Fukushima is human-engineered crisis that threatens health of Pacific Ocean - Expert
June 3rd 2014
Japan starting constructing an underground ice wall at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, freezing the soil under broken reactors to slow the build-up of radioactive water. The Nuclear Regulation Authority, the national watchdog, last week authorised construction of the ice wall at Fukushima Daiichi, owned and operated by Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO). The Voice of Russia talked to Dr. Majia Nadesan, Professor at Arizona State University’s New College.
First and foremost, can this project be described as unprecedented?
Yes, the ice-wall project is unprecedented because an unprecedented disaster calls for unprecedented solutions. Japan’s Former Prime Minister Kan (2013) described the Fukushima nuclear disaster as the most severe accident experienced by humankind because it involves multiple-reactor meltdowns and at least one reported melt-through, as well as damaged fuel in reactor pools.
The risks to the ocean, in particular, are unprecedented because there is good reason to believe that melted fuel residing in, or below, the reactor basements is in direct contact with an underground river running through the site (Nagata, 2013).
A German study modelling the effects of an uncontained core meltdown suggests the Pacific Ocean is imperiled. The "German Risk Study, Phase B" found that a core meltdown accident could result in complete failures of all structural containment, causing melted fuel to exit the reactor foundation within five days (cited in Bayer, Tromm, & Al-Omari 1989). Moreover, the study found that even in the event of an intact building foundation, passing groundwater would be in direct contact with fuel, causing leaching of fission products. Strontium leaches slower than cesium. A follow-up German study, "Dispersion of Radionuclides and Radiation Exposure after Leaching by Groundwater of a Solidified Core-Concrete Melt," predicted that strontium contamination levels would rise exponentially years after a full melt-through located adjacent to a river (Bayer, Tromm, & Al-Omari, 1989).
The study predicted concentrations of Strontium-90 in river water would spike relatively suddenly, but maintain extraordinarily high levels of contamination for years. Strontium bio-accumulates in the human body, including the brain, and is a known genotoxin. The study’s experimental conditions are roughly similar to Daiichi’s site conditions and strontium levels have been spiking there since the summer of 2013. TEPCO just reported that strontium levels in reactor basement water ranged from 40 million to 500 million becquerels per liter ("TEPCO to Improve," 2014).
Could you touch on the economic feasibility and effectiveness of this expensive project? Will it really help the Fukushima plant’s operator slow the build-up of radioactive water?
Fukushima is a human-engineered crisis that threatens the health of the Pacific Ocean and, therefore, it poses significant risks for long-term human health and reproductive welfare. There is no cost too great to contain the contaminated water at the site from entering the Pacific Ocean.
However, I, like most people, lack specific information about the soil conditions at the Daiichi site and I also lack expertise necessary for evaluating the viability of creating and maintaining an ice-wall in a wet, geologically active, and highly radioactive environment. I would applaud the ice-wall, if truly accomplished, but I worry that the secrecy surrounding the exact plant conditions at both Fukushima Daiichi and Fukushima Daini have limited the voices involved in decision making. Fukushima is a global problem, yet on the surface it appears that TEPCO, a financially ruined corporation, is making all the important decisions. TEPCO’s decision-making has proven so far incapable of containing ongoing atmospheric and water contamination by Daiichi.
The construction of the underground ice wall is due to be completed by March 2015. Will Tokyo Electric Power Company manage to meet this deadline given that at least 1,500 pipes should be laid deep in soil, in line with the project?
I cannot comment given the vast unknowns in plant and geological conditions, as well as the engineering uncertainties of actually maintaining an ice-wall subject to contaminated water emitting high-levels of neutron, alpha, beta, and gamma radiation.
What about the current radiation levels near the Fukushima plant? Are they in sync with international standards?
As mentioned above, TEPCO recently reported that strontium levels in reactor basement-water ranged from 40 million to 500 million becquerels per liter ("TEPCO to Improve," 2014). TEPCO has not reported accurate strontium levels in ground and ocean water since the summer of 2013. Record strontium levels were reported in July, 2013 but were later found to have been significantly under-reported (please see "TEPCO Withheld," 2014). TEPCO’s measurement system under-counted radioactive decay. TEPCO never followed up with revised data, despite acknowledging publicly that data reported July of 2013 through November of 2013 under-stated levels.
Few to no readings of strontium levels in ground and sea water have been reported by TEPCO since December of 2013
Some warn against overdramatizing the situation surrounding the Fukushima fallout, while others insist that the aftermath was greatly Under-estimated. What is your stance on the matter?
I believe that we cannot even begin to image the diverse ways radiation from Fukushima is going to impact eco-systems adversely, especially Pacific flora and fauna. I worry about the long-term effects on already stressed beings, including humanity itself.
When do you think full decommissioning of the Fukushima plant will be wrapped up?
In March 2014, an anonymous TEPCO official told Australian Broadcasting that the reactors could neverbe de-contaminated because the technology for extracting melted fuel does not exist (Carney, 2014). I’m not convinced that the plant ever will be decommissioned, but I believe that we have a moral responsibility to our children and to the global ecosystem to do ALL that we can to stop the spread of radionuclides from Fukushima and every other contaminated site on Earth. We are not doing enough. More testing and global cooperation are needed now.
As it is below; so it is above