Japanese Prime Minister offers reassurances on Fukushima situation
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sought to address concerns about the situation at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant. Speaking in Buenos Aires at a news conference after Tokyo was chosen to host the 2020 Summer Olympics, he said, “I would like to state clearly that there has not been, is not now and will not be any health problems whatsoever,” In additional remarks he said, “Furthermore, the government has already decided a program to make sure there is absolutely no problem, and we have already started.”
I find these remarks hard to believe. Many unresolved problems and questions still remain at the Fukushima plant. Here are just a few that have yet to be addressed:
1) What is the true status of the melted fuel within reactors 1,2 and 3? It is believed that the fuel may have breeched the primary containment chambers of one or more reactors and is now leaking into the secondary containment chambers. However, it is unknown whether any of the secondary chambers have been breeched. If so the highly radioactive fuel could be seeping into the ground and into the ground water.
2) What is the plan for the disposal of the millions of gallons of radioactive water now being stored at over 1000 storage tanks at the site?
3) Removal of the more than 1300 fuel rods sitting in the spent fuel pool atop of reactor 4. This is to begin in the next few months, but is hardly a routine operation. Under normal operations, the fuel would be removed using computer guided equipment, but that equipment is now unusable. The fuel will have to be manually removed. This has never been done before. If the assemblies should break, be exposed to air, or even come into wrong contact with each other, radiation could be released. In a worst case scenario, the fuel could ignite, releasing massive amounts of radiation.
Those are just a few issues that have to be worked through. An earthquake in the area could compound things dramatically. If the buildings on which the spent fuel pools were to collapse, there would be a massive amount of radiation released, dwarfing anything seen thus far.
With that said, it hardly seems prudent to say there will be no health or other problems. Mr. Abe’s words may sound reassuring, but I don’t believe they match realities on the ground.
As to the program he mentions. I believe he is referring to increased decontamination equipment and the building of an ice wall to stop the contaminated water currently flowing into the Pacific at the rate of 300 tons a day. It is by no means sure that this plan will work. Similar ice walls have been used effectively, but they were not used long term as this plan envisions. Also an earthquake which cut off electricity to the plant would cause the wall to melt. And even if the wall works as planned, it will take 1.5 years to put in place. Up until then, the Pacific would continue to be polluted.
Mr. Abe’s reassurances may make for good politics, but also may prove to be overly optimistic.