Damage to Japan’s Fukushima Nuclear Reactors & Plants is severe and the situation is still very serious

It isn’t anywhere near over.  That’s how it looks to me.

Much has been written about how the situation at Fukushima’s nuclear power plants is beyond anything that was designed for.  What is sobering is that it is not hype; it is just plain true.  The damage is severe.  The situation is very serious.  The future is . . . who knows what words to put here?

The Guardian is maintaining a page where the basic facts about what is known about the Fukushima reactors are collected in a spreadsheet and updated daily.  Here is the URL for that:   http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/mar/18/japan-nuclear-power-plant-updates   It is just beyond belief:  damaged fuel, possibly damaged containment, loss of basic services, neither the core cooling that is dependent on AC nor the core cooling that is not are functional, radiation so high that crews have repeatedly had to halt work.   News of seawater bathing the fuel is the good news:  that says it all.  And tells us very little.  We are on the other side of what used to be the horizon.

The IAEA’s post on Facebook ( https://www.facebook.com/iaeaorg ) is not very reassuring:  they report that they have been told that Japan is going to collect and analyze samples of the marine environment from eight locations for two days (22nd and 23rd).  My reaction is:  only now? and only for two days?  and no independent check or oversight?

Elsewhere, the IAEA points out how limited its role with respect to nuclear safety is:

‘”We are not a ‘nuclear safety watchdog’ and responsibility for nuclear safety lies with our member states,” [Yukiya Amano] said, in comments from the closed meeting provided to media. “In contrast to the agency’s role in nuclear nonproliferation, nuclear safety measures are applied voluntarily by each individual country and our role is supportive.’  From Associated Press: http://hosted2.ap.org/APDEFAULT/cae69a7523db45408eeb2b3a98c0c9c5/Article_2011-03-21-UN-Japan-Earthquake-Nuclear/id-ca5c8420c6754828b268dac004bb9f86

What does this mean, I wonder?   Closed meetings, statements about the limited role of the UN?  Maybe it forces us to ask ourselves a non-technological question about nuclear technology, i.e., do we have the social structure a society needs for this to be an appropriate technology?

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1 Response to Damage to Japan’s Fukushima Nuclear Reactors & Plants is severe and the situation is still very serious

  1. Garth Hattingh says:

    The need to create an International Nuclear Emergency Reaction Team:
    Fukushima is a serious incident, and is going to take a long time to rectify. There has been, and will continue to be, serious fallout from the damaged reactors, and the spent fuel stores. Water being sprayed on has and will drain off, carrying radioactive isotopes to the sea in significant amounts. Other material will be spread by wind. Some of these isotopes have half lives of up to 24000 years. These constitute a real danger to mankind and the environment in general.
    Fukushima is not going to be the last such disaster. The nuclear industry is going to continue, at least for a few decades, when other power sources and changes of lifestyle may render nuclear power plants unnecessary.
    No nuclear plant is ‘failsafe’- the industry has had many accidents and incidents, many potentially extremely serious, but averted in the nick of time. Scores of others are believed to have gone unreported, in the atmosphere of secrecy that seems to prevail in the nuclear industry as a whole.
    The delays in taking forceful and meaningful action compounded the problems at Fukushima. The plant operators, and the power company, did not have the specialised knowledge or the equipment to deal effectively with the situations that arose. This is going to be echoed in the future at other incidents.
    A solution is to set up a permanent, well-trained, highly mobile, special international nuclear emergency reaction team, (INERT ??) funded by contributions from all the nuclear power companies worldwide. This ‘nuclear SWAT team’ could be at trouble spots in hours, better equipped both mentally and physically to deal with emergencies such as Fukushima than the plant operators.
    It should have permanent and immediate access to a fast jet and/or helicopter (for sending in advisers and initial light equipment); a heavy lifting cargo plane (for highly specialised Personal Protection Equipment, Generators, High-pressure Pumps, the latest in Robotic Probe technology, Measuring Devices, Drone Aircraft, and manpower) and specialised screened vehicles. Possibly each plant should be compelled to have a lead-screened (including thick lead glass) tough, tracked or 4×4 vehicle, with a sealed recirculating air supply, for movement and inspections in a compromised plant. This should have external radiation sensors connected to an internal PC, powerful moveable spotlights, night vision capabilities, infra-red and normal cameras, and good communication links.
    INERT Personnel should include competent nuclear engineers, disaster management officials, electrical engineers, paramedics, a public information officer, and a general competency contingent (with in-depth knowledge of nuclear processes and procedures, as well as SCUBA diving, radiation containment, robot and remote handling, mechanical and electrical repairs, amongst other proficiencies).
    They should have extensive knowledge of all current nuclear plant types, of radiation types, effects on humans and the environment, and the way in which radiation is spread; with a range of pre-developed scenarios which could be adapted and rapidly brought into play for containing and averting incidents.
    Nuclear plants will be compelled to share in the costs of setting up and maintaining the INERT team(s), be obliged to call them as soon as any potentially dangerous crisis looms, and have to share full information with them about the plant operations and the incident. The team should have the power to override plant authorities for the common good if need be.
    Any amounts spent on this team would be justified by their preventing or diminishing the effects of only one nuclear incident. Such a team would have been invaluable in 3-Mile Island, Chernobyl, or Fukushima; and would doubtless have helped reduce the severity of these incidents. Lack of planning for these ‘unforseeable’ disasters has only compounded them.
    Will the Nuclear World rise to this challenge, and plan meaningfully for dealing with the disasters yet to come, or sink back into their sea of arrogance and apathy?

    During ‘off’ times, the team could have inspection and advisory roles in nuclear plants, overseeing operational and safety considerations.

    Garth Hattingh is the author of 4 internationally published Survival Books; holds a Science degree, and has huge respect for human and other life. He feels that the nuclear industry is singularly unprepared to deal with disasters, and are generally arrogantly unwilling to admit that these can and will occur, despite much evidence to the contrary, and incidents such as Chernobyl and Fukushima.

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