Fukushima: Year Three

fukWe delayed our annual assessment of the aftermath of the  meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex for a few weeks this year, hoping we might have some good news to report.

But the news from Japan keeps getting worse.

Last year in this space we reported on frenzied efforts by Fukushima operator Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) to keep tons of highly radioactive wastewater–sprayed daily over the melted reactor cores to stop them from overheating–out of the Pacific Ocean. TEPCO built more than 1,000 temporary storage tanks on the acres surrounding the crippled reactors. Many of these tanks–and the entire makeshift cooling system–began leaking soon after they were installed.

Last month–after two years of denials that its long-term cleanup plan involves dumping highly radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean–TEPCO quietly announced it has begun dumping tons of radioactive water into the ocean. TEPCO insists the stuff going into the Pacific has been treated so it’s within legal radiation safety limits. If the fish in local waters could talk–which they can’t, possibly because they’re all dead–they might point out that the wastewater release coincided with yet another breakdown of the water treatment system at Fukushima.

The 120 tons per day of radioactive wastewater TEPCO has thus far admitted it’s funneling into the Pacific are supposed to be treated in an onsite facility known as the Advanced Liquid Processing System, designed to remove the most dangerous nuclides. Unfortunately, the system has not been fully operational since it was installed two years ago; this week, it shut down completely. But–and this is considered a major development in Japan–TEPCO’s manager finally has admitted the repeated leaks and equipment malfunctions at Fukushima are “embarrassing.”

Local fisheries unions made what they called a “painful decision” to drop their two-year opposition to the wastewater release in the hope that it might speed the day when fishing will again be permitted in the area. Sure, if you measure days in half-lives of Cesium-134 and Cesium-137.

Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper, meanwhile, revealed this week that TEPCO’s actions in the days after the Fukushima complex was wrecked by a massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 also were worse than previously reported. Asahi Shimbun reports that 90 percent of the workers at the complex defied orders and ran away when the first explosion rocked Fukushima after the cooling and backup power systems failed. This nugget was contained in unreleased transcripts of interviews with the 2011 manager at Fukushima, Masao Yoshida, who did not run away and died of radiation-induced cancer last year.

Finally, comes a report in today’s New York Times which reveals that nuclear experts at the Los Alamos National Lab have been enlisted to adapt technology designed to deter nuclear terrorism into a device that can map the insides of the crippled reactors at Fukushima.

The U.S. Department of Energy currently has a scanner that can detect particles of uranium or plutonium in a shipping container. It takes about 45 seconds to scan a single container. According to the Times report, Toshiba and Los Alamos are teaming up to expand this capability into a unit that can produce 3D-imaging maps of all of the damaged reactor cores at Fukushima. They’ll use a 21st-century version of a technology that originally was deployed to peer inside the Great Pyramid at Giza in 1960.

And why do the damaged reactor cores at Fukushima need to be mapped, you ask?

That’s because it’s been impossible for anyone or anything to go inside what’s left of the Fukushima containment buildings since the disaster and inspect the shattered remains of the reactor cores (the steel-and-concrete walls are too thick to X-ray). After three reactors exploded at Fukushima, twisted masses of hundreds of tons of highly radioactive uranium, plutonium, cesium and strontium re-solidified into a kaleidescope of shapes which wrapped themselves into every nook and cranny of the structural parts of the reactors and their containment buildings.

So more than three years after the world’s worst Level 7 nuclear event, TEPCO’s intrepid managers are admitting they don’t even know how big the mess is. The world would be a safer place if these guys were locked inside the Great Pyramid at Giza.