Fukushima disaster highlighted the dangers of spent fuel pools in nuclear reactor buildings

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Hiroshi Tasaka was a former special adviser to Naoto Kan, who was prime minister when the Fukushima Daiichi crisis started.  He was one of a select group who glimpsed the secret worst-case scenario document written up by the Japan Atomic Energy Commission on March 25 that was later reportedly quashed by the government.

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“I understand quite well the intentions of the government, which now wants to send out a message of hope. But at this stage, all the risks should be put on the table,” he said in a recent interview with The Japan Times.   “I would say (the crisis) just opened Pandora’s box,”

 

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The Fukushima crisis has highlighted the dangers of spent fuel pools, which are outside the robust primary containment vessels of the reactors themselves, Tasaka said.  The potential heat from the Reactor 4 pool was also much higher than other pools because 204 of the 1,535 assemblies were still “new ones” that had been temporarily removed from reactor 4 for regular checks.

Japan  has no prospect of starting up the experimental high-level nuclear waste processing facility in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, because of both technical difficulties which means utilities must store their spent fuel assemblies in cooling pools at their respective reactor sites as a “temporary measure.”

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“The storage capacities of the spent fuel pools at the nation’s nuclear power plants are reaching their limits,” Tasaka wrote in a new book, “Kantei Kara Mita Genpatsu Jiko No Shinjitu” (“The Truth About the Nuclear Accident as Viewed From the Prime Minister’s Office”).  According to Tasaka, the utilities’ fuel pools were about 70 percent full on average in 2010, but the figure was 80 percent at Fukushima No. 1.

 

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Tasaka is also deeply concerned about the “groundless optimism” displayed by bureaucrats and business leaders as they rush to restart dozens of reactors that remain halted for safety checks since March 11.  The nation’s nuclear regulators must carry out drastic reforms to regain the people’s trust. This is an imperative for the government if it wants to keep pushing nuclear power, Tasaka said.

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