Senator: Fukushima Fuel Pool Is a National Security Issue for AMERICA

After visiting Fukushima, Senator Ron Wyden warned that the situation was worse than reported … and urged Japan to accept international help to stabilize dangerous spent fuel pools.

An international coalition of nuclear scientists and non-profit groups are calling on the U.N. to coordinate a multi-national effort to stabilize the fuel pools. And see this.

Fuel pool number 4 is, indeed, the top short-term threat facing humanity.

Anti-nuclear physician Dr. Helen Caldicott says that if fuel pool 4 collapses, she will evacuate her family from Boston and move them to the Southern Hemisphere. This is an especially dramatic statement given that the West Coast is much more directly in the path of Fukushima radiation than the East Coast.

And nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen recently said (at 25:00):

There’s more cesium in that [Unit 4] fuel pool than in all 800 nuclear bombs exploded above ground…

But of course it would happen all at once.

It would certainly destroy Japan as a functioning country…

Move south of the equator if that ever happened, I think that’s probably the lesson there.

This week, Wyden said that the spent fuel is a national security threat to the U.S.:

AlterNet asked Sen. Wyden if he considers the spent fuel at Fukushima Daiichi a national security threat.

In a statement released by his office, Wyden replied, “The radiation caused by the failure of the spent fuel pools in the event of another earthquake could reach the West Coast within days. That absolutely makes the safe containment and protection of this spent fuel a security issue for the United States.”

[Robert Alvarez – a nuclear expert and a former special assistant to the United States Secretary of Energy] agrees, saying, “My major concern is that this effort to get that spent fuel out of there is not something you should be doing casually and taking your time on.”

Yet Tepco’s current plans are to hold the majority of this spent fuel onsite for years in the same elevated, uncontained storage pools, only transferring some of the fuel into more secure, hardened dry casks when the common pool reaches capacity.

Government Agencies Underplaying Risk … So No One Has to Do Anything Different

Why are American nuclear authorities ignoring this threat?

Well, they are totally captured by the nuclear industry, and:

Nuclear waste experts … charge that the NRC is letting this threat [of the Fukushima fuel pools] fester because acknowledging it would call into question safety at dozens of identically designed nuclear power plants around the U.S., which contain exceedingly higher volumes of spent fuel in similar elevated pools outside of reinforced containment.

***

In an interview with AlterNet, Alvarez … said that the Japanese government, Tepco and the U.S. NRC are reluctant to say anything publicly about the spent fuel threat because “there is a tendency to want to provide reassurance that everything is fine.”

***

“The U.S. government right now is engaged in its own kabuki theatre to protect the U.S. industry from the real costs of the lessons at Fukushima,” Gunter said. “The NRC and its champions in the White House and on Capitol Hill are looking to obfuscate the real threats and the necessary policy changes to address the risk.”

There are 31 G.E. Mark I and Mark II boiling water reactors (BRWs) in the U.S., the type used at Fukushima. All of these reactors, which comprise just under a third of all nuclear reactors in the U.S., store their spent fuel in elevated pools located outside the primary, or reinforced, containment that protects the reactor core. Thus, the outside structure, the building ostensibly protecting the storage pools, is much weaker, in most cases about as sturdy, experts describe in interviews with AlterNet, as a structure one would find housing a car dealership or a Wal-Mart.

Remember that American nuclear power plants are storing much more nuclear fuel rods in highly-vulnerable pools than even Fukushima.

The NRC and Japanese claim that fuel pool 4 has been stabilized, but:

Nuclear experts, including Arnie Gundersen, a former nuclear industry senior vice president who coordinated projects at 70 U.S. nuclear power plants, and warned days after the disaster at Fukushima last year of a “Chernobyl on steroids” if the spent fuel pools were to ignite, strongly disagreed with this assessment.

“It is true that in May and June the floor of the U4 SFP [spent fuel pool] was ‘reinforced,’ but not as strong as it was originally,” Gundersen noted in an email to AlterNet. “The entire building however has not been reinforced and is damaged by the explosion in both 4 and 3. So structurally U4 is not as strong as its original design required.”

***

Alvarez said that even if the unit 4 structure has been tentatively stabilized, it doesn’t change the fact “it sits in a structurally damaged building, is about 100 feet above the ground and is exposed to the atmosphere, in a high-consequence earthquake zone.”

He also said that the urgency of the situation is underscored by the ongoing seismic activity around northeast Japan, in which 13 earthquakes of magnitude 4.0 to 5.7 have occurred off the northeast coast of Honshu between April 14 and April 17.

“This has been the norm since 3/11/11 and larger quakes are expected closer to the power plant,” Alvarez added.

(Last year’s big earthquake made a huge earthquake close to Fukushima more likely.)

Boils Down to Money

Of course, it all boils down to money … just like every other crisis the world faces today.

Nuclear power can be safe, or it can be cheap … but it can’t be both. For example, we’ve previously noted:

Apologists for the nuclear power industry pretend there are no better alternatives, so we just have to suck it up and suffer through the Japanese nuclear crisis.

But this is wholly illogical. The truth is that we can store spent fuel rods in dry cask storage, which is much safer than the spent fuel rod pools used in Fukushima and many American reactors.

As the Nation pointed out:

Short of closing plants, there is a fairly reliable solution to the problem of spent fuel rods. It is called “dry cask storage.”

***

But there is a problem with dry cask storage: it costs money….

Indeed:

Experts say the only near-term answer to better protect our nation’s existing spent nuclear fuel is dry cask storage. But there’s one catch: the nuclear industry doesn’t want to incur the expense, which is about $1 million per cask.

“So now they’re stuck,” said Alvarez, “The NRC has made this policy decision, which the industry is very violently opposed to changing because it saves them a ton of money. And if they have to go to dry hardened storage onsite, they’re going to have to fork over several hundred million dollars per reactor to do this.”

He also pointed out that the contents of the nine dry casks at the Fukushima Daiichi site were undamaged by the disaster.

“Nobody paid much attention to that fact,” Alvarez said. “I’ve never seen anybody at Tepco or anyone [at the NRC or in the nuclear industry] saying, ‘Well, thank god for the dry casks. They were untouched.’ They don’t say a word about it.”

Get it?   The Japanese and American governments are playing Russian roulette with the fuel pools at Fukushima to save nuclear companies from having to spend a couple of million dollars to safely store spent fuel in dry casks.

Category: Energy, Think Tank

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

11 Responses to “Fukushima Fuel Pools Are an American National Security Issue”

  1. agentsim says:

    You should really stop posting this guy’s stuff, it is all crack pot, poorly researched material.

    For example, claim number 1: “Fuel pool number 4 is, indeed, the top short-term threat facing humanity.”

    http://djysrv.blogspot.ca/2012/04/argh-debunking-some-nuclear-nonsense.html

    The summary being, some non-scientist made stupid assumptions about the dangers of radioactive material and how it proliferates, and some slightly more sensible people didn’t bother fact checking. The result, Washington’s Blog has the “scoop.”

  2. you know, from the ‘outside, looking In..’

    “…The Japanese and American governments are playing Russian roulette with the fuel pools at Fukushima to save nuclear companies from having to spend a couple of million dollars to safely store spent fuel in dry casks…”

    “…Why are American nuclear authorities ignoring this threat?

    Well, they are totally captured by the nuclear industry, and:

    Nuclear waste experts … charge that the NRC is letting this threat [of the Fukushima fuel pools] fester because acknowledging it would call into question safety at dozens of identically designed nuclear power plants around the U.S., which contain exceedingly higher volumes of spent fuel in similar elevated pools outside of reinforced containment…”
    ~~
    We may, also, care to give thanks to Sen. Wyden, on this Issue..
    ~~

    Very much more serious than that, alleged, ‘Toxic Waste’ carried upon the ‘Books’ of our Financial Institutions..the, truly, Radioactive G*rbage being stored, next to Nuclear Power generation facilities(at the minimum), is a Real Concern–not a Ledger Book *error..

    Sometimes the ‘Fun ‘n Games’ go too Far..In other Times, We should, actually, care ‘Who’s to be Gored’.\.

  3. am2 says:

    @ agentsim

    I don’t have a dog in this fight beyond simple concern over the safety of the spent fuel pool, but the http://djysrv.blogspot.ca article’s author describes himself as “…a consultant to firms in the global nuclear energy industry in the area of social media and marketing communications.” and in his disclaimer writes, “The author makes no claim to being a technical expert on nuclear energy.”

    His LinkedIn profile is public, and it’s clear he is a non-scientist and non-engineer. And he has a strong conflict of interest.

  4. WallaWalla says:

    Thanks for writing about this pernicious and down-right dubious issue as it pertains to the US nuke industry.

    It’s particularly disturbing after reading about the Vermont Yankee power plant ordeal over the past 5 years. This reactor has the same containment design as those failing at Fukishima (GE designed Mark I). It began operation in 1972(!), is a major supplier to Vermont’s energy demands, and currently has 3.3k spent fuel rods(nearing full capactity, but there’s no where else to put the stuff…Yucca Mtn. not yet approved).

    The plant has recently made headlines because the Vermont Senate failed to renew(26-4 decisions) the permit for operation due to saftey concerns. Entergy, the owner and operators of the plant, sued and won on the grounds that only the NRC can oversee saftey issues….not the state in which the plant is operating. So as of now, the plant is going to continue operations.

    In 2007 a cooling tower collapsed dued to rotten wood and rusted bolts (40 years old).

    In 2009, an executive lied under oath claiming there were no underground pipes containing radioactive materials. Radiation is indeed found in underground pipes against the informations supplied by the executive from the Lousiana based company. Did he have any clue about what was going on at the plant? How can he claim the opposite of the truth? Entergy based out of Lousiana purchased Vermont Yankee in 2002 which brings into question just how much oversight is occuring.

    In 2010, tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, was reported as found in wells in the previous November. By mid January, the level was at the EPA set maximum. The head of the NRC claimed the leak would be found in several weeks. In several weeks, the levels of tritium reached more than 37 times the allowed levels. An underground vault on sitewas then found with !!!178 TIMES!!! the allowed limit. The problem was *reportedly* fixed.

    In 2011, tritium reappeared in test wells. there is no know source for the leak…

    And now the NRC has forced it to continue operations because they deem the saftey of the plant as acceptable?!? Is democracy dead? Heck, the governor practically ran on getting Yankee shut down. The senate overwhelmingly voted against it. Their executives lied to the state. They have a terrible safety record. What’s it going to take to shut this f*(&er down?

    This is just a small example of the NRCs failure to properly regulate this industry. What’s it going to take for this old decrepit plant to be shut down? Another Fukishima?

    A plant with reoccuring degradation issues, uncooperative executive oversight, and little to no state support has been allowed to continue operation. Vermont has one of the healthiest true democratic systems in the

  5. WallaWalla says:

    Vermont has one of the healthies democratic systems in the country.*

    Damn the lack of edit option here >:|

  6. denim says:

    WallaWalla, it would seem that Vermont must theoretically let the nuke operate, but cannot the state of Vermont regulate the transmission and sale of the power generated by it? In other words, stop the nuke from selling the power. Money talks…

  7. ilsm says:

    The pentagon is planning to spend $450B on F-35′s, on between 1000 and 2000 useless defective planes. Kill it and do 450,000 casks!!

    A bit of the $1000B a year going to US empire and war making could be diverted to cleaning up nuclear waste. The pentagon spends $200B on services contracts, which keep weapons ready to fight WW II again. It buys $160B a year in new stuff to fight no one. It spends several billion to refuel an aircraft carrier, steaming around look for the IJN Shoho and generate a lot of badly disposed nuclear waste

    “Spent” fuel ponds at Fukujima……………………

    How about the spent fuel stored on site all over the US? There is no place anyone would accept all those “casks”! The Nevada site was disapproved.

    Cesium in the test explosions. What about all the nuclear waste in US nuke weapon plants, stored on site?

    Fukujima is a power plant the US DOE nuclear weapon system has been a far larger generator of nuclear waste.

  8. whskyjack says:

    “Anti-nuclear physician Dr. Helen Caldicott says that if fuel pool 4 collapses, she will evacuate her family from Boston and move them to the Southern Hemisphere.”

    That statement is so silly that it is a safe bet that the rest of the article is just as bad. One nice thing , it let me quit reading in the second paragraph and was a big flag saying no useful information here.

    Jack

  9. Fredex says:

    Caldicott should evacuate now.

  10. petten says:

    Barry Ritholtz, Stick to your core competency of investment advisory. You know WTF nothing about anything nuclear.

  11. blackjaquekerouac says:

    Why don’t you “know it critics of nuclear critics” state YOUR credentials as well. Arnie Gunderson is no joke…and neither is the ongoing catastrophe of Fukushima. Can we afford to be wrong? I think you “nuke me please” people are as ignorant as a cow…and just CHEWING CUD here. GET LOST LOSERS. Nuclear power isn’t something you just “get up and running.” YOU CAN’T TURN IT OFF EVER…and should a nuclear waste dump find itself on the West Coast the damage to the US economy will be INCALCULABLE. I’m glad Ron Wyden is bringing this TRUE terror to the economic fore: this stuff is as dangerous and expensive as it is unnecessary. I shutter to think it might kill off a huge chunk of us.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5qXUnSiqpY&feature=player_detailpage