Fukushima Reactor 4’s Fuel Pool Poses a Grave Threat
One of the reasons many experts from around the world are calling on Japan to seek more international assistance is that the problem is multifaceted and extremely serious.
One aspect of the problem is the situation at reactor number 4. The building was severely damaged by the hydrogen explosions in the neighboring reactors. At the top of this not so stable structure sits the reactors fuel pool which contains 1331 spent fuel rods and 202 unused fuel rods. It is estimated that the amount of cesium 137 stored on the pool is the equivalent of 18,000 Hiroshima bombs. The pool also contains other radioactive material including plutonium.
Tepco has said the building has been shored up and would not collapse even if another large earthquake struck the area. But then again Tepco also said there was no danger of a tsunami affecting the plant.
Tepco is planning to begin operations to remove the fuel rods this October, but the process is fraught with peril. If the spent fuel assemblies are damaged or if they get too close to each other, it could cause a chain reaction to begin. This would be disastrous since the fuel pool has no equipment to contain or stop such a reaction. Such an event would be far worse than anything Fukushima has experienced to date.
The fuel needs to be removed that is clear. If another quake struck and the pool began leaking, all of that fuel would ignite causing an unprecedented amount of radiation to be released into the atmosphere. The question is whether the plan to remove the fuel is a sound one. It is an operation that has never been attempted before and some experts have expressed grave doubts. This is why Japan needs to be more open to international assistance. Before attempting such a dangerous procedure, I believe it is only prudent that the plan and procedures to be used are reviewed by international experts. It is possible the plan could be improved or safeguards created to lessen the possibility of a catastrophic event. Now is not the time for national pride. This is the time to bring the brightest minds together to create the safest procedure possible for what is perhaps the most dangerous engineering feat ever attempted.