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Media Blind To Fukushima’s Toxic Plutonium Burps

 
Glow
User ID: 932005
United States
03/27/2011 05:06 PM
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Media Blind To Fukushima’s Toxic Plutonium Burps
Media Blind To Fukushima’s Toxic Plutonium Burps

(Note to reader: As the situation in Japan becomes more grave and so many aspects of this story remain unreported, freshrant is offering readers permission re-post this article for wider dissemination.)

[link to www.freshrant.com]


While “unidentified” smoke continues to spew from reactor #3 after its massive March 14 explosion, the media have failed to report that reactor #3 is fueled by plutonium-enriched rods 2 million times more toxic than uranium.

“Something is burning, they just don’t know exactly what it is,” reports CNN’s Anna Coren of the smoke that has been rising from reactor #3 for the past two days causing workers to evacuate. We haven’t been told by TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) what has happened. TEPCO officials don’t know where the smoke is coming from or why something is burning.”

And so it goes.

Nearly two weeks after the start of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear crisis, TEPCO either seems not to know what’s going on or just reports more happy talk: “Ocean water is cooling the pools filled with spent fuel rods.” “Power will soon be restored.” “Lights are back on in the reactor.” Or the endless replay of a brave jolly TEPCO plant worker, “It’s settled down quite a lot…we could even begin to see a bright hope that maybe it would somehow work out in a little bit.”

No wonder for the strained rose-colored optimism. Of Japan’s 20% reliance on nuclear energy for its total power grid, nearly half comes from the Fukushima plant, nearly 10% of its total power output, hence, the need for rolling blackouts.

At this point, CNN serves up nuclear expert, Lake Barrett, a long time NRC and DOE nuclear engineer who oversaw the initial response and clean up after the Three Mile Island partial meltdown and the government’s nuclear waste disposal system. One can only wonder how unbiased his view of the danger facing the public will be. Barrett answers this question as he comments about the black smoke emanating from reactor #3 for the past two days, “This is part of the accident recovery process…so these little burps and things like this are going to be happening probably for days ahead. It’s not a health catastrophe as long as the people follow instructions from the government, they’re going to be safe in Japan.”

Follow the Japanese government? Not a health catastrophe? Safe? Burps? Like as in what little babies do after their feeding? Tell that to parents of infants 150 miles from the plant after being told that the water supply of the world’s largest city contains dangerous levels of radioactive iodine more than double the legal limit.

CNN’s Paula Hancock reports, “Even though there is a call for calm, it appears to be falling on deaf ears” as panic buying of bottled water ensues and people begin to hoard water.
With the danger limit for babies and small children already surpassing 200 (100 is the legal limit) in radioactive measurements, surely panic buying will continue as fears that the danger zone of 300 units for adults will soon be reached.

While the Japanese Health Ministry has discovered “radioactive materials at levels drastically exceeding legal limits” in 11 types of vegetables growing in Fukushima prefecture, the FDA has already proceeded to ban exports of milk, fruits and vegetables from four prefectures due to some radioactive readings more than 27 times the legal limit.

US naval ships that were first on the scene to help with the disaster effort were also early to depart due to high radiation readings off the northeast coast in spite of Japanese government’s claims of safety. The USS George Washington moved away to avoid possible permanent damage, not to its crew, but to the ship. The US government independent of the Japanese government extended the evacuation zone from the Fukushima plants to 50 miles and hired 7 charter flights to carry 1,800 military dependents from the Atsugi Naval Air Facility. Foreign embassies are closing offices in Tokyo and moving to southern Honshu. Radiation has been detected in Vancouver, Seattle, Sacramento, the eastern US and as far away as Iceland.

Slowly the media’s happy talk and the oft repeated, mindlessly lazy phrase, “Two steps forward, one step back,” begins to disappear as it is learned that reactors 1 and 2 sustained more damage than thought and will take more time to repair. Power cables are attached but will not be operational for weeks. And TEPCO has concluded that the entire nuclear facility is beyond repair and will need to be brought into cold shutdown.

The real score thus far? Hot, 100; Cool Down, Zero.

Recap

While the media in the U.S. for the past two weeks was soothing the public with reports of anticipated cooling of reactors and spent fuel rods, restoration of power and soon-to-be functioning cooling pumps, freshrant reported on March 15, in Why Fukushima Could Be Worse Than Chernobyl, that in a worst-case scenario, a large region of northeast Japan will become so contaminated that rebuilding the area would be abandoned for decades until radiation levels subside.

Excerpts from the article included the following predictions:

Putting aside the earthquake and tsunami, the interactions between the press and public vs. TEPCO and the Japanese government have been one of obfuscation, misdirection, incompetence, withholding, misinformation and, yes, it would seem, lying.

1. Whether or not the remaining 50 workers leftover from the 800 normally required to operate the Fukushima Daiichi Plant have abandoned the facility, they lost control of the facility immediately after the tsunami.

All 6 nuclear reactors at the plant have extraordinarily serious nuclear accidents underway or accidents threatening to occur. While the reactors have hardened double containment structures that are supposed to hold in dangerous radiation except in the event of a meltdown, without human operators present to monitor the situation, it is difficult to imagine a scenario that is not extremely serious for the continued safe operation of these reactors. At a certain point they may be left to meltdown as it becomes too dangerous for humans to remain in the area.

2. The spent highly radioactive fuel containers sit above the reactors in unsealed rooms, in which at least two rooms have exploded dispersing even more dangerous forms of radiation into the environment.

While Chernobyl literally blew its top and subsequent large quantities of radiation into the stratosphere and over much of northern Europe and beyond, the radiation effects of the growing Fukushima non-explosive disaster will be closer to ground level.
But just how serious is the exposure of these six spent fuel reactors as they lose their water sources for their cooling pools and overheat?

A 1997 study by Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island described a worst-case disaster from uncovered spent fuel in one reactor cooling pool. It estimated 100 quick deaths would occur within a range of 500 miles and 138,000 eventual deaths. The study also found that land over 2,170 miles would be contaminated and damages would hit $546 billion. This is the damage from one uncovered spent fuel cooling pool.

There are six pools at Fukushima that have been abandoned with at least two burning and leaking radiation.

3. The IAEA (International Atomic Energy Commission) and the international community led by the United States steps in as GE (General Electric) plays a role in the background to avoid the horrendous publicity this will generate for these six nuclear plants at Fukushima and the 23 nuclear plants in the U.S. that share the design.
The incompetent and secretive TEPCO will be shoved aside and an international military-like operation will be put in place, but much of the effort will be too late.


4. A high pressure weather system is expected to move in over the Fukushima area by the coming weekend with its clockwise winds bringing whatever radiation is in the atmosphere toward the Tokyo region. This weather system will coincide with a greater mistrust of any news coming from TEPCO or the Japanese government.

In the coming days we will observe growing concern to even panic among Japanese and the large foreign population, especially in the Tokyo-Kansai region. Food, water and gas shortages will get more severe. As dangerous cesium and other radioactive readings grow, most people will end up with no choice but be left with the option of staying in their apartments and sealing doors and windows. People will avoid going out during rain or snow to avoid radiation. Smaller but still significant numbers will abandon their houses and apartments and retreat toward southern Honshu, the main island of Japan upon which Tokyo lies.

As Narita Airport gets more congested and flights leaving the country become overbooked, those fleeing will attempt to book flights out of Osaka and Niigata.
Japanese, who have been notoriously fussy about the “purity” of foreign food imports, will gladly accept rice shipments from Thailand and meat produce from New Zealand, Australia and the United States, as both the Japanese and the rest of the world refuse to eat dairy, meat and other food produce from Japan. Sendai, one of two great rice producing regions of Japan, will cease production for many years as that region’s agricultural and fishing industry collapse.

5. In a worst-case scenario, a large region of northeast Japan will become so contaminated that rebuilding the area would be abandoned for decades until radiation levels subside, similar to the exodus from the region surrounding Chernobyl.

Even the most optimistic estimate without long-term radiation effects would put the timetable for any return to normalcy in the region at several years.

The above article, written four days after the earthquake and tsunami, remains spot on, with the possible exception not yet knowing the exact nature of US and GE involvement in the nuclear containment effort.

What’s Next: Fukushima’s Dragon Wind

As mentioned, the media have all but ignored the stark difference among the 6 reactors and their respective pools containing the spent fuel rods. A highly-dangerous “mixed-oxide” (MOX) fuel is used in six percent of the fuel rods at the plant’s Unit 3 reactor. MOX fuel is desirable for nuclear power plant operators because it runs hotter than uranium oxide while inside the reactor.

While the other five nuclear plants on the site use an enriched uranium in which plutonium can result from the fission process and therefore be a byproduct as well, MOX is a far more toxic plutonium-uranium fuel mixture — a single milligram (mg) of MOX is as deadly as 2,000,000 mg of normal enriched uranium. The math is both simple as it is horrifying: MOX is 2 million times more dangerous if released in the environment.

TEPCO claims there are 3,400 tons of fuel in seven spent fuel pools and 877 tons in five of the reactor cores.

While it was Unit 3 of the Fukushima reactor that exploded on March 14, sending vast plumes of smoke high into the sky, it is the same Unit 3 that is presently emitting plumes of white and black “smoke” into the atmosphere. TEPCO is reporting they don’t know the source of the smoke or even why there is smoke.

If it is true that TEPCO and the Japanese government is thoroughly ignorant of the what and why of the smoke emitting from the #3 reactor it is both shocking and horrifying as it beggars belief.

If TEPCO knows better the basics of the engineering and physics of the plant they have been operating for some 40 years, and do in fact know the content of the emissions and why the plant is emitting, it is both shocking and horrifying they would not be notifying the Japanese public and the international community.

At this point, if it were to be determined that plutonium particles were being emitted from reactor 3, much graver measures would need to be considered for a much wider area of Japan affecting not just health and safety issues involving one disaster within another, but would have much wider implications for not just the nation’s economy, but for the survival and viability of the nation.

Consider this:

If just one minuscule milligram of MOX were released during the various emissions or explosions, either within the #3 reactor core or outside the core in the virtually unprotected spent fuel rod pools, the fallout would be vastly more deadly than any leakage of enriched uranium from the other five reactors or exposed spent fuel rods. Because of the mind-boggling ignorance, or, more probably, based on TEPCO’s history of lying to the public, withholding of information, the world must wait to see what damage ensues.

But we are already seeing signs of massive yet unforeseen radiation exposures, While it is surprising to see such high radiation levels already in vegetables and milk supplies, why is the water supply 150 miles in Tokyo already at such high levels of toxicity?

Again, this from the ICRP (International Commission on Radiological Protection), “In the event of such accidents (involving the accidental release of MOX), if recommendations for general public exposure were adhered to, only about one mg of plutonium may be released from a MOX facility to the environment. As a comparison, in a uranium fabrication facility, 2kg (2,000,000 mg) of uranium could be released in the same radiation exposure.”
While the half life of radioactive iodine air particulate and its toxicity is approximately eight days, the half-life of plutonium-239 contained within MOX, is 24,000 years, traveling the wind and contaminating soil for tens of thousands of years. Thus breathing of 239 is extraordinarily toxic, if not lethal, as well.

Fine particulates of plutonium when inhaled become a powerful carcinogen that can cause lung and other cancers down to exposure of one millionth of an ounce. Compounding the problem is that MOX is composed of very fine particulates which add to the danger of dispersal by wind in a plume and could remain a deadly killer for hundreds of years.

But let’s take a moment from this grim news, and read directly from the latest reports from the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and its latest reports monitoring the Fukushima disaster. While the other reactor news is highly disturbing on its own, for purposes of this report, the focus will remain on the agency’s reporting on reactor 3. Knowing that this is the reactor containing the plutonium component rods, it is somewhat frightening to read between the lines.

It is just as disturbing to realize the agency fails to address or even make mention of the plutonium, while maintaining a restrained but grave analysis of the situation, using the terms, “uncertain” regarding condition of the spent fuel and “damage” referring to the reactor’s fuel inside the containment vessel. Not good.

Reactor cooling systems at Unit 3 are severely hampered. There is suspected damage to the reactor’s fuel, and the condition of its spent fuel pool is uncertain.

Coolant within Unit 3 is covering about half of the fuel rods in the reactor, and Japanese authorities believe the core has been damaged. [This is very bad news for any hopes of cooling and would explain much regarding why the explosion in Unit 3 was the greatest and why radiation levels are becoming so high with the smoke emanating from it.]

High pressure within the reactor’s containment led operators to vent gas from the containment. Later, an explosion destroyed the outer shell of the reactor building above the containment on 14 March. Indicated containment pressure has stabilized over the past 24 hours.

Following the explosion, Japanese officials expressed concerns that the reactor’s containment may not be fully intact. White smoke has been seen emerging from the reactor, but on 19 March it appeared to be less intense than in previous days.

Grey smoke was observed on 21 March in the southeast corner of Unit 3 from 6:55 UTC. After two hours this smoke turned to a white color and gradually diminished. By 22:11 21 March, the smoke was observed to be “ceasing.” As reported under the Unit 2 update, during the time of smoke emission, an increase in radiation dose rates was reported at 9:30 UTC on 21 March. TEPCO then ordered an evacuation of plant personnel, though workers returned as of 00:00 UTC 22 March. [IAEA bold-typed this section for a reason, giving confirmation to a increase in radiation dose rates during the time of smoke emission. The plutonium-based spent fuel rods are stored in this pool.]
Efforts to pump seawater into the reactor core are continuing. Of additional concern at Unit 3 is the condition of the spent fuel pool in the building. There are indications that there is inadequate cooling water level in the pool, and Japanese authorities have addressed the problem by dropping water from helicopters into the building and spraying water from trucks. Spraying from trucks continued on 20 March. There is no data on the temperature of the water in the pool. [I would only add to this section the conservatively incorrect statement, "Japanese authorities have addressed the problem..." Better to have said, "Japanese authorities have attempted to address the problem..." as it is clear the problem is not close to being solved and is clearly worsening.]


On 18 March, Japan assigned an INES rating of 5 to this Unit. [Again, lazily unnoticed by the mainstream press, this upgrading of the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale by Japan was not for the entire Fukushima plant, but for Unit 3. This rating puts Unit 3 on an equal rating with the Three Mile Island partial meltdown, which was minimized by its containment core. In the case of Fukushima's Unit 3, it would appear its containment core may have been breached, and certainly its spent fuel rod pools are likely suspects as well with the fuel rods exposed to the atmosphere. Finally, Japan authorities were forced to concede the seriousness of the Unit 3 situation, and are surely being conservative in the ranking of the seriousness of the situation, with the most serious event ranking of 7 given to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.]
********
The extreme risks of using MOX fuels in nuclear power plants have been long discussed by anti-nuclear proponents. The Unit 3 debacle is the first nuclear accident involving a MOX fueled plant so we are entering some frighteningly unknown territory. Any release of microscopic plutonium particulates would be catastrophic. If such an event occurred, it is difficult to impossible to believe that the IAEA, TEPCO, the Japanese and U.S. government would not be aware of these releases. So lacking in trust of the Japanese government, the U.S. government has resorted to flying drones to photograph the site.

Sadly, the catastrophically scary scenario of plutonium particulate releases may already be in play.

What might follow I recoil from predicting.

Something is burning, baby, are you aware?
Something is the matter, baby, there’s smoke in your hair
I can feel it in the wind and it’s upside down
I can feel it in the dust as I get off the bus on the outskirts of town

Bob Dylan
Anonymous Coward
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United Kingdom
03/27/2011 05:23 PM
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