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Tuesday, 12 April 2011

“Fukushima mon amour”. Fukushima Dai-Ichi now categorized a class 7 incident. But what does happen in the meantime?

It is now exactly one month ago that the events concerning Fukushima Dai-Ichi started to happen. As it is already such a long time ago, the Fukushima incident slowly vanished from our retinas, as this always happens with disasters. But in this case that is a mistake, in my opinion.

Today it was on the news that the Fukushima nuclear incident was scaled up from a class 5 nuclear incident to a class 7 incident. In comparison: also Chernobyl –  that happened on 26 April 1986 – was a class 7 nuclear incident

But the Japanese nuclear authorities stated in a “reassuring” speech: the amounts of released radiation and radioactive materials blasted in the sky at Fukushima I were only 10% of the amounts that were released during the events at Chernobyl .

·     There have been a number of massive explosions in the Fukushima reactors, spreading radioactive steam and materials into the air
·     There have been multiple partial meltdowns in reactor 1, 2 and 3
·     Reactor 3 was a mixed oxide reactor with fuel rods containing the highly radioactive and toxic plutonium
·     Reactor 4 was used as a storage room for used-up, and therefore extremely radioactive fuel rods. The water levels in the special "swimming pools" used for storage, have become dangerously low on a number of occasions, exposing the radiation of these fuel-rods.
·     “low-intensity” radioactive water has been pumped into the sea, to make room for highly radioactive water coming from a leak in reactor two.
·     There is still continuing leakage of radioactivity up to this day (albeit less than in the first two weeks of the events)
·     There is still no final solution to mitigate the nuclear problems in Fukushima. The people of Tepco and the Japanese nuclear authority still seem ‘clueless’, if you follow their numerous aimless attempts to solve the problem:
o    Repairing the reactor’s cooling installations: not succesful
o    Containing the reactors by encapsulating them with concrete or sand: not succesful
o    Cooling the reactors with seawater and boric acid from fire extinguishing choppers: not succesful
o    Cooling the reactors with water and boric acid from fire engines: partially succesful
o    Cooling the reactors with fluid nitrogen: probably not succesful and at best a very temporary solution, as there is not an unlimited supply of liquid nitrogen and there IS an almost unlimited supply of heat stored in the (used-up) fuel rods.

The main difference between Chernobyl and Fukushima is that the authorities in the Ukrain immediately understood the seriousness of the incident and started to clean up the mess almost instantaneously. There was no question of repairing the reactor: Chernobyl reactor-4 had a total and definitive meltdown and needed to be covered up asap. That they initially kept their mouth shut towards the western countries and that they were too late with evacuating the people in the Pripyat region doesn’t change that.

The bravery of the Ukrainian workers in those days prevented a much bigger disaster. The fire extinguishers and construction workers extinguished the fire in less than 10 days and covered the whole reactor with a concrete sarcophagus in less than 8 months.That was a helluva job if you look at the working conditions that the workers were subject too.

Talking about being brave: I adore the bravery, dedication and self-sacrifice of the Japanese workers that are busy on Fukushima Dai-Ichi and I hope (against knowing better) that everyone of them survives the ordeal. But sometimes it seems to me that the management of Tepco thinks that they are still able to reuse the nuclear complex somewhere in the near future: for instance when the cooling installations are restored. 

As if this would be possible after the damage done by the multiple earthquakes, the tsunami and the multiple meltdowns. In my heart I know that such an apparent amount of ignorance cannot be true, but that is what the management of Tepco seems to broadcast. This indecisiveness (‘should we stay or should we go’) clouds the vision of the Japanese decisionmakers.

And what – for god’s sake –  was the point of declaring the Fukushima Dai-Ichi incident a class 7-incident today? Why should I care? Was it because the management of Tepco and the Japanese government don’t want to be accused in the future of “sweeping the truth under the carpet”? To cover their behinds?

To be rudely direct (as I am Dutch, y’know), I sometimes think that decisions on the future of Fukushima Dai-Ichi were taken more to prevent loss-of-face for the Tepco management and Japanese government, than to solve the Fukushima problem in a decisive and definitive manner. If this is indeed the case, it will be a question of weeks or months until Chernoby is surpassed in damage done. Because nothing decisive has happened yet with Fukushima I and nothing decisive will happen in the coming months. And the pollution as a result of radiation will go on and on and on.

But by that time nobody will think of Fukushima anymore, as the next worldwide event is probably already on our retinas.

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