Last year, during the height of the BP oil spill, I wrote a blog about all of the problems that I saw coming down the road; based on a poem by William Butler Yeats. I was accused of being rather “doomish” in the blog, and I admit that I might have been a bit over the top. In light of recent events in Japan and elsewhere however, I think I may have been just a bit early.
For any of you that were so engrossed in your game consoles not to notice, Japan was hit by three major catastrophes in this last week. The first, an earthquake measuring 9.0, caused extensive damage to the northeastern portion of the country. It was followed a half an hour later by a tsunami that completely devastated their eastern coastal regions in the north. This also had the unfortunate side effect of bringing on the third and potentially most hazardous problem, the potential meltdowns of the 6 nuclear reactors in Fukushima Japan.
Now I’m not going to say that this is a world ending event like others are saying on many of the conspiracy sites around the planet. The chance of a “China Syndrome” type meltdown is a bit of a stretch. Unfortunately, this leaves a fair amount of wiggle room for a grade A disaster to occur. To the many pundits who are saying this is no big deal, I am forced to reply, “You’re a bunch of idiots, shut up”. Why am I so annoyed by them you might ask?
Reactor #3 at the Fukushima Nuclear site is using a different type of fuel than others at the site. This reactor uses MOX fuel, a mixture of Uranium and Plutonium 139. While uranium is highly radioactive and presents a serious health risk when released, plutonium is much more toxic and has a radioactive half life of approximately 24,000 years. All nuclear reactors have small amounts of plutonium as a by-product of power generation. Generally, this amounts to about one percent of the waste from this type of power generation. In a MOX reactor however, the plutonium is far more concentrated as it is using materials that have been used for weapons. As there is no real way of dealing with former weapons grade material, some Brainiac decided that we should use this material for nuclear fuel. Let’s be frank here and say that Japan is not the only country using this process. The United State also has approximately 20 plus of these reactors currently in operation. It’s been widely reported that this type of fuel has a lower melting point than standard uranium fuel and that this is what is causing so many difficulties in reactor number three in Fukushima.
To add to the stress in the current situation, three of the reactors are currently having problems with the spent fuel containment ponds inside each reactor building. I have no idea why any engineer thought it was a great idea to store spent nuclear fuel on top of a reactor in a pool of water, but it appears that the inability to pump cold water into the buildings due to extensive damage, has caused the water in these pools to boil away, which has lead to the rods heating up and starting low level fission reactions. This contributes to the release of radiation into the environment and pushes the levels of heat and radioactive particles into dangerous levels. In turn, this prevents the workers at the plants from hooking up new pumps to cool the ponds. Now there are reports that the spent fuel rods may not be in the pools at all, but scattered all over the containment building, or in glowing piles on the floor. Basically, they have a mess and no way to clean it up at this time.
With the reports this morning that the water in Tokyo is not fit for infants to drink, radiation levels rising in the area, and no end in sight for the situation to be resolved, it might be a good time for you to look at your current situation where you are and ask yourself, “How well am I prepared for a calamity of this nature? Do I have sufficient food and water to get me and any family members through a crisis? How would I survive a catastrophic event like that with no warning?”.
In my next post, we’ll take a look at some options for being prepared for these types of events.