As a result of the 8.9 earthquake and subsequent tsunamis in Japan, the 40 year old Fukushima No. 1 nuclear reactor there is in big trouble.
Fukushima 1 is one of six reactors at the nuclear complex160 miles north of Tokyo.
The LA Times reported today that the nuclear rector’s “emergency cooling system has not been functioning properly and authorities fear a meltdown.”
Japanese officials have ordered 3000 people living within 2 miles of Fukushima 1 to evacuate. They also instructed others residing within six miles to stay in their homes.
Fifteen other nuclear plants, out of 33 in Japan, also shut down because of the 8.9 shaker.
Inside a reactor a controlled nuclear reaction produces heat that is subsequently is used to generate electricity. But that reaction also creates lots of deadly radioactivity.
If the nuclear fuel gets too hot, it will start to melt, causing potentially catastrophic amounts of radioactivity to threaten to escape into the environment.
To avoid this calamity, the nuclear fuel must be constantly bathed in cooling water. The system that supplies the cooling water is powered by electricity.
At Fukushima 1, the supply of cooling water was stopped when the disaster knocked out the electrical supply that powered the cooling system. Ironically, the source of that electricity must come from outside the plant.
There is a backup system of diesel powered generators at Fukushima 1, but that system also failed.
The final line of defense to prevent a meltdown consists of batteries that can power the cooling system. The Times reported that these batteries went into operation “less than an hour” after the disaster cut off the juice.
But these batteries only last about eight hours, a stretch of time that has since passed at Fukushima 1.
Meanwhile the US Air Force and Japanese ground troops are racing replacement generators to the troubled site, the Times reported.
Why It Could Happen Here.
Nevertheless, pressure inside the reactor containment building has risen “to 50% above normal,” according to the Times. To deal with this dangerous development, authorities at the plant have started venting radioactive gases to the outside environment.
As usual, they claim this is a safe practice. And while it is preferable to the pressure inside the containment building blowing it apart, the National Academy of Science has established that there is no risk free dose of radiation.
On today’s Pacifica radio show, “Letters and News,” guest Robert Alvarez of the Institute of Policy Studies, and a former US Department of Energy official, reported that California’s two operating nuclear facilities, San Onofre and Diablo Canyon, were built to withstand an earthquake of only 7.5.
An 8.9 earthquake is many times more powerful.
Scientists are predicting a major earthquake is likely in California sometime in the next 10 years.
San Onofre and Diablo Canyon are also sitting on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, convenient to any tsunamis that might be speeding their way at up to 500 mph.
The owners of both facilities, however, would like to have the operating licenses of their aging nukes extended for an additional 20 years past their current 40 year licenses.
Diablo Canyon applied for such a license extension in November 2009, and could have it granted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as soon as next year.
But the Japan disaster demonstrates not only why this should not happen, but also why Diablo Canyon and San Onofre should cease operation immediately.