Photo Creative Commons by kawamoto takuo - Flickr User Hige2
Japan Asks for Fukushima Help as its 14,000 Hiroshimas Still Hang 100 Feet in the Air By Harvey Wasserman As petitions ( and YouTubes ( ) calling for a global takeover at Fukushima soar past the 100,000 mark, Japan’s pro-nuclear Prime Minister Shinzō Abe has finally asked for international aid. The request comes more than 30 months after the 3/11/2011 earthquake/tsunami led to three melt-downs and at least four explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi site. The Prime Minister asks help controlling the massive quantities of heavily contaminated water pouring through the stricken site into the Pacific Ocean. Hundreds of huge, flimsy tanks are also leaking untold tons of highly radioactive fluids. “Our country needs your knowledge and expertise,” he has said to the world community. “We are wide open to receive the most advanced knowledge from overseas to contain the problem.” ( ). But the Prime Minister ignores the most serious threat of all: more than 1300 fuel rods, with more than 400 tons of extremely radioactive material, stranded 100 feet in the air at Unit #4. “I am aware of three US companies with state of the art technology that have been to Japan repeatedly and have been rebuffed by the Japanese government,” says Arnie Gundersen, a Vermont-based nuclear engineer focused on Fukushima. “I have spoken with six Japanese medical doctors who have said that they were told not to discuss radiation induced medical issues with their patients. None will speak out to the press. “Three American University professors...were afraid to sign the UN petition to Ban Ki-Moon because it would endanger their Japanese colleagues who they are doing research with.” “If you calculate the amount of cesium 137 in the pool,” (at Unit #4) “the amount is equivalent to 14,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs,” says Hiroaki Koide, assistant professor at the Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute ( ). Fukushima Daiichi is less than 200 miles from Tokyo. Prevailing winds generally blow out to sea---directly towards the United States, where Fukushima’s fallout was measured less than a week after the initial disaster. But radioactive hot spots have already been found in Tokyo. A worst-case Fukushima cloud would eventually render much if not all of Japan permanently uninhabitable. What it could do to the Pacific Ocean and the rest of us downwind approaches the unthinkable. The fuel assemblies at Unit #4 were removed for routine maintenance just prior to the earthquake/tsunami. A recently released document from the International Atomic Energy Agency indicates they were at least briefly exposed to the open air, and did catch fire, causing significant radiation releases. ( ). In desperation, corrosive sea water was dumped into the pool. The zirconium alloy that clads the rods is certain to catch fire if exposed (again) to air. Since none of the six reactors at Fukushima Daiichi has a containment over the fuel pools, radiation pours directly into the atmosphere. Some two dozen virtually identical GE-designed reactors are licensed in the US. Dozens more of similar design operate here and around the world. The Unit #4 structure was damaged in the quake, and by an explosion possibly caused by hydrogen leaking in from Unit #3. It shows signs of buckling. And it’s sinking into soil that has been saturated with water flowing down from the mountains and from attempts to cool the cores missing from Units #1, #2 and #3. Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) and the Japanese government have said they will try to bring down the Unit #4 fuel rods in November. With cranes operated by computers, the operation should normally take about 100 days. But Tepco originally said it would take two years. They’ve now compacted the proposed schedule to a year, presumably to beat the next earthquake. But the pool may be damaged. There’s loose debris and salt water corrosion. The rods and assemblies may be warped. Gundersen says they’re embrittled and may be crumbling. Should just one rod fall or ignite, radiation levels at the site could well force all humans to leave. Critical electronic equipment could be rendered unworkable. We might then just stand helpless as the fires rage. ( ) Some 6,000 additional rods now sit in a common storage pool just 50 meters away. Overall some 11,000 rods are scattered around the site. ( ) Vital as it is, bringing Unit #4’s rods safely down is a just a small step toward coping with Fukushima’s radioactive threat. Gundersen long ago advised the Japanese to dig a trench filled with zeolite to protect the site from the onrush of water flowing down from the mountains. He was told there was not enough money available to do the job. Now Abe wants an “ice wall” to run a mile around the site. No such wall that size has ever been built, and this one could not be in place for at least two years. Gundersen and 16 other experts have filed a list of suggestions with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, but have yet to receive an official response. ( ) Prime Minister Abe’s request for global help with Fukushima’s water crisis may be a welcome start. But the fuel rods at Unit #4 embody our Earth’s most serious immediate crisis. The team in charge must embody all the best minds our species can muster, along with every ounce of resource we can bring to bear. The whole world must be watching as this operation begins.