Fukushima Nuclear– No End in Sight

I’ve been reading the Japanese press, and after almost a year, the Fukushima Nuclear disaster is still in the headlines.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) reports that views from an endoscope inserted into the No.2 reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant show that the plant has achieved a ‘cold shutdown’…

The endoscope captured images of water dripping from above apparently because of condensation, and paint was seen possibly falling off the inner wall of the container in some areas exposed to high temperatures and humidity over the months since the nuclear disaster erupted following the massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11 last year.

The probe was “the first step” to check the condition inside the reactor, Matsumoto said, but added the high humidity and radiation blurred the image.

He also said that confirming the state of the melted fuel, a key step toward decommissioning the crippled reactors, would require further technology development.

The fuel inside the No. 2 reactor, as well as inside the No. 1 and No. 3 reactors, is believed to have melted through the pressure vessels and been accumulating in the outer primary containers after the Fukushima plant lost its key functions to cool the reactors in the wake of the natural disasters.

The damaged reactors are leaking water continually injected as a coolant, but the utility known as TEPCO has said the fuel is stably cooled by a water circulation system installed after the accident.

Radioactivity so intense that engineers will have to create new technology to explore the damage, a temperature of 44.7 C (112.46 F), paint falling off walls, water leaking but contained for now– this is the first of three reactors to be viewed, chosen because disaster relief seemed to ‘go more smoothly’ there. ‘Cold shutdown’ doesn’t convey the hell inside this plant.

Even in countries where nuclear accidents have not occurred, the normal lifespan of a plant and the waste it generates create a problem beyond the scope of governments and societies.

An op-ed by Edan Corkill, staff writer for Japan Times, gives perspective on Finland’s project to deal with their stockpile of nuclear waste. The Finnish government is building a secure site…

Located in Eurajoki on Finland’s west coast, the Onkalo facility consists of a vast network of tunnels more than 400 meters below ground where that country’s nuclear waste will be stored. Construction began in 2004 and will continue in stages until some time in the next century.

Here’s the scale of time we are dealing with…

The earliest known cave paintings date from about 30,000 years ago, and the earliest bone tools found so far predate those paintings by another 40,000 years. Go back 100,000 years, and Homo sapiens — us lot — are only just emerging, though the fossil record suggests our ancestors back then had larger molars and thicker and heavier bones than we do.

How else would they differ from us?

Given a time machine, could we go back and communicate with them? Across such a vast temporal divide, would we be able to convey anything to them at all?

And how about the future? What if we needed to leave a message for people 100,000 years from now?

I wonder how the Finns are dealing with the politics of a hundred-year project to bury the waste from electricity they used decades ago?

And who pays? TEPCO has handed their liability to the Japanese people, with a plan to nationalize the cost…

The business plan is intended to prevent the utility from becoming insolvent due to the massive costs stemming from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant disaster, while making sure that compensation payments related to the accident are made in a timely fashion.

The injection of public funds that would effectively nationalize Tepco is expected to amount to about ¥1 trillion. The company will also try to improve its earnings by raising household electricity charges, possibly in the fall, as well as by reactivating its idled reactors in Niigata Prefecture starting in spring 2013.

TEPCO and the Japanese government have not been able to protect the public from contaminated debris–from the Daily Yomiuri

Contaminated crushed stone pieces taken from a quarry in the government’s expanded evacuation zone following the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant have been used to repair an irrigation channel and a road outside a school in Nihonmatsu City, Fukushima Prefecture.

The discovery was made after authorities began tracking down the whereabouts of 5,280 tons of the material that was quarried from Namie Town, in the same prefecture, after the stones were used in the construction of a condominium building in Nihonmatsu City, which was later found to contain high levels of radiation. The material is proving difficult to track because it has been sold to more than 100 construction companies throughout the prefecture.

Radioactivity is showing up in women’s breast milk…

Many mothers have expressed concerns about breast-feeding their babies amid fears that their milk may be contaminated by radioactive materials released into the air and sea by the Fukushima plant since it was crippled by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

About 18,000 babies are born each year in Fukushima Prefecture. The officials estimate that about 10,000 mothers breast-feed their babies.

The prefecture will also begin sending questionnaires in mid-January to expecting and breast-feeding mothers to get a better grasp of their mental and physical health, the officials said.

In a survey conducted in May and June by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, traces of radioactive cesium were detected in the breast milk of seven of 21 women from Fukushima. Government officials and experts have said the minute amounts posed no health risks to babies.

Good thing there’s no health risk, because there’s nothing these women could do about it if there were.

Here in the US, our Northwest coast is bracing for a vast pile of debris, traveling on ocean currents across the Pacific to Alaska…

“After the overwhelming devastation in Japan, it is distressing to see reminders of it washing up on our shores,” said Merrick Burden, the [Marine Conservation Alliance] foundation’s executive director. “Although we’re planning cleanups for next summer, if a massive onslaught of tsunami debris hits, it will overwhelm our resources.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is downplaying concerns that some debris may contain radiation. “By the time the (Fukushima) radioactive water leak developed, the debris was already in the ocean, miles from the reactor and moving farther offshore.”

A previously unknown disease or poison is affecting Alaskan wildlife…

Scientists in Alaska are investigating whether local seals are being sickened by radiation from Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant.

Scores of ring seals have washed up on Alaska’s Arctic coastline since July, suffering or killed by a mysterious disease marked by bleeding lesions on the hind flippers, irritated skin around the nose and eyes and patchy hair loss on the animals’ fur coats.

That the ocean dilutes radioactivity doesn’t rule out the possibility of concentrated hot spots…

Experts hesitate to predict where the radiation will go. Once radioactive elements that can harm health are released into the outdoors, their travel patterns are as mercurial as the weather and as complicated as the food chains and biochemical pathways along which they move.

It’s likely that the seals are suffering from a previously unknown bacteria or virus, but it makes sense to check for radioactivity. After Chernobyl, contamination showed up in milk, drunk by children who later suffered a high rate of thyroid cancer.

I wouldn’t have expected that the Japanese, with an educated population and high awareness of crisis would have allowed radioactive concrete to be used in building schools, apartments and irrigation ditches.

But that seems to be a given of human nature. We’re smart, but we’re good at not seeing what we don’t want to see. We evolved to deal with life in the short term– not to sacrifice for children of the next millenium.

We have a nasty 20th Century nuclear mess to clean up. We’re already feeling the pain. We have an energy crisis with no easy answers, but nuclear is not the way.

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2 responses

  1. Thanks for updating us on Fukushima by looking at the Japanese press since there is precious little about it in the projo and the American public only hears from the nothing-can-go-wrong folks at BP, the “people of the oil and gas industry” and such, no doubt the cruise industry will soon be telling us that in the future their ships are unsinkable. Meanwhile, the victims cannot afford to advertise.
    I wouldn’t put my money into building a nuclear power plant, but neither does the “market” want to do this unless they can be assured of a bailout when needed.

    1. Thanks. I have been checking Japan Times, Daily Yoriumi and Mainichi– you get much more info than if you use Google News search.
      I would love to see a balance sheet for the real cost of nuclear power when you factor in the waste disposal and environmental and health effects.
      So much we don’t know the real cost of– oil, electricity, meat, cheap sneakers, etc.

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