Fukushima A Chronic Catastrophe
The Fukushima Disaster and Other Irreproducible Experiments
by Joules Burn
The situation at the Fukushima nuclear reactors has evolved to one of chronic catastrophe or, more optimistically, feed and bleed followed by dialysis. For the viewer at home, the long-awaited debut of picture-taking robots inside the reactor buildings nicely complements the airborne fleet of drones that have been providing grist for armchair forensics experts everywhere. While we keep getting reassured that the Fukushima crisis is not as severe as Chernobyl, I will instead look a few years further back in an effort to learn something about the present dilemma. Fukushima should be more comparable to the Three Mile Island meltdown in 1979 than Chernobyl, but it has apparently left the former eating its radioactive dust. Why? Can anything be learned from this?
The full extent of the damage at Fukushima and the sequence of events will not be fully known for a long time. However, it is currently believed that there has been considerable damage to nuclear fuel rods, both in the reactors and in the spent fuel pools, caused by the loss of coolant (water) after the earthquake/tsunami. Subsequent to this, high levels of radioactive iodine and cesium were measured in air, ground, and water samples near the plant, and trace levels were measured across the Pacific ocean. In particular, high levels of Iodine-131 were measured, causing a run on iodine tablets everywhere. This seemed to me to be a rather expected development, given what happened in Chernobyl – though there were many irrational optimists who claimed that the fuss would all blow over soon (no pun intended). For a look on the dark side there was the MIT Worst Case Scenario: