EDITORS NOTE: This story has been updated to include information about the new roof structure built over Reactor Unit 4.
More than two years after a massive earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan, the Fukushima power plant sits in ruins, leaking 300 tons of contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean every day. But that’s small potatoes compared to what might happen in November.
In what could be humankind’s most dangerous moment since the Cuban Missile Crisis, TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Co). — the Japanese company that owns the Fukushima power plant — will attempt to remove approximately 1,300 fuel rods from the heavily damaged Reactor Unit 4. Why should you care? Because many experts feel that neither TEPCO nor Japan have the scientific, engineering or financial resources to handle the repair. And you know what happens if they screw up? Nuclear disaster.
So what’s the problem? Essentially, the damaged fuel rods are submerged in a chamber near the top of Reactor Unit 4. The original roof is missing. The chamber is crumpled. The integrity of the entire building and even the fuel rods themselves is dubious at best. The situation needs to be corrected. If it isn’t, another earthquake, tsunami or strong storm could force the pool to collapse, exposing the fuel rods to air and causing them to ignite, which would release ridiculous amounts of radiation into the atmosphere. It would be an unprecedented event.
Thankfully, some important repairs have already taken place, including the construction of a new roof structure over Reactor Unit 4, as well as the instillation of equipment that will aid in the removal and transfer of the spent fuel rods, according to World Nuclear News.
But if TEPCO doesn’t have its shit together, like many people feel they don’t, the rods could touch one another or break during the removal process, exposing the radioactive material to air — the likelihood of which is considered high by some. In that case, sparks fly, things start to blow up and radiation takes to the air like a flock of desperate birds released from a cage. Only these aren’t pigeons; they’re radioactive, cancer-causing, death birds.
Don’t believe us? OK. Here’s what Yale Professor Charles Perrow (who, just to be clear, is a professor of sociology — not nuclear physics) has to say about the matter:
[...] Much more serious is the danger that the spent fuel rod pool at the top of the nuclear plant number four will collapse in a storm or an earthquake, or in a failed attempt to carefully remove each of the 1,535 rods and safely transport them to the common storage pool 50 meters away. Conditions in the unit 4 pool, 100 feet from the ground, are perilous, and if any two of the rods touch it could cause a nuclear reaction that would be uncontrollable. The radiation emitted from all these rods, if they are not continually cool and kept separate, would require the evacuation of surrounding areas including Tokyo. Because of the radiation at the site the 6,375 rods in the common storage pool could not be continuously cooled; they would fission and all of humanity will be threatened, for thousands of years. [...]
The extent of the devastation depends on what, exactly, blows up. If it’s just Reactor Unit 4, then Japan and neighboring countries will be at risk. The Tokyo metropolitan area — home to 35 million people — may even have to be evacuated, according to the Japan Times.
In November, Tepco plans to begin the delicate operation of removing spent fuel from Reactor No. 4 [with] radiation equivalent to 14,000 times the amount released by the Hiroshima atomic bomb. …. It remains vulnerable to any further shocks, and is also at risk from ground liquefaction. Removing its spent fuel, which contains deadly plutonium, is an urgent task…. The consequences could be far more severe than any nuclear accident the world has ever seen. If a fuel rod is dropped, breaks or becomes entangled while being removed, possible worst case scenarios include a big explosion, a meltdown in the pool, or a large fire. Any of these situations could lead to massive releases of deadly radionuclides into the atmosphere, putting much of Japan — including Tokyo and Yokohama — and even neighboring countries at serious risk.
The explosion of Reactor Unit 4 would also be bad news for Americans. Nuclear dust would likely ride wind currents across the Pacific, bringing radiation to the West Coast of the U.S. Americans living there would be forced to remain indoors with their windows closed, according to Truth-Out.org.
But here’s the thing. Fukushima is littered with spent fuel assemblies submerged in unprotected pools. These assemblies are essentially clusters of rods containing spent nuclear fuel that remains highly radioactive. They’re just laying there in big puddles of water. If Reactor Unit 4 blows up during TEPCO’s attempted removal of the spent fuel rods, it’s entirely conceivable the blast could trigger an even larger explosion that engulfs all of Fukushima (including all those fuel assemblies, of which there are 11,000), leading to the release of nuclear contaminants on an unimaginable scale.
How bad would it be? One scientist, who lives in Boston, plans to move her family to the Southern Hemisphere (which is expected to receive much less radiation) if the Fukushima Doomsday scenario were to unfold. The exact implications aren’t clear, but we’re looking at a centuries-long spate of poisonous, nuclear materials, which would prompt mass evacuations throughout the Northern Hemisphere.
And just to be clear, this isn’t a conspiracy theory. Fuel Pool Number 4 has been called the greatest short-term threat to humanity. A U.S. Senator considers Fukushima a national security risk. Nuclear experts have cautioned that the Northern Hemisphere should be evacuated if the fuel pool collapses. Former U.N. adviser Akio Matsumura calls the impending removal of the fuel rods an issue of human survival.
In other words, this is for real.
The heart of the issue now centers on who has the authority, responsibility and skills to safely handle the removal of the fuel rods. Japan has already ceded control of the project to TEPCO, which has thus far proven to be incompetent and irresponsible. Progressive outlets are clamoring for a global takeover of the delicate project, but the mainstream media has failed to adequately cover the story.
So here’s where we’re at: TEPCO is slated to begin removing the spent fuel rods from Reactor Unit 4 in November, people are starting to freak out and nobody is really taking command of the situation.
Will President Obama step up? How about the UN? Maybe Japan will come to its senses, realize the gravity of the situation, fess up to their inability to deal with the task at hand and ask for help. At this point, it’s unclear.
The greatest nuclear disaster in history is quietly unfolding, and the clock continues to tick, tick, tick away.
RYOT NOTE: This story is frightening to say the least, and we need your help getting out there. You can start by sharing the hell out of it on social media — especially Facebook and Twitter. Getting folks informed is always the first step. After that, you can make your voice heard by signing a petition asking Lawmakers in the U.S. to take this situation more seriously by directly addressing the issue. Click on the gray box alongside this story to sign the petition and Become the News!