Fukushima Daiichi, a nuclear power plant on the eastern coast of Japan is dealing with a severe disaster. The catastrophe started on March 11, 2011; when a 9.0 earthquake struck off the eastern coast of Japan. This massive quake cause a tsunami with waves of up to 14 meters high (46 feet) to smash the coast of Japan. The wall of this facility (Daiichi) were only designed to withstand a maximum wave of 10 meters (33 feet) high. The primary earthquake was not the direct cause of the power failure; the water from the tsunami fried the backup generator’s for the cooling systems. TEPCO (the largest electric utility in Japan) lost one of its two cooling pumps, and two of its three emergency power generators (1.3) during the disaster.
Before we go any further, lets take a look inside a reactor, to see how they work.
After the loss of Fukushima’s back up diesel generators due to flooding, the task of cooling the fuel rods became even more pressing. The government decided that the rods needed to be cooled by any means, so they used our ocean water to pour over the rods. Without cooling the fuel rods radiation could become airborne and travel into the atmosphere (not just localized to Japan).
But wait, how dose a fuel rod work; and where does all the water used to cool it go?
Since the disaster in 2011, there has been upwards of ‘5,000 to 15,000 terabecquerels of radioactive material that has reaching the ocean’ (1.5). To put that in perspective, 1 TBq = 1 trillion Bq = ~ 27 curies; 100 million curies were released in the Chernobyl disaster(3,700,000 TBq) . ‘Cigarette smoke inhaled from one pack per day (5.475 kg tobacco/yr) equals 0.000025 terabecquerel (0.000676 curies) from polonium-40/pack x 365 d/yr = 9.1 Bq/yr (1.7). To put it more simply, you would have to smoke at that rate for 1000 years to ingest .25 TBq’s (6.75 curies).
Enough with the numbers already; what can be done about this?
Freezing the ground around the plant is one of the strategies, that will be tried. Another is injecting the surrounding sediment with a gel-like material, that hardens like concrete. If the rods hit the ground water (as in burning though the floor and ground), the situation becomes very serous. Will these strategies work? Time will tell.
Regardless of how this turns out, it has taught humanity a devastating lesson. Our wasteful nature and dependence on cheap energy is decimating our earth. Can a solution ever be met when we continue to pretend a country or person has right over natural resources? What long term cost will we incur, from the arrogance of humanity believing we can trump the power of nature? Building a Nuclear power plant on the Ring of Fire (see 1.8), the most active area for volcanic eruptions and tremors in the world; seems like erratic thinking.