Four of six Fukushima nuclear reactor sites were irradiating the Earth, beginning in 2011, and continuing. Fire had burned out of control at Reactor No. 4’s pool of spent nuclear fuel, with six spent fuel pools at risk, all sites too hot to deal with.
“Nuclear Apocalypse in Japan,” by Keith Harmon Snow
As the sun set over quake-stricken Japan on Thursday 17 March 2011, we learned that four of six Fukushima nuclear reactor sites are irradiating the earth, that the fire is burning out of control at Reactor No. 4’s pool of spent nuclear fuel, that there are six spent fuel pools at risk all told, and that the sites are too hot to deal with. On March 16, Plumes of White Vapor began pouring from crippled Reactor No. 3 where the spent fuel pool may already be lost. Over the previous days we were told: nothing to worry about.
By Thursday night, March 17, officials in India and Europe are concerned it may be worse than Chernobyl, and the U.S., Italy and France are evacuating their nationals on specially chartered airplanes. Friday, March 18, the threat level rates six on a seven point international scale of gravity for nuclear accidents.
Humanity now faces a deadly serious challenge coming out of Japan — the epicenter of radiation. Intentional efforts to downplay or dismiss this catastrophe reveal the immaturity of western civilization and some of our most acute human pathologies, including our worship of technology and our psychopathology of denial. The widespread distortion and cover-ups to protect private profits, national and corporate interests, to fool and betray the people, are unacceptable.
The Arrogance of Humanism
“I repeat, there was and will *not* be any significant release of radioactivity from the damaged Japanese reactors,” wrote Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Dr. Joseph Oehmen on March 13. “By ‘significant’ I mean a level of radiation of more than what you would receive on — say — a long distance flight, or drinking a glass of beer that comes from certain areas with high levels of natural background radiation.”
So begins a recent U.S. business sector article titled You Can Stop Worrying About A Radiation Disaster in Japan — Here’s Why, published four days after the earthquake struck in Japan. It has already proved false. Properly understood for what it is — a childish, myopic, arrogant attempt to belittle the truth and influence public opinion — the article provides an apt example of the rampant industry disinformation that is sweeping aside rational and compassionate and precautionary assessments with irrational jingoism, simplistic emotional appeals, and wrong-headed thinking. The post went viral and was republished widely.
Spent Fuel Pools
While the absence of cooling water facilitated the nuclear crises in Japan, most likely some major reactor components (proven unsafe) also failed under the seismic stresses of the 9.0 quake. Key components likely cracked or shattered. The tsunami and huge aftershocks advanced the chaos. These factors were complicated by the loss of offsite electrical power (an electrical BLACKOUT), the failure of emergency diesel generators, and the subsequent loss-of-coolant (water).
Embrittlement of nickel-based superalloys that comprise reactor internals was flagged as a major safety issue as early as the 1960s, yet such problems were bureaucratically dismissed, covered over, buried in paperwork and regulatory studies produced by the NRC (“NUREG” documents), and ignored. Intergranular stress corrosion cracking of BWR core shrouds is another major safety issue in GE designed BWRs built by Hitachi at Fukushima — and core shroud cracking plagues every BWR reactor in the U.S.
We don’t know, however, and for many days we were offered the standard industry refrain: no need to worry, no threat to public health and safety. BWR core shroud cracking (NUREG-1544), reactor pressure vessel cracking (NUREG-1511), embrittled components and aging (NUREG/CR-5939), cooling system failures (NUREG/CR-6087), reactor containment isolation systems failures (NUREG/CR-6339) — all thoroughly documented. Ditto for the Pressurized Water Reactors, a Westinghouse Corporation specialty. PWRs are equally frightening boondogles with cracking steam generators (NUREG/CR-5117).
The redundancy and ever-touted ‘defense-in-depth’ systems failed at Fukushima. All over the U.S. such systems have been routinely disabled to minimize electricity-generating outages, increase output power and maximize corporate profits. There are as many possibilities of failures outside what we have been spoon-fed — the official sequence of events — as there are dead people.
Amongst the most troubling and most deeply underplayed questions of the entire crisis concern the Fukushima Spent Fuel Pools. These basin are packed with tons of irradiated fuel rods that need to be cooled. One of the major postulated accident scenarios involves a Loss-of-Coolant Accident (LOCA) to the reactor core, but a LOCA event can also occur with a spent fuel pool. It has. Fires and explosions in Japan. The Spent Fuel Pools at the six Fukushima reactors are NOT inside primary containment. They are exposed. Burning. About to burn.
Reactors No. 4, 5, and 6 at Fukushima were shutdown when the earthquake struck. After the water drained and the spent fuel became exposed, the pool at reactor No. 4 caught fire, and continues to burn, as of Thursday March 17, releasing massive amounts of radiation into the environment. The status of the other six spent fuel pools at Fukushima is unknown. A courageous U.S. journalist Rachel Maddow explored the spent fuel pool issue with a former government official. The most important, critical point made by Princeton professor Frank Von Hippel occurs at minute 14:19 — where Rachel Maddow talks over him: these are LONG-LIFE RADIONUCLIDES being emitted from the spent fuel pool(s). Isotopes of cesium: Cs-137 has a half-life of 30 years and will be around and hot for decades.
Begins at 10:05 … Interview with nuclear physicist Frank N. von Hippel, Former assistant director for national security in the White House Office of Science and Technology, Rachel Maddow, March 15, 2011
How much disaster are we talking about? The atomic bomb that exploded at Hiroshima created about 2000 curies of radioactivity. The spent fuel pools at Vermont Yankee Nuclear Station (U.S.) are believed to hold about 75 million curies. There are six spent fuel pools at Fukushima, but the numbers of tons of fuel rods in each have not been made public.
The Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) did the math: If Fukushima’s Reactor No. 4 operated for 35 years and produced 30 tons of irradiated fuel per year and each ton is equivalent to 24 times the amount of cesium-137 produced by the Hiroshima bomb, then each fuel pool could contain on the order of 24,000 times the amount of cesium-137 produced by the Hiroshima bomb, if all the produced irradiated fuel remains in the fuel pool.
Nuclear stupidity No. 1: the Fukushima reactor buildings are square (not circular) and had to absorb the force of the tsunami wave straight on. Stupidity No. 2: six reactors clustered too close together. Stupidity No. 3: no shoreline protection against a tsunami. Stupidity No. 4: reactors sited on earthquake faults. Stupidity No. 5: assumptions and calculations proving that the reactor, prior to its construction, could withstand anything that nature threw at it. Stupidity No. 6: it didn’t begin in Japan: the industry, with all its corruptions, false assumptions and technological hubris, was born in secrecy in the United States of America.
Stupidity No. 125: spent fuel pools are packed too tightly, as is well-established by industry documents, for economic reasons, discarding safety concerns. Stupidity No. 458: the Spent Fuel Pools at Fukushima are suspended up high inside the reactor buildings secondary containment — the same buildings whose roofs are blowing off! Are we to believe that the massive explosions that were captured on film, and others that were not, did not damage these elevated time bombs?
How many stupidities do we need to admit before we admit that it can happen in the United States and Europe and Canada too? Imagine those courageous Japanese nuclear workers at Fukushima — sacrificing their lives! — trying to save their families, Japan and the rest of us from our unprecedented stupidity! To read more see: “Nuclear Apocalypse in Japan…”
Keith Harmon Snow is a war correspondent, photographer and independent investigator, and a four time (2003, 2006, 2007, 2010) Project Censored award winner. He is also the 2009 Regent’s Lecturer in Law & Society at the University of California Santa Barbara, recognized for over a decade of work, outside of academia, contesting official narratives on war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide while also working as a genocide investigator for the United Nations and other bodies. The first UCSB Regent’s Lecturer, in 1960, was Aldous Huxley; other recipients include Margaret Mead, Peter Matthiessen and Meredith Monk.
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