In June 2011, Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Associates was featured in a podcast hosted by Chris Martenson. The show updated listeners as to some of the latest events surrounding Reactor 4 and groundwater monitoring concerns, I will only highlight a few of the details, the entire podcast can be found here.
Chris Martenson: What can they really do beyond just keep trying to dump water in there and keep their fingers crossed?
Arnie Gundersen: If you put too much water in these reactors they get heavy, and they are not designed to sway when there is heavy – tens of tons of extra water in them. So they are really not designed to sway. So let’s say there is a severe aftershock, Unit 3 and Unit 4 are in real jeopardy.
Chris Martenson: Is there some way that they [TEPCO] can maybe just throw up their hands and just pour a bunch of concrete on it and call it a day?
Arnie Gundersen: I think eventually they may get to the point of throwing up their hands and pouring the concrete on.
They can’t do that yet, because the cores are still too hot. So we are going to see the dance we’re in for another year or so, until the cores cool down.
At that point, there’s not anywhere near as much decay heat and you probably could consider filling them with concrete and just letting sit there, like we have it at Chernobyl, as a giant mausoleum.
That would work for units 1, 2, and 3. Unit 4 is still a problem, because again all the fuel is at the top and you can’t put the concrete at the top because you will collapse the building and it’s so radioactive, you can’t lift the nuclear fuel out. I used to do this as a living and Unit 4 has me stumped.
Chris Martenson: So what do they do, do you think?
Arnie Gundersen: I think they will be forced to build a building around the building and then, because you need heavy lifting cranes – cranes that lift a hundred and fifty tons, which are massive cranes, to put the put the nuclear fuel into canisters, which then can get removed.
That is sort of what happened at TMI, but all of the fuel at TMI was still at the bottom of the vessel. But it was a three-year process to get the molten fuel out of Three Mile Island – four years actually.
So the problem here is that all of the cranes that do that have been destroyed, at least on units 1, 3, and 4. And you can’t do it in the air. It has to be done under water.
So my guess is that they will have to build a building around the building to provide enough shielding and water, so that they can then go in and put this fuel into a heavy lift canister.
Chris Martenson: Okay, all right, I hadn’t considered that. That’s a great insight.
Almost a full year later, anyone looking to verify Arnie’s observations about Reactor 4 will find once again they ring true, and TEPCO is in fact thinking of constructing a cover for Reactor 4.
On March 29, 2012 TEPCO announced that it applied for an injection of 1 trillion yen in public funds.
On the same day TEPCO, through NISA, released the details of a new steel frame structure to be built around Unit 4 for recovering the fuel rods from the pool.
The inverted L shaped structure will be self-supporting and only the part carrying the fuel handling mechanism will be bolted to the wall of Unit 4.
The design of the 51m tall structure, to be covered by steel panels, will be completed by the end of June and construction will start this fall.
In preparation for the construction the remaining parts of the outer shell, pillars and roof of the 5th floor on the north side of Unit 4 needs to be removed, and this work will be completed by the end of June.
The crane to lift the fuel from Unit 4 is expected to be manufactured in the third quarter of 2012.
The common spent fuel pool currently holds 6400 spent fuel rods, some of which are to be removed to make space for fuel from Unit 4. The removed fuel will be stored in dry casks at the plant site.
The common spent fuel pool is undergoing repair work to prepare for removal of its fuel. The dry casks to hold the removed fuel will be manufactured, and a facility to store the dry casks will be designed by the end of June.
The removal of fuel from the common spent fuel pool is planned to be completed through this year.
In the second quarter of 2013 the schedule calls for removing rubble from the spent fuel pool in Unit 4 and a detailed survey on the condition of the fuel contained will be conducted.
The actual lifting of the fuel rods from Unit 4 is planned toward the end of 2013.
The reason why there are so many fuel rods in Unit 4 and the common spent fuel pool is due to lack of space in the storage facility at Rokkasho, Aomori prefecture.
A nuclear waste processing plant with a new storage facility is under construction in Rokkasho. It was due to have been completed in 1997, but has been delayed 18 times due to various problems.
The latest projected completion date for the nuclear waste processing plant was October 2012, but it was delayed again after another problem was found in February.
Therefore, the fuel removed from the common pool has to be stored at Fukushima Dai-ichi for the time being.
A graphic illustration of the structure (without cover) by TV Asahi news: http://livedoor.blogimg.jp/amenohimoharenohimo/imgs/b/4/b44532d8.jpg
A graphic illustration of the crane lifting fuel from the pool: http://livedoor.blogimg.jp/amenohimoharenohimo/imgs/2/b/2bd6302e.jpg
For more information on the Fukushima nuclear disaster and Fairewinds Associates please visit