An unfolding disaster which, like Chernobyl, is a Level 7 accident. All four of the destroyed units had the same design as Pilgrim (GE Mark I boiling water reactors). Arnie Gundersen postulates that the Unit 3 explosion may have been a prompt criticality in fuel pool (video). There’s a U.S. campaign to Freeze our (23) Fukushimas

See the excellent presentation by nuclear experts David Lochbaum and Arnie Gunderson (given at the Boston Public Library on June 16, 2011), Why Fukushima Can Happen Here: What the NRC and Nuclear Industry Dont Want You to Know from Fairewinds Associates:

Aerial photo of units 3 and 4 taken 3/30/2011
Aerial photo of units 3 & 4 taken 3/24/2011. Unit 3, on the right, contains plutonium oxide fuel. The unit 4 reactor building was destroyed by uncovered spent fuel (it had no fuel in the reactor). High-resolution images which also show units 1 & 2 are available at cryptome.org.

Some facts about this catastrophe:

  • In the two weeks following the tsunami, Fukushima daily released approximately 50% of the toxins that were emitted by Chernobyl.
  • The amount of damaged fuel at Fukushima may be greater than the total amount of fuel damaged in all previous nuclear accidents combined.
  • The Three Mile Island accident affected a single reactor. The Fukushima crisis seriously affected 3 reactors and 4 spent fuel pools. (This and the next two points are a sample from Cleanup Lessons from TMI for Fukushima) at All Things Nuclear.
  • Processing TMI’s contaminated water took nearly 3 years. Fukushima is believed to have 25 times as much poisoned water.
  • TMI had an empty spent fuel pool that could be used for holding post-accident wastes. Fukushima does not, yet it has over 1,800 tons of spent fuel on site. It took over 11 years to de-fuel TMI.

Aerial photo of unit 3 taken 3/30/2011
Unit 3 of Fukushima Dai-ichi. Photo taken March 20, 2011
The NRC’s worst-case design basis accident (what U.S. reactors are designed and expected to withstand) is 1% of fuel damage, 1% containment leakage, 1 reactor damaged, and leakage for 7 days. At Fukushima there was likely 100% fuel damage with possibly 100% containment leakage, at 3 reactors, and it’s ongoing after 3 months.

Level 7 accident – “An event resulting in an environmental release corresponding to a quantity of radioactivity radiologically equivalent to a release to the atmosphere of more than several tens of thousands of terabequerels of I-131.”

Links for news updates on the meltdowns in Japan:

  • Arnie Gunderson at Fairewinds Associates is a former nuclear industry senior vice president with 39-years of nuclear power engineering experience, and was a licensed reactor operator. During his nuclear industry career, he managed and coordinated projects at 70-nuclear power plants around the country.
  • Dave Lochbaum at Fission Stories is the director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Nuclear Safety Project, and he has more than seventeen years of experience in commercial nuclear power plant start-up testing, operations, licensing, software development, training, and design engineering.
  • Fukushima update, April 2012
  • Japan in Crisis on Democracy Now
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency is the international cheerleader for nuclear energy, and also an official outlet for information from TEPCO (the operator of Fukushima Dai-ichi).

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