Japan’s nuclear crisis on Monday is now more serious than ever before.
This is Alex Smith, host of the weekly program Radio Ecoshock, with Japan Atomic Emergency Bulletin #3, at noon Pacific Time, Monday March 14.
As you know from spectacular news footage, the outer containment shell of Reactor #3 at the Fukushima Daiichi plant exploded on Monday Japan time, Sunday in Europe and North
America. This is the second explosion at the site, after Reactor #1 also suffered a hydrogen gas explosion the day before.
The second explosion was even more violent, with an orange fireball not seen in the first. It is a strain to imagine that nothing on the inner shell of the reactor was damaged, as the Japanese government continues to claim. The shell may not have been punctured, even though heavy pieces of concrete can be seen raining down, but it seems likely surrounding cooling tubes, outside pressure valves, and connecting wiring must have been damaged by such a powerful blast.
The government denied any significant radiation escaped, beyond the purposeful venting of radioactive gas they allowed for days, trying to reduce pressure building inside the out-of-control reactor #3.
While Tepco reactor workers were busy dealing with that problem, reliable news sources say in the confusion – the company failed to notice that water was dropping in Reactor #2 next door. Then a simple failure occurred: a fire truck that was being used ad hoc to assist pumping sea water into that reactor ran out of fuel. There is a shortage of fuel in the area.
Apparenly unknown to the company, BBC top correspondent Richard Black is reporting the fuel rods in the reactor were mainly, if not completely exposed to the air, for an unknown period of time, without any cooling at all. That, Black says, was confirmed by a local government official.
That makes a real meltdown very possible. The fuel rods will have melted. It is possible extremely radioactive material has breached through the bottom of the reactor vessel. We don’t know, and more worryingly, the reactor owners don’t know.
Cooling water, seawater, has been restored to that reactor, again using fire engines, but there are fires in the power station’s main turbine hall.
In this situation, it might be better, one expert says, for the reactor to melt-down into the ground, rather than exploding, which would spray the very worst radioactive materials into the surrounding area, and possible into the upper atmosphere.
The situation in Fukushima Reactor Number 2 is now well-beyond the Three Mile Island accident in the United States. And the situation on the ground is one of desperate measures.
Fire engines and sea water are not recognized technology to manage nuclear reactors. It is panic, and all nations should be concerned.
Despite Japanese government repeated assurances that radiation releases either do not occur, or are very minor, the U.S. Navy was forced to move the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Regan, and it’s support ships, further out to sea. This follows radiation being found on 17 crewmen, as reported by VOA news. The ships are now 160 kilometers offshore. It is not clear how far out to sea they were when the radiation reached the crew, but this definitely shows radiation is being blown West into the Pacific.
In part due to the nuclear situation, France advised it’s citizens to leave Tokyo, according to the Financial Times.
As always, everyone reports the levels are low, practically harmless, but there is no safe level of radiation. Governments have a long history of withholding the truth about atomic events and risks.
The only good news is that for every day a major release of radiation is avoided, the reactor cores cool a bit more, making the chances of a world-damaging accident a bit less.
However, the fact that another reactor buidling exploded, and a reactor core next door was exposed for an unknown length of time, four days after the initial earthquake, shows this nuclear accident is still unfolding, and out of control.
Cooling problems continue at two more nuclear plants in Japan, with little news coming out about them. The International Atomic Energy Agency reported a state of emergency was declared Sunday at the Onagawa nuclear power plant. Radiation beyond the legal limits is escaping from that plant, which also has cooling problems. We don’t have anywhere near enough details and reporting from there. The government is doing a poor job of informing the public.
At least four different reactor complexes were damaged by the earthquake and/or the following tsunami.
And we still have no government reporting on the dangerous nuclear waste holding facilities, which also require power and cooling. In fact, in the panic state general in Japan, with a full-scale rescue effort for all the quake victims, there has been no comprehensive public report about this nuclear disaster at all.
I have to conclude that the authorities simply do not know what is going on, and apply band-aid solutions, such as fire-trucks as pumping stations, running from reactor to reactor while things blow up and/or melt down.
This is a night-mare scenario for a nuclear industry which claimed to be the best in the world, in a country which has already known the direct impact of radiation sickness and long-term nuclear suffering.
The developing nuclear disaster was an important factor in the sudden decline of Japanese stocks when the markets opened on Monday there. The market fell at least 6 percent.
Obviously, the owners of the most crippled Japanese nuclear plants were the most hard hit. Tokyo Electric Power dropped 24 percent, almost one quarter of it’s total value. The stock had been widely held by pension funds.
Other companys with nuclear power customers also lost heavily. These include Hitachi, down 16 percent, Toshiba, also 16 percent, Japan Steel down 19 percent, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, down 10 percent.
All the major Japanese car makers lost value, as their plants are closed, in part due to lack of power, now that only a small fraction of the country’s 54 nuclear plants are running, and due to possible earthquake damage to their buildings.
Insurance company stocks are also down.
RETHINKING NUCLEAR POWER
Governments around the world are re-assessing their commitment to nuclear power. France has ordered a safety review of all plants. Germany may have to reverse its recent approval of keeping 10 old plants running longer. In the United States, Senator Lieberman says the U.S. should “put the brakes on” the industry, with a review of safety.
In my opinion, nuclear plants near the sea, as well as any near seismic faults, should be shut down and decommissioned. Ironically, some newer nuclear reactors were built by the sea in part because climate change has made river water cooling less reliable. Heat and drought can make rivers less able to provide the massive amounts of cooling water required.
Even if there is water, the added heat from the plants can be too much for the local ecology to bear during a heat wave.
That heat wave in Europe during 2003 was just such a case. According to Reuters, Electricity de France had to close or reduce power at almost 50 percent of it’s 19 nuclear plants, due to operating temperature limits on waters going back into French rivers.
But sea-side nuclear plants are going to be more vulnerable to storm surges, as warming oceans and melting glaciers lead to rising seas. I’ve seen scientific predictions ranging up to one foot of sea level rise by 2050, within the operating lifetimes of nuclear reactors built by the ocean.
In the Japanese reactor mess, we’ve seen what happens when salt water washes over reactor sites. Backup systems go down, the plant becomes inoperable, and extreme danger threatens the surrounding area, the sea, and the atmosphere.
That is just part of the bitter price of nuclear power. Let me make my own opinion clear. If we lived in a stable world, with a sane society, nuclear power might make sense. But that is to speak of another planet, one that does not have tectonic plates that suddenly shift whole islands 8 feet to the East. And a planet without climate change.
Plus a different species – one that does not continually approve aging reactors, one that does not find corruption and mistakes in construction and operation, a species that would never fly a jet airplane into a reactor, nor bomb one. A more perfect species on a different planet might do fine with nuclear power.
But not we humans, here on Earth.
It is time to end nuclear power, for our safety, and that of all coming generations.
I’m Alex Smith
Find our weekly broadcast at http://www.ecoshock.org