Japanese Reactors out of control. Fukushima Dai-Ichi soon to be worse than Chernobyl.
Japan cannot control the damaged reactors at Fukushima Dai-Ichi. Soon the disaster will eclipse Chernobyl as the worst nuclear disaster in world history.
This past week, millions of people around the world have watched in fascination and horror as the Japanese government attempted to bring the four troubled Japanese nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear facility under control. From the beginning, it was our assumption that the nuclear issues would be quickly resolved in a matter of days, since the damage to the four Japanese nuclear plants seemed to be manageable.
On Thursday, however, we were perplexed to see the Japanese government running a rather curious operation that consisted of using helicopters to drop water into some of the nuclear reactor buildings. The purpose of the operation was not to put out fires, but rather to try and fill up the holding tanks containing spent nuclear fuel rods. Each of the nuclear reactors at Fukushima Dia-Ichi were housed in a multi-story building which housed the nuclear reactor in the main floor and basement of the building, and a holding tank (basically a pool) located in the upper floor of the building.
These holding tanks have apparently lost much of their water either due to cracks in the holding tanks or due to evaporation due to the water becoming heated up by the spent nuclear fuel rods. Since the main reactor building in several of the nuclear reactors became severely damaged following explosions of hydrogen gas, it is also likely that the holding tanks are partially if not fully filled and covered with debris from the damaged roof and walls.
Although the problem seemed serious, due to the Japanese government intentionally withholding specific details of the condition of each plant, the public has not been able to fully understand the gravity of the situation. But by examining the Japanese government's highly irregular and flawed actions to fix this specific problem, we can see that the situation is in reality much more serious than what is being publicly revealed.
From just looking at the videos showing the helicopters in operation, it was easy to see that nearly all of the water fell far short of the mark, with perhaps less that 10% of the water even hitting the building. And of the small fraction of the water that hit the building, surely only a small percentage flowed along the ground and into the holding tanks.
The very fact that this inefficient and unlikely to succeed helicopter operation was given the go-ahead is an indication of the lack of options available to fix the situation. And following the operation, it was disclosed that observations from the air showing that some of pools are directly exposed to the outside air, and that these exposed pools seemed to be draining of water even as they were being filled. This indicates that it will be impossible to re-fill the pools sufficiently without performing repairs to the concrete pools. Each pool is emitting a tremendous amount of highly-toxic radiation and is located ABOVE the damaged reactor building in the three reactors that were active at the time of the earthquake and tsunami, which will make any attempt to repair these pools into suicide missions.
As of the writing of this article, the situation at the plants is largely unchanged. A power cable has been successfully attached to the facility, which may allow the nuclear plant operators to restart some of the damaged cooling pumps. But there are significant doubts over whether the pumps will operate properly.
Assuming that all water pumps will operate properly and that all water pipes are undamaged, it should be possible to cool down all 3 reactors and to refill all four holding tank pools. But this best-case scenario is rather unlikely since the pumps have been subjected to high radiation, high temperatures and corrosive sea water for over a week and without any electricity.
Getting the pumps back into operation should be possible if workers can perform maintenance on them, but it seems that due to the reactor design, the pumps are mainly located in areas currently filled with high radiation levels and therefore any human workers that attempt repairs will quickly get radiation sickness and not long after that they will die from radiation exposure.
So the situation in Japan is really very serious and there are really only very few options that the government can take. Unless the pumps are successfully restarted, Japan will likely need to begin entombing the entire plant in a massive concrete sarcophagus similar to the one built to house the failed reactors in Chernobyl, Ukraine. If they do not take this step, the radiation and radioactive dust clouds from Fukushima Dai-Ichi may cause millions of people in Japan and the U.S. to die from cancer and radiation-related health problems.