Perilous task of removing Fukushima no.4’s spent nuclear fuel rods from pool

Japanese gamble Armageddon in Last Ditch Fukushima Effort, Whiteout Press, August 20, 2013. Fukushima, Japan Japan gambles the world “……….For the past two years, there have been varying and sporadic reports, some official and some unofficial, describing how the Fukushima nuclear meltdown is anything but under control. In fact, millions of gallons of radioactive wastewater continue to spill out into the Pacific to this day. And while the reactors and their safety mechanisms continue to break down, the world comes closer and closer to global Armageddon.

To stop the complete and total meltdown of Japan’s nuclear reactors, authorities have proposed a dangerous plan. The biggest problem is Fukushima’s Reactor Number 4. The reactor’s cooling pool for spent nuclear rods is located on the top floor of the TEPCO building. And that building was heavily damaged by the 2011 quake. Due to its instability, authorities say they must move the 400 tons of spent fuel rods right away.

Spent fuel rod transfers occur on a fairly regular basis, but always under the most secure and controlled setting due to the potential nuclear catastrophe that would happen if just one spent rod is mishandled. In the case of Fukushima’s Reactor 4, officials will attempt to remove 1,300 spent fuel rods from a structurally unsafe building in a highly contaminated environment.

The problems and dangers

One nuclear fallout expert, Christina Consolo, spoke to RT News to answer the outlet’s questions regarding the situation in Fukushima. She detailed a list of potential problems authorities might encounter when they attempt to move the spent rods. Those potentially catastrophic hurdles include (from RT News):

  • The racks inside the pool that contain this fuel were damaged by the explosion in the early days of the accident.
  • Zirconium cladding which encased the rods burned when water levels dropped, but to what extent the rods have been damaged is not known, and probably won’t be until removal is attempted.
  • Saltwater cooling has caused corrosion of the pool walls, and probably the fuel rods and racks.
  • The building is sinking.
  • The cranes that normally lift the fuel were destroyed.
  • Computer-guided removal will not be possible; everything will have to be done manually.
  • TEPCO cannot attempt this process without humans, which will manage this enormous task while being bombarded with radiation during the extraction and casking.
  • The process of removing each rod will have to be repeated over 1,300 times without incident.
  • Moving damaged nuclear fuel under such complex conditions could result in a criticality if the rods come into close proximity to one another, which would then set off a chain reaction that cannot be stopped.

What is most likely to go wrong?

When asked what the biggest potential dangers are in removing the damaged spent fuel rods, Christina Consolo replied, “The most serious complication would be anything that leads to a nuclear chain reaction. And as outlined above, there are many different ways this could occur. In a fuel pool containing damaged rods and racks, it could potentially start up on its own at anytime. TEPCO has been incredibly lucky that this hasn’t happened so far.”

She also expressed concern for the human workers that will have to submerse themselves into a highly radioactive environment and then perform extremely precise movements. Not only might their senses and thinking be affected, but their protective gear will make the entire operation somewhat clumsy.

“My second biggest concern would be the physical and mental fitness of the workers that will be in such close proximity to exposed fuel during this extraction process,” Consolo told RT News, “They will be the ones guiding this operation and will need to be in the highest state of alertness to have any chance at all of executing this plan manually and successfully. Many of their senses, most importantly eyesight, will be hindered by the apparatus that will need to be worn during their exposure to prevent immediate death from lifting compromised fuel rods out of the pool.” http://www.whiteoutpress.com/articles/q32013/japanese-gamble-armageddon-in-last-ditch-fukushima-effort/

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