Remember that 1993 film in which the Bill Murray repeats the same day over and over again? The Japanese nuclear crisis has also become déjà vu ad nauseum (please excuse mixed romance languages). Fukushima news reports today aren’t appreciably different from those shortly after the earthquake and tsunami. On May 18 the New York Times reported (note two words emphasized):
Amid widening alarm in the United States and elsewhere about Japan’s nuclear crisis, military fire trucks began spraying cooling water on spent fuel rods at the country’s stricken nuclear power station late Thursday after earlier efforts to cool the rods failed, Japanese officials said. . . . Earlier Thursday Japanese military forces tried to dump seawater from a helicopter on Reactor No. 3, making four passes and dropping a total of about 8,000 gallons as a plume of white smoke billowed. . . . Video of the effort appeared to show most of the water missing the reactor and the Japanese military later said the measure had little effect on reducing the temperature in the pool where the spent rods are stored. . . . The developments came as the authorities reached for ever more desperate and unconventional methods to cool damaged reactors, deploying helicopters and water cannons in a race to prevent perilous overheating in the spent rods of the No. 3 reactor.
Unconventional, maybe, but no longer new. In fact, it’s a reprise of what was attempted when the cooling problem emerged shortly after the earthquake and tsunami. From the BBC on March 17:
Thursday’s attempt to use helicopters to dump seawater on to the Fukushima power station is almost certainly unprecedented in more than half a century of nuclear power operations around the world. Long-range video footage indicates why it is not a more widely-used technique: it does not appear to work. Water cannon — tried, with similar results — seemed a similarly desperate measure.
Desperate in March, it must be a deeper shade of desperate now, which would seem to be indicated by this, from the May 18 Times article.
The decision to focus on the No. 3 reactor appeared to suggest that Japanese officials believe it is a greater threat, since it is the only one at the site loaded with a mixed fuel known as mox, for mixed oxide, which includes reclaimed plutonium [and which] would produce a more dangerous radioactive plume than the dispersal of uranium fuel rods at the site. . . . In the worst case, experts say, workers could be forced to vacate the plant altogether, and the fuel rods in reactors and spent fuel pools would be left to melt down, leading to much larger releases of radioactive materials.
In early April, Australian TV news is even more discouraging.
. . . one expert says the radiation leaks will be ongoing and it could take 50 to 100 years before the nuclear fuel rods have completely cooled and been removed. “As the water leaks out, you keep on pouring water in, so this leak will go on for ever,” said Dr John Price, a former member of the Safety Policy Unit at the UK’s National Nuclear Corporation. . . . “The final thing is that the reactors will have to be closed and the fuel removed, and that is 50 to 100 years away.
Meanwhile, from the May 18 Times story:
The United States’ top nuclear official followed up his bleak appraisal of the grave situation at the plant the day before with a caution that it would “take some time, possibly weeks,” to resolve.
Looks like we can look forward to yet more sequels of Japan’s Groundhog Day.
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