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Absolute Bullshit from VOA on Fukushima

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VOA or the Voice of America is a US Federal Government-sponsored international broadcasting organization.  It’s intended to provide news and information with an American perspective to the world.  The official mission is “to promote freedom and democracy and to enhance understanding through multimedia communication of accurate, objective, and balanced news, information and other programming about America and the world to audiences overseas.”  To some, it might be considered straight up propaganda, while others might see it as being the US version of the BBC.   In any case, the organization is supposed to provide accurate news.

Yet if they wanted to maintain credibility, this news story and video are not really doing much in that respect:

Under Fire, TEPCO Prepares for Critical Phase of Fukushima Cleanup
TOKYO — Workers at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan are about to embark on one of the most critical aspects of the clean-up: removing the fuel rods from one of the worst-hit reactors. Critics say the plant’s owners, TEPCO, should not be trusted to carry out the operation and warn the consequences of any accident would be unprecedented.

Over 1500 fuel rods sit in a damaged storage pool 30 meters above the ground inside the shell of the reactor 4 building at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Safely removing them is the next big challenge for the plant’s owner, TEPCO.

General Manager Masayuki Ono said the operation has been carefully planned.

He explained that because the entire reactor 4 building was destroyed by a hydrogen explosion, TEPCO had to reinforce the structure. This happened during the first year and that new building is now strong enough to stand another earthquake, he added.

That hydrogen explosion – one of the iconic images of the Fukushima accident – left the inside of the pool littered with debris.

TEPCO’s first task is to remove the debris. And then, one by one, the fuel rods will be removed manually using a crane suspended above the crippled reactor building.

Ono explained that a fuel extraction cover was built over Unit 4 and installed at the fuel handling facility. This structure does not put any weight on the Reactor 4 building, and can be used to remove the fuel without adding any additional weight.

The fuel rods must be kept submerged and must not touch each other or break. Nuclear experts warn any mishaps could cause an explosion many times worse than in March 2011.

Mitsuhei Murata, Japan’s former ambassador to Switzerland and an anti-nuclear campaigner, said a series of incidents over the past 30 months – including radioactive water leaks – have called into question TEPCO’s ability to carry out this critical operation.

“The Unit 4 contains 10 times more Cesium-137 than Chernobyl. So in case the worst occurs, a total withdrawal [from the site] will be imposed, which means this can be considered as the beginning of the ultimate catastrophe of the world and the planet,” said Murata.

Click link for the video of the story

I have a few responses to some of the information, or misinformation in this video:

First, using a well known anti-nuclear activist as the expert for a news report is not exactly good journalism. You can expect the comments of such a person to always be as pessimistic as possible and always with a strong anti-nuclear spin. To say that this could be “the ultimate catastrophe of the world and the planet” is ridiculous.

The fuel rods have cooled for more than a year and are now no longer nearly as difficult to handle as they had been. While it is still best to keep them under water, they do not require the cooling they did right after the reactor went off line. They also no longer contain the most dangerous radioisotopes, such as iodine-131.

The amount of cesium-137 in the totality of fuel rods is really not the important thing. For all that cesium to be released, every one of the fuel rods would have to be vaporized or ground into a powder and blown into the wind. Clearly, even under the worst case accidents, that will not happen.

If the fuel rods were to knock into each other, there would be no catastrophe. In fact, nothing would likely happen. Given the precautions and the state of the fuel, a criticality accident is not a major concern. If part of a fuel rod broke off, it would also not be a catastrophe. It would, however, mean that the fuel rod fragment would have to be fished out of the debris, which would be a pain, but not a massive safety problem

Of course, the refueling operation will be long and expensive, just like every part of this decommissioning is, at least relative to other decomissionings. They are working on a heavily damaged reactor and the circumstances demand precision and caution. Support systems were heavily damaged and the reactor was not shut down in a controlled manner. Still, there’s very little danger of a major mishap and zero danger of a global catastrophe.  There’s no significant danger of explosion.


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