by Akio Matsumura
The highly radioactive spent fuel assemblies at the Fukushima-Daiichi power plants present a clear threat to the people of Japan and the world. Reactor 4 and the nearby common spent fuel pool contain over 11,000 highly radioactive spent fuel assemblies, many of which are exposed to the open air. The cesium-137, the radioactive component contained in these assemblies, present at the site is 85 times larger than the amount released during the Chernobyl accident. Another magnitude 7.0 earthquake would jar them from their pool or stop the cooling water, which would lead to a nuclear fire and meltdown. The nuclear disaster that would result is beyond anything science has ever seen. Calling it a global catastrophe is no exaggeration.
If political leaders understand the situation and the potential catastrophe, I find it difficult to understand why they remain silent.
The following leaves little to question:
- Many scientists believe that it will be impossible to remove the 1,535 fuel assemblies in the pool of Reactor 4 within two or three years.
- Japanese scientists give a greater than 90 percent probability that an earthquake of at least 7.0 magnitude will occur in the next three years in the close vicinity of Fukushia-Daiichi.
- The crippled building of Reactor 4 will not stand through another strong earthquake.
- Japan and the TEPCO do not have adequate nuclear technology and experience to handle a disaster of such proportions alone.
Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon wrote a letter to Japan’s Ambassador to the United States, Mr. Ichiro Fujisaki, on April 16, 2012, discussing his fact-finding trip to the Fukushima Daiichi site.
Senator Wyden, senior member of the United States Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, mentioned that “the scope of damage to the plants and to the surrounding area was far beyond what [he] expected and the scope of the challenge to the utility owner, the government of Japan, and to the people of the region are daunting.” He also mentioned that “TEPCO’s December 21, 2011 remediation roadmap proposes to take up to ten years to complete spent fuel removal from all of the pools on the site. Given the compromised nature of these structures due to the events of March 11, their schedule carries extraordinary and continuing risk if further severe seismic events were to occur.”
Many of us echo Senator Wyden’s concerns.
Has the government of Japan and other world leaders considered the facts above that would lead to a global catastrophe, and do they have a clear strategy to prevent this worst case scenario? Are there any means to shorten the period for the completion of removal spent fuel from all of the pools, in particular of Reactor 4, within two years or so? Are we able to trust such extraordinary tasks to TEPCO and the private sector?
I believe that the government of Japan should lead the way and embrace all means at its disposal in order to prevent a disaster that would affect our dozens of generations of our descendants. In this context, I cannot help but consider the role of the military in addition to the international technical support team. They possess the technological and logistical capacity that a company such as TEPCO does not.
Deploying the Japanese self defense force (military) inside the country’s borders would be an incredibly controversial political decision, but the political fallout for the government from this step would pale in comparison to having such an immense global catastrophe occur on its watch.
For this reason, I flew to Japan from New York in April to convey my concerns to Japanese political leaders. Ambassador Mitsuhei Murata and I met with Mr. Fujimura, Chief Cabinet Secretary, who assured us he would convey our message to Prime Minister Noda before his departure for Washington to meet with President Obama on April 30. Both leaders might have discussed the Fukushima nuclear accident issue at their private meeting, but the idea for an independent assessment team and international help for the disaster were not mentioned publicly. I am old enough to understand the politics of the matter, but I cannot accept them. It will be an irreversible mistake that affects our population for thousands of years if they do not take action now.
If this catastrophe occurred, regardless of policy and politics, all 440 nuclear power plants throughout the world would be forced to shut down, yet our descendants no matter what will have to carry the risk of radioactive materials in the nuclear waste repository for 100,000 to 200,000 years.
This is a long amount of time to conceive of, so let me put it in context. It is said that our ancestors might have made their journey to the rest of the world from South Africa about 100,000 years ago, and crafted our first tools of the Stone Age about 20,000 years ago. We will need the same amount of time that our human species has existed for in order to safely deposit radioactive material! How come do we envision the poison to be transferred on to our descendants for so long and how will we find a way to indicate the location of the radioactive repository? Are we sure that the hundred radioactive repositories throughout the world be protected from severe seismic events for this incredible period of the time?
If this global catastrophe occurs, the best we can hope is that the memory of our disaster might be passed on to our future generations in the hope that they might invent the new technology to prevent them from another such catastrophe.