December 20, 2011

Fukushima - Redefining "Cold Shutdown"

At first glance, the declaration that the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors are now in a state of “cold shutdown” and “stable” sounds like some rare good news from the disaster zone. Not at all. As we all know, first impressions can be deceptive.

The industry definition of “cold shutdown” means that the temperature inside a nuclear reactor has stabilized below 95℃ from the hellish temperatures of the nuclear fission process. In the case of Fukushima, this suggests the crisis is over. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, the Japanese authorities have cheated by redefining  “cold shutdown” to suit the situation at Fukushima. Only operating nuclear reactors can be put into a state of “cold shutdown”. Reactors that have suffered meltdowns – like those at Fukushima – cannot be. The 260 tons of nuclear fuel inside the Fukushima reactors melted and burned through the steel floors of the containment vessels and into the thick concrete under pads. The melted fuel is far from under control. This means the temperature inside the reactor can’t be regulated by conventional means. Nobody at Fukushima actually knows what state this highly radioactive molten fuel is in or what temperature it is at because it’s obviously far too dangerous to go in and find out.
Also, tens of thousands of tons of water that was pumped into the reactors in the attempt to cool them remains inside and is highly radioactive. The authorities have no idea what to do with it. It’s leaking into the environment with some of it reaching the Pacific Ocean. Last week, Fukushima’s operator Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) had to abandon plans to dump it in the ocean after protests by local fishermen. Right now, there’s nowhere for it to go, other than to leak into the sea and groundwater.
So, we don’t have a “cold shutdown” at Fukushima.
On the eve of the “cold shutdown” announcement last week, undercover reporter Tomohiko Suzuki told a chilling story of conditions for workers at the Fukushima plant.  “Absolutely no progress is being made,” he says. 

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