October 11, 2013
Next month, the staff at Fukushima Daiichi will begin moving the 1331 spent fuel bundles out of the unit #4 Spent Fuel Pool. Ordinarily, such an operation at any nuclear plant in the world is quite routine and not considered newsworthy. However, the impending operation at F. Daiichi is getting considerable Press and the international prophets of nuclear energy doom are exploiting the opportunity to the fullest. Here’s what they are predicting.
Perhaps the most extreme of the prophetic voices is Harvey Wasserman, a long-time American fear-monger. (1, 2) He writes, “We are now within two months of what may be humankind’s most dangerous moment since the Cuban Missile Crisis.” Wasserman adds that the unit #4 building is “…tilting, sinking and could easily come down in the next earthquake, if not on its own.” Tokyo Electric Co., owner of F. Daiichi, brought in two independent experts to judge the structural condition of the unit #4 Primary Containment Vessel, which includes the SFP in question. Both said the building is not tilting…not even a tiny bit. In addition, while much of the several-hundred-mile-long Tohoku coast dropped about 2 feet in elevation, there is no record of unit #4 at F. Daiichi “sinking” on its own. Wasserman is clearly appealing to internet-based rumors, and not the facts.
Wasserman also says that “Spent fuel rods are the most lethal items our species has ever created.” Worse than a nuclear weapon? Worse than any other weapon of mass destruction? Where does he get all these preposterous notions? He asserts that his nightmarish vision would release 15,000 times more fallout than the bombing of Hiroshima. Actually, the big-number prediction is entirely based on Cesium-137, which is a trace isotope from nuclear weapon detonations. Wasserman wants us all to believe his 15,000-bomb estimate is for the entire matrix of bomb fallout, which is incredibly misleading to the lay audience. Then there’s the problem with getting all the Cesium out of the 1331 fuel bundles and into the atmosphere. 90-95% of the Cesium is too-deeply ensconced in the Uranium fuel pellets internal to the Zirconium tubes to be released, even if his apocalyptic, all-fuel-bundle fire scenario were possible.
Most of Wasserman’s statements are produced out of a creative mind long-experienced at concocting fantasies of nuclear energy apocalypse. His alleged evidence comes from fellow American antinuclear prophets like Robert Alvarez and Arnie Gundersen. This is tantamount to Al Qaida using other terrorist groups as evidence for their hatred of Western Civilization.
First, Wasserman uses Alvarez’ estimate that the spent fuel bundles contain more radioactive Cesium than was released by Chernobyl. While there may be a kernel of truth to the numbers cited by Alvarez, the problem is getting it all released to the atmosphere. Wasserman says that it will happen because spent fuel tubes made of Zirconium, and when exposed to the air they can ignite and release all contents. He further states that if the building collapses, the fuel bundles will all burn and a world-wide cataclysm will ensue. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission studied this extensively, long before Fukushima happened, and found that after no more than 180 days with Boiling Water Reactor fuel (Fukushima’s reactors are all BWRs), the rate of heat production due to radioactive decay is insufficient to cause Zirconium to burn. (3) The “newest” spent fuel bundles in unit #4 SFP have been there since November, 2010, and the rest have been there many years longer. Thus, they can no longer get hot enough to burn.
Next, Wasserman evokes Arnie Gundersen’s fantastic concoction that the unit #4 fuel bundles, now safely ensconced in sturdy vertical racks, are “…damaged and embrittled to the point of crumbling.” The problem with this notion is that there is no proof of Gundersen’s claim, other than his own confabulated speculations based the rumor that the pool boiled the week of 3/11/11. He refers to NRC Chair Jaczko’s ridiculous claim made on March 16, 2011, which the NRC retracted later that summer. While there is some debris on the tops of the closely-packed unit #4 bundles, all studies to date show no damage whatsoever to any of them. In fact, back in July Tepco removed two of the bundles and diligently inspected them for damage. They found nothing! (4)
Gundersen also says the impending fuel transfer is unprecedented in human history. This is true…sort of. 1331 spent fuel bundles have never been moved in one continuous operation before. However, the level of risk with this removal is so close to zero as to be unworthy of mention with any nuke plant other than Fukushima. Because we’re dealing with (shudder) Fukushima (!!!), Gundersen unabashedly embellishes on his wild speculation, calling the operation “unique and daunting” – so much so that it must be done with “100% perfection”. Wasserman says that if the attempt fails, the bundles would be exposed to the air and burn with horrific consequences, causing the pool itself to crash to the ground and create a pile of fuel cells that could fission and “possibly explode”. There is no known reason why a fictitious spent fuel fire could magically cause a massive, steel-reinforced concrete structure to collapse. Further, reactor plant spent fuel is many, many times too dilute in fissionable isotopes to detonate…or even fizzle!
Wasserman next cites a nuclear-naïve former Japanese ambassador as further proof of his irresponsible apocalyptic claims. Former ambassador Mitsuhei Murata says full-scale releases from Fukushima “would destroy the world environment and our civilization. This is not rocket science, nor does it connect to the pugilistic debate over nuclear power plants. This is an issue of human survival.” Since when does a mere politician with no nuclear credentials whatsoever serve as factual evidence for anything nuclear?
But, Wasserman is not the only antinuclear prophet to predict potential doom with the unit #4 spent fuel transfer. Helen Caldicott of Australia, another several-decades-long nuclear power basher and exaggeration artist, says that if the phantasmagoric pool collapse caused all the bundles in unit #4 SFP to spill out into a pile, “The cooling water would dissipate, the fuel rods would spontaneously ignite releasing 10 times more cesium than that released at Chernobyl contaminating much of the Northern Hemisphere and more than 50 million Japanese people would need evacuating.” She calls the impending spent fuel transfer a “risky procedure” because the bundles may be so “damaged and twisted that they will not be able to remove them from their racks.” (5)
But, all of the above bombast would probably be for naught if it were not for the Japanese Press. International antinuclear luminaries are given “expert” billing, and Japan’s Press eats it up with a gusto usually reserved for a gourmet feast. One of the most representative examples comes from Japan Times, which says, “There are 1,300 used fuel rod assemblies in a pool above the reactor. They weigh a total of 400 tons, and contain radiation equivalent to 14,000 times the amount released by the Hiroshima atomic bomb. The spent-fuel pool, standing 18 meters above ground, was damaged by the earthquake and tsunami and is in a deteriorating condition. It remains vulnerable to any further shocks, and is also at risk from ground liquefaction.” (6) The articles goes on to say that spent fuel transfer is ordinarily a difficult task (which it isn’t) using computers, but the unit #4 bundle movements must be done manually, “And if something does go wrong, the consequences could be far more severe than any nuclear accident the world has ever seen. If a fuel rod is dropped, breaks or becomes entangled while being removed, possible worst case scenarios include a big explosion, a meltdown in the pool, or a large fire. The Times says any of these situations could lead to massive releases of deadly radionuclides into the atmosphere, putting much of Japan — including Tokyo and Yokohama — and even neighboring countries at serious risk.”
So, where do you think the Times writer got this worst-case scenario from? From foreign prophets of antinuclear doom, of course.
Unfortunately, there are millions of Japanese who have become so terrified by worst-case Fukushima scenarios that all sorts of paranoiac behavior can be expected when Tepco’s unit #4 fuel transfer is imminent. I predict that a constant “vigil” of protesting activists in Tokyo, beginning in early November and lasting throughout the entire fuel transfer process. You can bet the aforementioned apocalyptic prophecies will be broadcast long and hard by the Japanese news media. I also predict that when it’s all over, and nothing of any consequence happens, the Japanese Press will say something like this…”WHEW!! That was a close one!”
1. Wasserman, H.; Humankind’s Most Dangerous Moment: Fukushima Fuel Pool at Unit 4; Global Research; September 20, 2013. http://www.globalresearch.ca/humankinds-most-dangerous-moment-fukushima-fuel-pool-at-unit-4/5350779
2. Wasserman, H; Demand for a Global take-over at Fukushima has Hit Critical Mass; Common Dreams, October 1, 2013. http://portside.org/2013-10-03/demand-global-take-over-fukushima-has-hit-critical-mass
3. NUREG CR-4952 – http://www.osti.gov/scitech/biblio/6135335
4. Japan utility takes out 2 Fukushima nuke fuel rods; http://news.yahoo.com/japan-utility-takes-2-fukushima-nuke-fuel-rods-045923646.html
5. Caldicott, Helen; The Medical Implications of Fukushima; July 10, 2013. http://japansafety.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/the-medical-implications-of-fukushima-helen-caldicott/
6. Government must take over Fukushima nuclear cleanup; Japan Times; August 29, 2013. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2013/08/29/commentary/government-must-take-over-fukushima-nuclear-cleanup/#.UlQqFIHD8dX