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Japan spent fuel rods pose danger worse than Chernobyl

If spent fuel rods catch fire at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant  “all bets are off,”  Robert Alvarez a US expert on nuclear disarmament and environmental and energy said yesterday in a news media teleconference entitled Japan Reactor Crisis. "They don't have the situation under control," Alvarez said. He added that there's still the possibility that the spent fuel rods will become exposed, igniting a reaction that could prove to be worse than Chernobyl.

“Along with the struggle to cool the reactors is the potential danger about the inability to cool the plant's spent nuclear fuel pools,”  Avarez said. “They can catch fire if the water is drained or boils off. They are in much more vulnerable buildings. The building was designed by General Electric. They have spent fuel pools that are several stories above ground. There have been two hydrogen explosions that destroyed reactor building. It’s important to understand that the spent fuel pool is not under any containment.

He went onto say that spent pools hold more radioactive fuel than a reactor.
“In 2003, my colleagues and I published a study that indicated that if a pool were drained, and we were looking at acts of terror, we concluded that a major release of Cesium from a Zerconium fire could render and area uninhabitable greater than Chernobyl created. We recommend  they be stored in dry facility. A partially or completely drained spent fuel could lead to...release of large quantities of radioactivity to the environment.”   

The experts talked about the need to store spent fuel rods in dry storage in the future, but noted that government authorities have resisted this due to the costs of shifting from water storage to dry storage.

Meanwhile, Arjun Makhijani, Ph.D., president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research confirmed official statements that the danger of radiation exposure to people on the West Coast of North America is “minimal.”

“It’s thousands of miles away and the dilution is very great, in terms of individual exposure," Makhijani said.  "The dangers are to the people of Japan.”

The  spent fueld rods at Fukushima Daiichi are still radioactive and potentially as hot and dangerous as the fuel rods inside the reactors if not kept submerged in water, Makhijani said. “When you unload spent fuel from a reactor, it has to be stored under water for years.”

The government of Japan has been “not forthcoming” with real information about the plant and was seeking to calm the population above all else,” Aileen Mioko Smith, director of Green Action, Kyoto, Japan said.  Mioko Smith has been a leading critic of nuclear power in Japan for 30 years and is maintaining close contact with Japanese colleagues during a visit to San Francisco.

“It’s eerily calm,” Mioko Smith said.  “They don’t  have the answers.  They’re very fearful that anything might panic the public so they try to remain calm.They want to cover it up as long as possible. There’s very little transparency in Japan. There’s a complete whitewash.”

"It's hard to imagine we should take the reassurances by the government at face value," Makhijani agreed.

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