Japan’s Chernobyl – Greed For Profits Above Safety?

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Mar 17 2011
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A cloud of white smoke rose above Japan’s earthquake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant Wednesday. The cloud of smoke came from the No. 3 reactor and presumed to have been vapour from a spent-fuel storage pool at the reactor. Immediately officials asked workers at the plant to evacuate after the smoke or vapour rose above the plant and radiation levels spiked, fearing there might have been a breach in the containment vessel in the nuclear plant’s No. 3 reactor.

The number of nuclear workers remaining on site was slashed Tuesday from 800 to 50 but had grown to 180 by Wednesday afternoon. Officials have been working to resolve cooling problems at four of Fukushima Daiichi’s six reactors in the wake of the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that devastated parts of the country. Japan’s 77-year-old Emperor Akihito was seen delivering his historic speech to the people to remain strong, an unusual address usually reserved for times of extreme crisis or war.

Situation in Tokyo is not getting any better with many people especially foreigners flocking to the airports to fly out of the country. Latest update also shows that nuclear fuel rods from reactors 4, 5 and 6 were reportedly exposed and four reactor units have core damage. A meltdown similar to Chernobly 25 years ago may not happen now but it won’t be any sexier if the Japan couldn’t find any creative way to solve the problem of radiation from the spent nuclear fuel resting in nearby pool.

Spent Fuel Pools at Japan Fukushima Reactor

Spent Fuel Pools at Japan Fukushima Reactor

At the 40-year-old Fukushima plant built by General Electric, the spent fuel produced by reactors are actually stored at a pool about three stories up, next to the reactor. The fact that the roof of the building housing the pool has been blown off as seen from satellite photos raise concerns about release of radioactivity. This triggered controversy about the way spent fuel gets stored. If only Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) had heeded the growing scientific consensus and moved the spent fuel out of the storage pool into dry, hardened casks for storage, just like what Germany did 25 years ago, Japan won’t have to sweat about nuclear catastrophe today.

Wikileaks add salt to the injury by releasing evidence that IEAE actually warned in Dec 2008 that a strong earthquakes would pose a serious problem to nuclear power plants but Japan dragged its feat on the warning. It also exposed that when a Japanese court ordered the shutdown of a reactor that was vulnerable to earthquake, the Japan government overturned it. A more damaging allegation came about how power stations actually use recycled nuclear fuel in order to maximize profits.

Nuclear Containment Structure

Nuclear Containment Structure

One of the men brought in to clean up Chernobyl, Russian nuclear accident specialist Iouli Andreev, said that greed in the nuclear industry and corporate influence over the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the IEAA, may doom Japan to a spreading nuclear disaster. He said a fire at Fukushima No 1 power plant involving spent fuel rods stored close to reactors pointed to a wilful disregard for safety. He further added that the Japanese were very greedy and used every square inch of the space. Hmm, maybe this Russian should give a lecture to the Malaysian Government.

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