Experts warn of possible catastrophe at Japan reactor

Wednesday, June 13, 2012
By Paul Martin
TOKYO, June 13, 2012

Some nuclear experts are warning that spent fuel rods at a damaged plant in Japan could trigger a major catastrophe despite the government’s declaration in December that the emergency phase of the nation’s worst nuclear disaster was over.

Fifteen months after a magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi plant and led to meltdowns, fears about reactor 4 have grown as its building holds a storage pool filled with 1,535 nuclear fuel rod assemblies.

The pool, which is 30 metres above ground, has been left uncovered since a hydrogen blast last year blew off the upper part of the outer wall of the containment building.

Most of the assemblies are spent fuel rods with a total amount of radioactive caesium equal to 5,000 atomic bombs of the kind that destroyed Hiroshima, said Hiroaki Koide, assistant professor at the Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute.

The government estimated the amount of caesium—137 already released by the Fukushima disaster were equal to that of 168 Hiroshima bombs.

If a large quake or other event were to cause the pool to crack and drain, it could lead to a new catastrophe, Koide said.

“We just all have to pray that an earthquake does not happen before that fuel is removed,” Arnie Gundersen, nuclear engineer of US-based Fairewinds Energy Education, said on his website.

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