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The Highest Risk: Problems of Radiation at Reactor Unit 4, Fukushima Daiichi via Japan Focus

The efforts of two Japanese citizens to raise awareness of the risk of a further major accident at Fukushima are to be commended. More than 13 months after the accident began – the threats from the Fukushima Daiichi site are multi-dimensional and on-going, but the under reporting of these risks as a result of nuclear crisis fatigue tied with the 24 hour news cycle can lead to a complacency on the current and future reality at the site.

The specific issue highlighted by Matsumura and Murata is the risk and consequences of the failure of the spent fuel pool at the destroyed reactor unit 4 at Fukushima Daiichi. As they report the spent fuel inventory at this pool is the largest of all 4 reactors that were destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

While one can take issue with some of the language used – fate of the whole world being one – it is important to understand the scale of the threat, and why there are no easy and quick solutions. The risks from spent fuel have been known almost since the beginning of nuclear power – the radiation levels are so high that without shielding, direct exposure to spent fuel rods is fatal. Despite this knowledge the world proceeded to deploy nuclear power reactors – led by the United States – that has created a total global inventory of over one quarter of million tons. Most of this is stored in water filled pools. In addition to creating a massive plutonium stock – 2500 tons (contained in spent fuel) and compared with the micro-grams that were valued above gold in 1944 by the engineers running the Manhattan project – the spent fuel crisis has spread worldwide to every nation operating nuclear reactors.

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