Fukushima. Everyone should be working in some way to fix this deadly problem, and I don’t mean just sending money to relief workers , although that’s nice.
There are three different big problems at Fukushima: missing reactor cores, waste water, and fuel rods. Any one of these is a global threat that requires a global response.
Estimates say 300 tons (71,895 gallons/272,152 liters) of contaminated water is flowing into the ocean every day. Contamination of the ocean has been going on since the 2011 disaster and will reach the US this year.
The first six ideas below are things I’ve heard and why I think they won’t work. The seventh is my current best idea.
1. Shoot the waste water into space
- the water is too heavy, we can’t concentrate it enough, more waste is being constantly produced
2. Dump the radioactive water into an active volcano
- magma comes *out* of volcanoes, transporting it is not feasible
3. Pump the water into a subduction zone under the earth
- the mantle is mostly a very slow moving solid and the movement is too slow. It would sit there for thousands of years, transporting it would be too costly, no practical way to drill into such a place.
4. Release it all into the ocean.
- same as doing nothing, this would kill the pacific ocean, reducing world atmospheric oxygen, eventually killing most life on earth.
5. Transport the waste water by pipeline to an existing nuclear waste area.
- potential disaster all along the pipeline, does not address the reactors making new waste constantly.
6. Detonating a 25-km radius neutron bomb at the Fukushima plant to turn off the nuclear reactions taking place, and neutralize the radiation from radioactive particles that have been emitted within that radius.
- Neutrons can transmute uranium, but you there would not be enough from a bomb. You’d just create more nuclear material.
7. Use tunnel boring machines to dig under Fukishima, then explode nuclear bombs deep underground to create giant cavities into which the contaminated water could be pumped. Use robotic tunnelers to dig from the nuclear caverns up to the sites of the disaster and let the waste fall down the tunnels into the caverns.
It is most likely that removal of the most precarious 1,533 fuel rods will fail. The result could be a nuclear disaster unlike any ever experienced. It might be an explosion, a nuclear fire or chain reaction that sets off the other 11,000 fuel rods.
The biggest and most immediate challenge is the 1,533 spent fuel rods packed tightly in a pool four floors above Reactor 4. Before the storm hit, those rods had been removed for routine maintenance of the reactor. But, now they are stored 100 feet in the air in damaged racks. They weigh a total of 400 tons and contain radiation equivalent to 14,000 times the amount released by the Hiroshima atomic bomb.
The building in which these rods are stored has been damaged. TEPCO reinforced it with a steel frame, but the building itself is buckling and sagging, vulnerable to collapse if another earthquake or storm hits the area. Additionally, the ground under and around the building is becoming saturated with water, which further undermines the integrity of the structure and could cause it to tilt.
How dangerous are these fuel rods? Harvey Wasserman explains that the fuel rods are clad in zirconium which can ignite if they lose coolant. They could also ignite or explode if rods break or hit each other. Wasserman reports that some say this could result in a fission explosion like an atomic bomb, others say that is not what would happen, but agree it would be “a reaction like we have never seen before, a nuclear fire releasing incredible amounts of radiation,” says Wasserman.
These are not the only spent fuel rods at the plant, they are just the most precarious. There are 11,000 fuel rods scattered around the plant, 6,000 in a cooling pool less than 50 meters from the sagging Reactor 4. If a fire erupts in the spent fuel pool at Reactor 4, it could ignite the rods in the cooling pool and lead to an even greater release of radiation. It could set off a chain reaction that could not be stopped.
My drastic solution is to dig caverns under the mess with bombs and use tunnel machines so it all falls in. Think big and go for the long term fix.
- How many miles thick is the crust under Fukishima?