Fukushima Takes a Turn for the Worse
By Robert Hunziker
Tokyo Electric Power Company-TEPCO- has been attempting to decommission three nuclear meltdowns in reactors No. 1 No. 2, and No. 3 for 11 years now. Over time, impossible issues grow and glow, putting one assertion after another into the anti-nuke coffers.
The problems, issues, enormous danger, and ill timing of deconstruction of a nuclear disaster is always unexpectedly complicated by something new. That’s the nature of nuclear meltdowns, aka: China Syndrome debacles.
As of today, TEPCO is suffering some very serious setbacks that have “impossible to deal with” written all over the issues.
Making all matters nuclear even worse, which applies to the current mess at Fukushima’s highly toxic scenario, Gordon Edwards’ following statement becomes more and more embedded in nuclear lore: “It’s impossible to dispose of nuclear waste.” (Gordon Edwards in The Age of Nuclear Waste From Fukushima to Indian Point)
Disposing of nuclear waste is like “running in place” to complete a marathon. There’s no end in sight.
As a quickie aside from the horrendous details of the current TEPCO debacle, news from Europe brings forth the issue of nuclear power emboldened as somehow suitable to help the EU transition to “cleaner power,” as described by EU sources. France supports the crazed nuke proposal but Germany is holding its nose. According to German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke: “Nuclear energy could lead to environmental disasters and large amounts of nuclear waste. (Source: EU Plans to Label Gas and Nuclear Energy ‘Green’ Prompts Row, BBC News, Jan. 2, 2022) Duh!
Minister Lemke nailed it. And, TEPCO is living proof (barely) of the unthinkable becoming thinkable and disastrous for humanity. Of course, meltdowns are never supposed to happen, but they do.
One meltdown is like thousands of industrial accidents in succession over generations of lifetimes. What a mess to leave for children’s children’s children over several generations. They’ll hate you for this!
In Fukushima’s case, regarding three nuclear power plants that melted all-the-way (China Syndrome), TEPCO still does not know how to handle the enormously radioactive nuclear fuel debris, or corium, sizzling hot radioactive lumps of melted fuel rods and container material in No. 1, No 2 and No.3, They’re not even 100% sure where all of the corium is and whether it’s getting into underground water resources. What a disaster that would be… what if it is already… Never mind.
The newest wrinkle at TEPCO involves the continuous flow of water necessary to keep the destroyed reactors’ hot stuff from exposure to air, thus spreading explosively red-hot radioactivity across the countryside. That constant flow of water is an absolute necessity to prevent an explosion of all explosions, likely emptying the streets of Tokyo in a mass of screaming, kicking, and trampling event to “get out of town” ASAP, commonly known as “mass evacuation.”
The cooling water continuously poured over the creakily dilapidated ruins itself turns radioactive, almost instantaneously, and must be processed via an Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) to remove most radioactive materials (???) housed in a 17-meter (56 feet) tall building on the grounds of the disaster zone.
Here’s the new big danger, as it processes radioactive contaminated water, it flushes out “slurry” of highly concentrated radioactive material that has to go somewhere. But where to put it?
How to handle and dispose of the radioactive slurry from the ALPS is almost, and in fact may be, an impossible quagmire. It’s a big one as the storage containers for the tainted slurry quickly degrade because of the high concentration of radioactive slurry. These storage containers of highly radioactive slurry, in turn, have to be constantly replaced as the radioactivity slurry eats away at the containers’ liners.
Radioactive slurry is muddy and resembles a shampoo in appearance, and it contains highly radioactive Strontium readings that reach tens of millions of Becquerel’s per cubic centimeter. Whereas, according to the EPA, 148 Becquerel’s per cubic meter, not centimeter, is the safe level for human exposure. Thus, tens of millions per cubic centimeter is “off the charts” dangerous! Instant death, as one cubic meter equals one million cubic centimeters. Ahem!
Since March 2013, TEPCO has accumulated 3,373 special vessels that hold these highly toxic radioactive slurry concentrations. But, because the integrity of the vessels deteriorates so quickly, the durability of the containers reaches a limit, meaning the vessels will need replacement by mid-2025.
Making matters ever worse, if that is possible, the NRA has actually accused TEPCO of “underestimating the impact issue of the radioactivity on the containers linings,” claiming TEPCO improperly measured the slurry density when conducting dose evaluations. Whereas, the density level is always highest at the bottom, not the top where TEPCO did the evaluations, thus failing to measure and report the most radioactive of the slurry. Not a small error.
As of June 2021, NRA’s own assessment of the containers concluded that 31 radioactive super hot containers had already reached the end of operating life. And, another 56 would need replacement within the next 2 years.
Transferring slurry is a time-consuming highly dangerous horrific job, which exposes yet a second issue of unacceptable risks of radioactive substances released into the air during transfer of slurry. TEPCO expects to open and close the transfers remotely (no surprise there). But, TEPCO, as of January 2, 2022, has not yet revealed acceptable plans for dealing with the necessary transfer of slurry from weakening, almost deteriorated containers, into fresh, new containers. (Source: TEPCO Slow to Respond to Growing Crisis at Fukushima Plant, The Asahi Shimbun, January 2, 2022)
Meanwhile, additional batches of a massive succession of containers that must be transferred to new containers will be reaching the end of shelf life, shortly.
Another nightmarish problem has surfaced for TEPCO. Yes, another one. In the aftermath of the 2011 blowup, TEPCO stored radioactive water in underground spaces below two buildings near reactor No.4. Bags of a mineral known as zeolite were placed to absorb cesium. Twenty-six tons (52,000 lbs.) of bags are still immersed with radiation readings of 4 Sieverts per hour, enough to kill half of all workers in the immediate vicinity within one hour. The bags need to be removed.
TEPCO intends to robotically start removing the highly radioactive bags, starting in 2023, but does not know where the bags should be stored. Where do you store radioactive bags containing enough radioactive power to kill someone within one hour of exposure?
Additionally (there’s more) the amount of radioactive rubble, soil, and felled trees at the plant site totals 480,000 cubic meters, as of 2021. TEPCO is setting up a special incinerator to dispose of this. Where to dispose of the incinerated waste is unknown. This is one more add-on to the horrors of what to do with radioactive material that stays hot for centuries upon centuries. Where to put it?
Where to put it? Which is the bane of the nuclear power industry. For example, America’s nuke plants are full of huge open pools of water containing tons of spent nuclear fuel rods. If exposed to open air, spent fuel rods erupt into a sizzling zirconium fire followed by massive radiation bursts of the most toxic material known to humanity. It can upend an entire countryside and force evacuation of major cities.
According to the widely recognized nuclear expert Paul Blanch: “Continual storage in spent fuel pools is the most unsafe thing you could do.” (see- Nuclear Fuel Buried 108 Feet from the Sea, March 19, 2021)
It’s not just Fukushima that rattles the nerves of people who understand the high-risk game of nuclear power. America is loaded with nuclear power plants with open pools of water that hold highly radioactive spent fuel rods.
What to do with it?
Based in Los Angeles, Robert Hunziker is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and published in over 50 journals, magazines and sites worldwide.
Robert Hunziker can be reached at [email protected].
This article was originally published on January 10, 2022 © Counterpunch