For Immediate Release
Paul Gunter: (301) 523-0201 (cell); 301.270.2209 (o);
Kevin Kamps: (240-462-3216 (cell); 301.270.2209 (o)
Beyond Nuclear Staff Tracking Nuclear Plant Crisis in Japan Quake Zone
Available to provide technical information, analysis, comment
TAKOMA PARK, MD - Beyond Nuclear staff members are closely monitoring the unfolding nuclear power plant crisis in Japan following a massive earthquake and are available to provide technical expertise and information to media today and tonight.
Mixed reports about the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant confirm that emergency battery power is being used to keep the plant’s emergency core cooling systems running. A mass evacuation suggests the possibility that radioactivity is being – or could be – released from the plant.
Eleven of Japan’s 55 reactors are reportedly shut down due to the earthquake and as many as 6,000 residents are already being evacuated around the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
“The emergency at Fukushima Daiichi is alarming because the plant has lost central and emergency diesel power to most of its safety systems and is relying on battery power which can deplete in a matter of hours,” said Paul Gunter, director of the Reactor Oversight Project at Beyond Nuclear who has traveled in Japan and is familiar with their nuclear complex. “Once the batteries give out, the irradiated nuclear fuel in the operating reactor core could begin to melt down. If the containment systems fail, a catastrophic radioactivity release to the environment could occur. This particular containment system is already notorious for being a weak design likely to fail.”
Added Kevin Kamps, Radioactive Waste Watchdog at Beyond Nuclear who was recently on a nuclear power-related speaking tour in Japan: “In addition to the reactor cores, the storage pool for highly radioactive irradiated nuclear fuel is also at risk. The pool cooling water must be continuously circulated. Without circulation, the still thermally hot irradiated nuclear fuel in the storage pools will begin to boil off the cooling water. Within a day or two, the pool's water could completely boil away.
“Without cooling water, the irradiated nuclear fuel could heat to the point of spontaneously combusting in an exothermic reaction,” Kamps continued. “Since the storage pools are not located within containment, a catastrophic radioactivity release to the environment could occur. Given the large quantity of irradiated nuclear fuel in the pool, the radioactivity release could be worse than the Chernobyl nuclear reactor catastrophe of 25 years ago.”
“What this crisis is already demonstrating is that a heavy reliance on nuclear power becomes more of a liability than an asset during a natural disaster,” Gunter concluded. “Nuclear power plants themselves become more dangerous in this situation and increase, rather than diminish the risks. In addition, unlike renewable energy sources, nuclear power plants cannot function in this kind of emergency and therefore cannot supply the essential electricity needed to cope with the situation in the first place.”
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