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Five years since Fukushima: Recovery is still far, far away for this nuclear disaster


(NaturalNews) This week will mark the five-year anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear accident – a disaster caused by an earthquake-generated tsunami that slammed into the Japanese coastline a few hundred kilometers north of Tokyo, killing more than 15,000 people and causing a meltdown of three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

The story was at the forefront of international news reports for a few weeks following the March 11, 2015 incident, but five years later the ongoing cleanup operation is receiving very little media attention.

The virtual news blackout regarding Fukushima may be leading the public to assume that the problem is now under control, but the truth is that nothing has yet been done to address the main issue, the fact that there are still piles of highly radioactive molten fuel rods burning uncontrollably beneath the three damaged buildings that housed the reactors.

An ongoing crisis with no clear solution

Although the Japanese government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) have done their best to play down the seriousness of the situation, even TEPCO spokesmen admit that not only do they have no clear idea when they can begin to remove the molten fuel, but they also have no plan yet regarding exactly how it will be done. The best estimates are that the complete removal of the fuel rods will take several decades.

Steve Featherstone was one of a small group of journalists who were recently allowed to tour the site.

From his article published on the Popular Science website:

"A reactor like those at Fukushima Daiichi is essentially a sophisticated machine for boiling water. Fission heat from nuclear fuel rods makes steam that spins a turbine, producing electricity. The steam is condensed, cooled, and pumped back into the reactor core to keep the fuel from overheating, and to make more steam. If water circulation stops, the rods can get so hot that they begin to lose integrity. In a worst-case scenario, they melt like wax candles, and the molten fuel pools up inside the reactor, releasing massive amounts of radiation."

That's exactly what happened to the three Fukushima reactors; the tsunami destroyed the water circulation system that kept the rods cool. Simply put, when the cooling system failed, the rods melted, and since that time the only thing TEPCO has been able to do is to keep pumping seawater into the reactor cores using a makeshift cooling system.

Among the many problems facing TEPCO – the company that previously operated the plant and which is now responsible for the dismantling of the reactors and cleanup of the site – is the fact that once this water is contaminated it can only be stored, not cleaned. This has led to the construction on the site of 1,000 huge tanks designed to contain the radioactive seawater.

However, as Featherstone notes, "TEPCO can't go on building tanks forever, nor can it discharge the water into the ocean."

Potential for further disaster

But that's not the worst of it. The eventual removal of the fuel rods will be an extremely dangerous operation, as the site's chief decommissioning officer, Naohiro Masuda, freely admits. "There's huge risk involved. If you make one small mistake, it might cause a huge problem for the local people, or even worldwide," he said. "We have to be aware of that possibility."

Masuda further acknowledged that the technology required to safely remove the molten fuel rods from the reactors doesn't even currently exist.

The cleanup will be a long and complicated process – even if it is successful. And even if TEPCO does manage to find a way to prevent a further, even larger-scale, nuclear disaster at the site – a disaster which is entirely possible – the environmental damage and long-term human health impact from the the huge amount of radiation already leaked into the air, soil and sea is still impossible to fully determine.

Five years later, the only thing for certain is that the Fukushima nuclear disaster is an ongoing and highly dangerous situation – and the worst may be yet to come.





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