, showing that because there is nowhere to put it at the moment, it is just being placed into a very large pile:
The out-of-scale pile is an icon to remember. The reactor building pictured may be covered, but there will continue to be a steady stream of used radioactive filters, used radioactive gear, and, perhaps someday, even used radioactive damaged fuel, emerging from it. The cover will have to be replaced, like a bandage on a wound, again and again. I suppose the used and dismantled covers produced as the years go on will themselves constitute radioactive waste, as well. All of this will be passed on for safekeeping. It’s good to cheer this milestone, but it’s also valuable to keep it in perspective.