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by Justin McCurry

According to Gregory Jaczko, former head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Tepco and Japan’s nuclear regulation authorities might have prevented the water crisis from spiraling out of control had they acted more quickly after consulting their counterparts in the U.S. in the immediate aftermath of the accident.

Jaczko, who spoke at the FCCJ in late September, said that U.S. and Japanese officials were aware very early on that leaks would pose a risk after huge quantities of water were used to cool molten fuel. “It’s been known for a long time that this would be an issue,” he said. “My biggest surprise is to some extent how it’s been allowed to deteriorate… and how it’s almost become a surprise again that there are contamination problems, that there is leakage out into the sea.”

 

Jaczko, who resigned from the NRC last year, described the situation at Fukushima Daiichi as an “ongoing challenge rather than a crisis” but added that those challenges, including the safe storage of contaminated water, were “unprecedented.”

The contamination at Fukushima is very different from radiological events that have happened before,” he said. “Re-criticality does not appear to be a concern, but the need to continually provide cooling water is in itself creating an environmental problem. There is no solution that will make this go away tomorrow. Water will have to be pumped into the reactors for years, until it is possible to cool them with air.”

On the future of nuclear power in Japan, Jaczko was unequivocal, if ambitious. “We need to think about safety in a completely new way, so that it can’t lead to evacuations or land contamination. It is time to completely remove the possibility of accidents with a complete rethink of nuclear technology and the reactors themselves. One hundred years from now, I would like to see a Japan that doesn’t have to deal with nuclear risks.”

His co-speaker, Tetsuro Tsutsui, a member of the Citizens’ Commission on Nuclear Energy’s sub-committee on Nuclear Regulation, had some practical advice for Tepco.

Citing concern over the cost and feasibility of building an “ice wall” around the Fukushima reactors, Tsutsui, a former mechanical engineer and construction manager at petrochemical plants, suggested building an underground barrier in the hills behind Fukushima Daiichi to prevent groundwater from reaching the rectors below. The removal of spent fuel and toxic water should proceed as planned, he added.

Then we propose that the water-cooling of the damaged reactor cores should continue until the decay heat is reduced sufficiently for natural air circulation.” The reactors, he said, should then be encased in a concrete sarcophagus, Chernobyl style.

Said Tsutsui, “Our solution relies on proven, conventional methods that can be implemented faster and with fewer obstacles” than the time-consuming and potentially dangerous plan to remove molten fuel preferred by Tepco and the Japanese government.

READ THE WHOLE STORY IN THE NUMBER 1 SHIMBUN

 

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