Posted 9 months ago on Nov. 19, 2013, 3:25 p.m. EST by LeoYo
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"Chernobyl Was Transparent Compared to Fukushima": Harvey Wasserman on Ongoing Crisis
Tuesday, 19 November 2013 13:26 By Laura Flanders, Truthout | Q&A
The operators of Japan's devastated Fukushima nuclear plant have announced plans to remove 400 tons of highly irradiated spent fuel from the site, in an unprecedented operation that began Monday November 18. Nuclear researcher Harvey Wasserman believes that the highly risky procedure, in fact, the entire plant needs to be taken out of the hands of the operators- Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO). In this interview with GRITtv, Wasserman explains how the fuel rods at Reactor Number Four have been stored since the earthquake and tsunami that hit the Fukushima Daiichi Plant in March of 2011. They can't heat up, be exposed to air or break without releasing deadly gas, but the cooling pool they've been resting in is leaky and potentially corroded by seawater and could never withstand another tremor or quake. The cooling pool is also 100 feet up.
"These rods have to be brought to the ground. It's never been done under these kinds of circumstances," says Wasserman. But as a 40-year activist in the field, Wasserman is especially concerned about the operators, TEPCO.
"I believe we got better information from the Soviet Union about Chernobyl than we're getting from TEPCO and the Japanese about Fukushima," he told GRITtv.
A petition with more than 150,000 signatures was delivered to the United Nations earlier this November, calling for the world to take action. But who? As he points out, the International Atomic Energy Agency" has a mandate to promote nuclear power."
What does all of this say about the prospect of safe nuclear power and the "new generation of plants" the Obama administration endorses? And what about the Tokyo Olympics? Wasserman's answers aren't reassuring.
Laura Flanders: We saw you there in a little clip of video [delivering your petition to the United Nations]. How long did that petition take to get together?
Harvey Wasserman: Just a matter of weeks. I put it up, and within less than a month we had 115,000 at MoveOn, 40,000 at Roots Action; the Green Shadow Cabinet pulled in a couple hundred organizations. It just flew.
LF: The exciting thing about your petition was, it got me at least, to start paying attention to what was happening at Fukushima! When I went back and looked, not at the US press but the international press, I was terrified.
HW: You should be terrified. It's a mind-boggling situation at Fukushima. This is my 40th year fighting nuclear power, I hate to say it, back when [we] coined the phrase "No Nukes" in 1973. All the years we've been dealing with nuclear power, no one ever talked about three simultaneous meltdowns and four explosions at a single reactor site.
This is not a Soviet reactor situation, these are General Electric reactors. There are two dozen in the United States virtually identical to Fukushima.
LF: What is the situation at Fukushima, and how is it affecting world waters and food?
HW: Part of the problem with the situation at Fukushima is that we don't know everything. The site is controlled by Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), which is a private corporation. The infamous TEPCO, and the government of Japan is on top of that, and the government of Japan is very unforthcoming about information from the Fukushima site.
LF: Well I'm sure they've been very busy applying for the Olympic.
HW: Yes, well they won that, unfortunately. They may have to rescind that at some point in time, but the Japanese government right now has a very pro-nuclear administration, and they're causing us a lot of problems. I believe we got better information from the Soviet Union about Chernobyl than we're getting from TEPCO and the Japanese about Fukushima.
LF: The information we were getting this summer included revelations that 300 tons of toxic water leaked in one week, and then in other news, the fact that 300 tons are leaking into the Pacific daily.
HW: Every day, and this is for two and half years now, and there is no end in sight. It could go on, as Dr. Helen Caldicott said, for 50 years. We've already detected radiation from Fukushima off of the coast of Alaska. There was a study of 15 tuna caught off the coast of California; out of the 15 tuna caught, 15 had radiation from Fukushima.
LF: Radiation enough to be dangerous?
HW: Yes, you wouldn't want to eat this tuna. This is really, really serious, Laura. I look through the internet everyday; I'm getting reports from the Pacific that I can only refer to as apocalyptic: Major dead zones, radiation being detected all over the place. Radiation in even small doses, cesium, strontium, iodine, will bio-accumulate. If you get a relatively small dose into some seaweed, fish will come; they will eat enough seaweed that it will be significant; they will be eaten up the food chain; we're at the top of the food chain: this is very, very serious.
LF: When I looked into it further, it turns out this month the government of Japan is responding to this crisis of the summer saying, we're going to take action. One of the actions that they seem to be taking is this complicated-looking spent fuel replacement procedure . . .
HW: Well, this is a major crisis. We finally got an article in The New York Times that has been blacked out in American major media ["Removing Fuel Rods Poses New Risks at Crippled Nuclear Plant"] Thank God for your show and for the internet.
There is a spent fuel pool 100 feet in the air, brilliant design. John King at CNN called it a "bathtub on the roof." It has no containment over it, and when the earthquake-tsunami hit, unit 4 had the fuel out. They were doing inspections in this pool, and a lot of it is very, very radioactive, and the stuff has been suspended 100 feet in the air since the accident. It actually caught on fire at one point, and they had to pour in seawater, which is corrosive. There is debris in the pool; we don't know the status of the fuel rods; and it has to come out of there because if, God forbid, [there's] another earthquake . . . If one is strong enough to knock these fuel rods to the ground, they are clad in zirconium alloy, which will catch fire if it's exposed to air, spontaneously. Zirconium is the stuff that was in flashcubes that burn very brightly very quickly. If there is a fire of this stuff, there has been shown to be enough radioactive cesium in these rods to exceed the releases at Hiroshima by a factor of 14,000. We're talking about huge radiation leaks. So these rods have to be brought to the ground. It's never been done under these kinds of circumstances.