Since the Fukushima nuclear power plants accident in March 2011, there have been two types of contributions by nuclear scientists. One type, who represents the voice of TEPCO, has influenced the decision makers of the solutions to the accident, the government strategy of the evacuation zone, the timing of announcement of the core meltdown and the constant public campaign to give the impression that the situation is improving rapidly. The other type, who has been warning the government of the worsening situation, finds their influence over the decision makers and the media circle limited. However, I find it puzzling that there has been so little warning from the nuclear community about the potential for catastrophic accidents or terrorist attack involving the hundreds of spent fuel pools worldwide. I received a clear explanation from Dr. Gordon Edwards, one of Canada’s best known independent experts on nuclear technology, uranium, and weapons proliferation.
I hope you will better appreciate the serious issues of the spent fuel pools from these comments.
This article is now available in Japanese.
You asked me why there has been so little warning from the “nuclear establishment” (TEPCO and the regulatory agency) about the potential for catastrophic accidents involving the spent fuel pool in reactor number 4.
In the field of nuclear safety, the focus of attention has always been on analyzing and preventing catastrophic accidents involving the core of the reactor. In comparison, little attention has been paid over the years to catastrophic accident scenarios involving the spent fuel pool.
Since the very first US Reactor Safety Study, the “Brookhaven Report” in 1957, to the major 12-volume US NRC Reactor Safety Study (the Rasmussen Report) of 1974, and continuing right down to the present day, virtually all of the attention has been directed to extreme conditions that might develop in the core of the reactor — unterminated power excursions, loss of coolant accidents, breach of the reactor vessel, core meltdowns, and so on.
Most nuclear engineers and nuclear regulators have developed a “blind spot” about the catastrophe potential associated with the spent fuel bay because of years of neglect. Such considerations have never played a significant role in their training as nuclear engineers or in their many subsequent years of experience in the field of nuclear safety analysis.
As a result we have backup pumps, backup electrical supply systems, and backup cooling systems for the core of the reactor, but no backup pumps or electrical supply or cooling system for the spent fuel bay. We have extravagant containment systems for the core of the reactor, but no comparable containment systems for the spent fuel pool.
This absence of backup systems for the spent fuel pool is testimony to the lack of effort and lack of forethought that has been devoted to the spent fuel bay. Nevertheless, the radioactive inventory in the spent fuel pool is often much greater than that in the core of the reactor, and a prolonged loss of coolant — or even loss of circulation of coolant — will lead to overheating of the fuel and extensive fuel damage. This will result in significant releases of radioactive fission products into the atmosphere due to the inadequate or even non-existent containment provided for the spent fuel pool.
Moreover, a loss of coolant in the spent fuel pool — whether by leakage, spillage, or boiling off of the cooling water — will lead to intense gamma radiation that would prevent human access for hundreds of metres in all directions around the spent fuel pool, making it very difficult to take corrective actions.
Under adverse circumstances there can even be a fuel meltdown in the spent fuel pool, if the temperature climbs to about 2800 degrees C, which would vastly increase the radioactive releases and spread those releases over a much wider area.
The overheating of the spent fuel in the pool can be exacerbated by the intense exothermic reaction between the zirconium cladding and the steam produced from the overheated water, and can even result (at around 1000 degrees C) in a very intense zirconium fire which can result in tiny particles of intensely radioactive spent fuel being liberated into the atmosphere.
Depending on the diameter of these “hot particles” (sometimes referred to as “nuclear fleas”) they can be transported greater or lesser distances by the wind, possibly affecting populations hundreds of kilometers from the spent fuel pool. Once dispersed into the environment, these hot particles will constitute a source of radiation exposure and environmental contamination for centuries to come.
In addition to the possibility of zirconium fires (which have for a long time been almost completely overlooked by nuclear engineers and regulators) there is another, even more dangerous possibility. An alteration in the geometry of the spent fuel in the pool, by which the separation between the spent fuel rods is slightly but significantly reduced, can lead to re-initiation of the chain reaction in the pool.
This “accidental criticality” will not only drive the temperature up rapidly, but will also replenish the supply of short-lived heat-producing fission products, accelerating the damage to the fuel, magnifying the heat loading, increasing the probability of a fuel pool meltdown, and vastly increasing the atmospheric releases of radioactivity.
It has been a standard practice in the nuclear industry to avoid consideration of all of these possibilities, based on the assumption that there will be “lots of time” to react to any emergency involving the spent fuel pool, as it will normally take days for the spent fuel to reach the melting point and it will be a “simple matter” to refill the pools with water if necessary.
This ignores the fact that major structural damage may make it impossible to approach the spent fuel pool due to the lethal levels of gamma radiation emanating from the spent fuel once the protective shielding of the water is gone.
I really wish this subject would just go away and that we could just go on with life and have a good time. There are actually so many things to enjoy on Mother Earth—there are the spiritual realms all around us such as the “above beings” (Native American spirituality expression) that that we may dance, intermingle and communicate with (pray to).
Fortunately we know for sure that one day we will join up with those who live beyond their bodies, meaning we are going to die whether we like it or not. It is our spiritual destiny to lose our bodies and let them go back to the dust from whence they came. The bad news is that it is going to happen a whole lot faster for the lot of us humans who will have to learn to survive on an increasingly contaminated planet. It wasn’t enough to cover the globe with lead, then mercury, plastic and a host of other chemicals.
We have now made it more difficult to live on earth and that situation is going to get much worse. There have been severe nuclear accidents before, several very bad ones in Russia and farmers are still feeling the effects of Chernobyl. Hundreds of British sheep farmers still have to obtain a license every time they want to move sheep. Before anything moves off the farm it has to be inspected and scanned with a Geiger counter. That contamination has not gone away it is still burning people’s and animals’ bodies and will continue to do that for a long time.
Fukushima will start burning radioactive debris containing up to 100,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram.Radioactive hell gets hotter depending on who and where you are, with babies and fetuses suffering the most. As today’s essay develops, the story does get worse. No one talks about Fukushima much anymore but it is one of the most dangerous and significant events in our history. How many of us are going to come down with cancer, go sterile? And what are we going to say to our kids? The world’s schools are certainly not teaching their students about it but that’s not surprising since schools do not really educate but instead indoctrinate the young in our civilizations failed ways.
Radioactive Rain-OutsNuclear expert Arnie Gundersen is saying that radioactive rain-outs will continue for a year—even in Western U.S. and Canada—because the Japanese are burning radioactive materials. Gundersen says that this radioactivity ends up not only in neighboring prefectures, but also in Hawaii, British Columbia, Oregon, Washington and California. Meteorologically, snow and rain will accelerate local fallout. Local rain showers that originate above radioactive clouds intensify radioactive contamination in certain areas. Contamination tends to be greater in drainage systems, on low ground, and in flat, poorly drained areas.
Scientists with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute have confirmed that a wave of highly radioactive waste is headed directly for the U.S. west coast.
Ambassador Mitsuhei Murata
This would certainly cause a global catastrophe like we have never before experienced. He stressed that the responsibility of Japan to the rest of the world is immeasurable. Such a catastrophe would affect us all for centuries. Ambassador Murata informed us that the total number of the spent-fuel rods at the Fukushima Daiichi site excluding the rods in the pressure vessel is 11,421 (396+615+566+1,535+994+940+6375).
The No. 4 pool is about 100 feet above ground, is structurally damaged and is exposed to the open elements. If an earthquake or other event were to cause this pool to drain this could result in a catastrophic radiological fire involving nearly 10 times the amount of Cs-137 released by the Chernobyl accident.
Based on U.S. Energy Department data, assuming a total of 11,138 spent-fuel assemblies are being stored at the Dai-Ichi site, nearly all, which is in pools. They contain roughly 336 million curies (~1.2 E+19 Bq) of long-lived radioactivity. About 134 million curies is Cesium-137—roughly 85 times the amount of Cs-137 released at the Chernobyl accident as estimated by the U.S. National Council on Radiation Protection (NCRP).
Reactors that have been operating for decades, such as those at the Fukushima-Dai-Ichi site, have generated some of the largest concentrations of radioactivity on the planet. A loss of coolant in the spent-fuel pool—whether by leakage, spillage, or boiling off of the cooling water—will lead to intense gamma radiation that would prevent human access for hundreds of meters in all directions around the spent-fuel pool, making it impossible to take corrective actions.
Under adverse circumstances there can even be a fuel meltdown in the spent-fuel pool if the temperature climbs to about 2800° C, which would vastly increase the radioactive releases and spread those releases over a much wider area.
Many will find it difficult to appreciate the actual meaning of these figures, yet we can grasp what 85 times more Cesium-137 than the Chernobyl would mean. It would destroy most of the world’s environment and our civilization. This is an issue of human survival.
Though the world’s 190-trillion-dollar indebtedness and the quadrillion in derivatives seem like weapons of mass destruction pointing down all our throats, these are trivial to the permanent destruction that our nuclear industry has provided for us.
“Several thousand gallons” of water containing as much as five times the government’s “safe” level of radioactive tritium was accidentally released at Exelon Nuclear’s Limerick Generating Station last month and then flushed into the Schuylkill River, The Mercury learned Thursday.Only those with no children and no plans to have any can shrug their shoulders and yawn, that’s how compromised biological life will be on this planet. This is a tough situation and in an absolute sense there is little we can do about it. But we can provide protection to our bodies through naturopathic detoxification and natural chelation. These subjects are covered in my Nuclear Toxicity Syndrome book as well as the second edition of my Iodine book (both published in 2011), which dive deeply into the issue and threat of radioactive iodine. Having lots of sulfur on hand as well as sodium bicarbonate, iodine, clay and magnesium is a good start for a radiation survival home pharmacy.
Japan is Poisoning Other Countries By Burning Highly-Radioactive Debris
April 10, 2012
Fukushima to Burn Highly-Radioactive Debris
Fukushima will start burning radioactive debris containing up to 100,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram. As Mainchi notes:
The state will start building storage facilities for debris generated by the March 2011 tsunami as early as May at two locations in a coastal area of Naraha town, Fukushima Prefecture, Environment Ministry and town officials said Saturday.How much radiation is that?
About 25,000 tons of debris are expected to be brought into the facilities beginning in the summer, according to the officials.
If more than 100,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium are found per kilogram of debris, the debris will be transferred to a medium-term storage facility to be built by the state. But if burnable debris contains 100,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium or less, it may be disposed of at a temporary incinerator to be built within the prefecture, according to the officials.
Within the 20-km-radius no-go zone spanning across Naraha and five other municipalities along the coast, debris caused by the magnitude 9.0 quake and the subsequent tsunami has amounted to an estimated 474,000 tons, much of remaining where it is.
It is a lot.
Nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen has said that much lower levels of cesium – 5,000-8,000 bq/kg (20 times lower than what will be allowed to be burned at Fukushima) – would be sent to a special facility in the United States and buried underground for thousands of year. See this and this.
It is comparable to the levels of radioactivity found within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. See this and this.
And even the Japanese – who have raised acceptable levels of radiation to absurd levels – would normally demand that material with this radioactivity be encased in cement and buried:
According to plans by the Ministry of Environment, if the radioactive cesium concentration is less than 8,000 Bq/kg, then it is possible to dispose of it by burying it. Rubble that has 8,000 ~ 100,000 Bq must be encased in cement in order to prevent contact with water before being dumped. For rubble that exceeds 100,000 Bq, it must be encased in concrete walls and stored temporarily. The disposal place must be approved of by the Prefectural Governor.In addition, some allege that debris surpassing 100,000 bq/kg of cesium will be burned, after being mixed with less-radioactive materials.
And many of the incinerators are located smack dab in the middle of crowded cities, and are not equipped to contain radiation.
Other Parts of Japan Are Also Burning Radioactive Debris
And it’s not just Fukushima.
Tokyo and many other areas in Japan are burning radioactive debris as well. And see this.
Burning to Continue for for Years
Mainichi reports that the radioactive debris will be burned for years … through at least March 2014.
Poisoning Other Countries
Burning radioactive debris does not destroy the radioactivity. It merely spreads it.
Gundersen says that radioactivity from the burnt debris will end up not only in neighboring prefectures, but in Hawaii, British Columbia, Oregon, Washington and California. Gundersen said that burning radioactive debris is basically re-creating the Fukushima disaster all over again, as it is releasing a huge amount of radioactivity which had settled on the ground back into the air.
Steven Starr – Senior Scientist, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Director of the Clinical Laboratory Science Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, who has advised numerous countries on issues of nuclear non-proliferation – writes:
Burning radioactive debris will only serve to further randomly spread radiation across Japan, as well as the rest of the world. Not only will this lead to more morbidity and mortality within Japan, but it will further complicate epidemiological studies of the Fukushima disaster. Raising “acceptable” levels of radioactive fallout is a false solution to a serious problem. It is possible for the government authorities to do this because radiation is invisible to us, and at lower doses, the consequences of exposure do not manifest themselves for some time . . . thus it is a poison that is easy to hide and ignore. Sadly, the children of Japan will be those most seriously affected by this man-made environmental catastrophe.It is bad enough that radiation from Fukushima is spreading across the Pacific to the United States through air and water, that the Japanese are underplaying the enormous threat posed by the spent fuel pools, and that the Japanese have engaged in a massive cover-up of the severity of the Fukushima crisis. But intentionally burning radioactive debris to try to cover up the problem – and spreading radiation worldwide in the process – is an entirely separate affront.
Postscript: In addition to burning radioactive debris, Japan intends to build tents over the leaking Fukushima reactors. While this sounds like a way to contain the radiation, it would actually funnel it straight up and spread it globally:
My reaction [to the announcement that the Fukushima nuclear operator would build giant tents over the reactors] was hope that the tents would at least keep radiation from spreading worldwide through the air, even if they didn’t do anything to prevent contamination of Japan’s groundwater or the Pacific Ocean.
But nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen says that the tents – while helping to protect workers at Fukushima – will actually increase the dispersion of radioactive gases. Specifically, Tepco will pump radiation out through stacks, which will push radiation up to a higher elevation, dispersing it even further around the world.
SolarIMG podcast with Arnie Gundersen from Fairewinds
I’m really pleased to present this podcast, here I speak with Arnie about the situation. You can check out his website at fairewinds.com
DOWNLOAD HERE: SolarIMG_podcast_Arnie_Gundersen_130811.mp3
Arnie is an energy advisor with 39-years of nuclear power engineering experience. A former nuclear industry senior vice president, he earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in nuclear engineering, holds a nuclear safety patent, and was a licensed reactor operator.