After ousting the flawed and untrustworthy leadership of Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) the Japanese government is moving forward with plans to relocate 400 tons of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel this November 2013. The press and commentators everywhere are referring to the effort as “alarming,” “risky,” “unprecedented,” and “the most dangerous situation humanity has ever had to face.”
TEPCOs Negligence & the Government Takeover
Some say the Fukushima nuclear power plant was already too hot to handle on March 11, 2011 when an earthquake caused a tsunami, killing nearly 16,000 people and causing irreversible damage to the plant. The nuclear power plant released enough radiation into the environment that officials evacuated all towns within 22km and, after more than two years, there’s still no return in sight.
Since the event we’ve heard news of a 300+ ton “leakage” of highly irradiated water; a potentially lethal power outage resulting from a rat that tripped a wire; and an employee that accidentally deactivated power to nuclear cooling systems, a mistake that could have led to a nuclear meltdown.
Hence, TEPCO’s now established reputation for incompetence and the justification behind the recent government takeover.
Yet, even the government is under harsh criticism. The New York Times reports,
“Critics complain that the government-run committee that has overseen Tepco’s cleanup is loaded with nuclear industry insiders and overseen by the trade minister, Toshimitsu Motegi, whose ministry is in charge of promoting nuclear power. They[critics] say Japan may be able to come up with better, more sustainable plans if it opens the process to outsiders like Japanese nonnuclear companies and foreigners.”
Relocating Nuclear Waste
The plant currently stores 400 tons of radioactive spent fuel, but the facility is unstable. Experts and officials believe that another earthquake could collapse the reactors causing explosions, unstoppable nuclear fires and sending radiation into the atmosphere 14,000 times greater than the atomic bomb which once devastated Hiroshima.
The result of that would threaten humanity for thousands of years.
So as you can see, the removal of these rods is of huge importance for safety and the prevention of another nuclear catastrophe.
The process to carefully remove and relocate used fuel rod assemblies from a crippled reactor has begun. With fuel assemblies no longer neatly aligned, their locations inexact and their racks possibly mis-shapen, the process must now be done manually.
TEPCO technicians must pluck more than 1,500 brittle and potentially damaged fuel assemblies from the unstable reactor, and the risk for dropping, breaking or coming too close to another is dangerously high.
The rod-transfer operation from Unit 4, which is the most unstable part of the plant, is scheduled for completion by the end of 2014 but some experts say it could potentially last a decade.
Reprocessing Nuclear Waste
A further though not peripheral concern has arisen as the Japanese plan not simply to store the nuclear materials, but “reprocess” them. They don’t currently have a clean method of disposal or any long term plan for containment. Critics assert that reprocessing is an extremely high cost avoidance of developing new policy.
Another reason for reprocessing is typically to obtain the small amount of plutonium resident in each assembly, which is less than 1% of the entire material.
Plutonium extraction tends to indicate the development of nuclear warfare.
These efforts are raising questions about Japan’s commitment to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and may be seen as a head-nod to nations like South Korea, interested in extracting plutonium to build weapons.
This is a scary scenario that has the potential to play out into a global catastrophe.
Media has chosen to be silent about the the various aspects of this dire situation so it’s important to share this information and spread awareness.
The world must come together, gather the brightest minds to solve this mess and make sure it never happens again.