A Very Dangerous Removal Of Nuclear Fuel Rods At Fukushima

image: TEPCO artwork (not actual fuel pool – damage not shown)

More than two years after an earthquake and tsunami brought disaster to a nuclear plant in Japan, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) will begin a very dangerous process of removing more than 1,500 nuclear fuel rods from a damaged reactor, a process that has never been attempted before on this scale.

If something goes wrong, it could bring disaster on the order of 10X Chernobyl…

TEPCO will begin taking out 1,500 nuclear fuel assemblies from a cooling pool more than 100 feet above ground at the severely damaged Fukushima #4 reactor where the reactor building exploded, likely due to a build-up of hydrogen from a neighboring reactor.

A robotic crane will pluck the highly irradiated rods from a storage pool at Reactor #4.
If any are dropped or other mishaps occur, a nuclear reaction and radiation could be released into the atmosphere.

Scientists worldwide have warned for well over two years of the global dangers and implications of this process.

The building is blown apart, apparently structurally unsound and is in a state of high risk as the racks holding the nuclear fuel rod assemblies are damaged and deformed from the explosion in March of 2011.

During the critical removal process, if the fuel assemblies touch, or are dropped or break open there is potential for an uncontrolled nuclear reaction and explosion to occur.

Each of the approximate 1,500 fuel rods contain within themselves 350 uranium “pellets”, each of them approximately 1cm x 1cm.

According to Robert Alvarez, former Senior Policy Adviser to the Secretary of Energy, Deputy Assistant Secretary for National Security and one of the nation’s leading experts on spent fuel pools,

“There is more than 37 million curies of long lived radioactivity stored up in the spent fuel just within this single pool. If another severe earthquake were to strike causing the pool to drain, or some other event such as an explosion, it could result in a catastrophic radiological fire releasing nearly 10 times the amount of Cs-137 [into the Earths atmosphere] as was released by the Chernobyl accident.

-Dept. of Nuclear Engineering, University of California Berkeley

According to Gregory Jaczko, former Chairman of U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission,

“…the upcoming attempt to remove Fukushima Unit 4 spent fuel is unprecedented, the pool has significant structural damage and the overall effort is very risky.

-Press Conference, 9/24, Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan

According to Yale University Professor Emeritus Charles Perrow, a frequent author for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists,

This has me scared.” In the event of an explosion, “Tokyo would have to be evacuated because of cesium and other poisons that are there will spread very rapidly. Even if the wind is blowing the other way it’s going to be monumental.”


According to Mycle Schneider, an energy consultant and adviser to members of the European Parliament and the Int’l Atomic Energy Agency,

A massive spent fuel fire would likely dwarf the current dimensions of the catastrophe and could exceed the radioactivity releases of Chernobyl dozens of times.


The fuel removal process is expected to take many months or longer while leaving the spent fuel in the damaged pool is not an option. It has to be done. Let’s hope there are no accidents…

The federal government is making plans for a nuclear disaster…
…with the recent emergency purchase of tens of millions of dollars in medications to help combat radiation sickness.

While they are not publicizing the move, this is your cue. Judging from the near non-existent mainstream news coverage here in the U.S., you might want to consider preparations, just in case.

Hat Tip to Chris at AVOW for the email heads-up and quotes.

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    1. Prairie Patriot,
      I also was wondering that.

      i have some iosat tablets which are expired by an year. anyone know if they are still ok to use? still effective that expired?

      1. From the NRC,

        What is the shelf life of KI tablets?

        As with all drug products, the manufacturer must specify an expiration date of the drug on either the package or the individually wrapped tablet. The NRC distributes two tablet strengths of potassium iodide, 130 and 65 mg tablets.

        The shelf life of IOSAT 130 mg tablets is 7 years.
        The shelf life of ThyroSafe 65 mg tablets is 6 years.

        Extending the shelf life of KI tablets is possible due to the inherent stability of the chemical form. However, the tablets must be stored under the conditions specified by the manufacturer to be considered for shelf life extension.

        Is it safe to take KI tablets with an expired shelf-life?

        Yes, potassium iodide tablets are inherently stable and do not lose their effectiveness over time. Manufacturers must label their products with a shelf-life to ensure that consumers purchase safe and useful products.

        According to FDA guidance on Shelf-life Extension, studies over many years have confirmed that none of the components of KI tablets, including the active ingredient, has any significant potential for chemical degradation or interaction with other components or with components of the container closure system when stored according to labeled directions. To date, the only observed changes during stability (shelf-life) testing have been the failure of some batches of KI tablets to meet dissolution specifications. Some tablets tested required slightly longer than the specified time to achieve dissolution. Even in the case of a failure of this sort, the product remains usable. In such cases, instructions can be provided to crush the tablets and mix them with a juice or other liquid prior to administration as suggested for emergency pediatric dosing.

        1. Ken,
          thanks much for the info. ours are still factory sealed, and kept in cool dark cupboard. so am thinking they will do.

          thanks again.

  1. As we keep reading about all the dangers of removal, it’s also important to understand the dangers of non-removal. It all comes down to probability of the structure failing due to any number of reasons vs the robot failing. My guess is that the robot’s percentage of success outweighs the structural integrity of the building.

  2. Ummmmm

    Are they removing these rods one at a time? If so, why? Why not grab a whole rack and swing it out of the pool and in to a water cask for movement to it’s ultimate destination, wherever that may be? A lot of this doesn’t make sense to me.

    1. Yes, evidently they remove a rack at a time (as illustrated in the image). They first lower a removable-portable tank into the fuel pool and then lift a rack of rods from their position and then place them (lower them) into the submerged portable tank, which is then subsequently lifted out of the fuel pool. Then it is lowered to the ground level to a truck and moved to another location on the premises (not sure where).

      1. Ken, was watching, few days ago, a bit on this on t.v., think it was BBC news.

        they said, (more or less)

        these rods would be removed/moved, one at a time, and each, individually placed in “water bath”. sounded like a coffin filled with water to me.(not sure if i am intending a pun or not)

        that this is a extremely intricate process , usually monitored, moved , accomplished by extremely complex computers/machine/robot type things.
        they were concerned (news reporter said), “could this then actually be accomplished by hand”..

        also, each worker is extremely limited to duration of time allowed in, due to contamination, and there was expressed concern, “would they, basically, run out of willing workers, or ……………………………………………….

    2. Tepco have already removed some bundles of fuel rods to check their condition.

      They will probably remove all the easy intact bundles and leave the too hard ones. The excuse for not doing the hard task will be that they will wait for developing technology.

    3. The fuel rods are positioned in fuel assemblies.
      There are approximately 60 – 74 fuel rods in each assembly. (depending on position in reactor).
      Each rod is filled with fuel pellets.

  3. The people of Japan are “Dead Men Walking” already, now TEPCO wants to take care of the rest of the world.

  4. Pray for multiple miracles because there’s literally no way they can clean up Fukishima adequately. Because of the grotesque decisions to both burn contaminated materials plus dump the contaminated water to the ocean, plus the radioactive isotope release (all slowly admitted and coming to light in mainstream news organizations) we’re doomed to the effects of the radiation.

    Sure you could take iodine products to protect your thyroid but that won’t help against all of the other radioactive isotopes released. Do some checking on what radiactive strontium does to your bones. It will just accumulate there and give you bone cancer. So you avoid the worst kinds of thyroid cancer but then other ones affect you.

    I sure am glad I don’t live directly on the West Coast or Canada. Both regions got quite a bit of fallout from the first few explosions not to mention the perpetual release that’s poisoning the Pacific Ocean.

    Why does that matter? It concentrates in the marine life as it’s consumed. Since kelp is one of the main products that might help and kelp comes from the sea, maybe you really don’t want to consume kelp (much less any marine sea life) that might have come from the Pacific Ocean.

    1. Thanks for the link, which has some rational information. What I don’t necessarily trust however is the word from ‘TEPCO’ and other ‘officials’. I do not automatically believe what is fed to me by main stream sources. While they certainly do not lie or twist truths all of the time, they certainly do their share of it…

      From the Forbes article:

      “Now, there is one other possible worry here. Which is that the fuel rods have been so badly damaged by being exposed while hot before that they have oxidised. This would indeed be a rather different kettle of radioactive fish to deal with. If the rods have been heated, intensely, in air, then they may have oxidised. And there is a possible form of reaction with the uranium they contain if they are heated up to high temperatures again.”

      Then the writer says,

      “…we do know that the rods were not exposed to air and also that they never reached high temperatures.”

      I, for one, am not so sure about that… I certainly ‘hope’ he is correct (and how does he ‘know’ for sure?), and that the rods are not oxidized from a previous over-heating, and I ‘hope’ that there is no accident while removing the rods from fuel-pool #4, however it is wise to consider the “what-if” scenarios…

      It has been 2.5 years since the disaster, and the fuel rods have cooled somewhat. ‘They’ say that the rods would only get up to 700 degrees-C if exposed today. Let’s hope we don’t find out…

  5. At least one early journalist who covered the Fukushima debacle has discussed the fact that some of the reactors were using MOX technology (in Reactor 3). It is entirely possible that this was a carefully calculated way of giving the Japanese nuclear weapons that has since backfired.

    Having followed the story since day one, I can tell you that the situation was so serious (even in the very first week) that some Japanese officials were discussing relocating to Okinawa for continuity of government as well as making inquiries about relocating industry. Now the situation has gotten far worse in a nightmarish way.

    While it’s always been one of the worst ecological disasters in world history, the untold story is how badly it will affect the Western Hemisphere.

    Think, isn’t it plausible that North Korea or even China could declare that the Japanese are being so irresponsible with the radioactivity, that it is in effect an act of war upon Asia? To my mind, I can honestly see that happening at some point.

  6. Wow, there’s a news story that an additional 20 sailors are suing TEPCO for all manner of radiation related illnesses. Remember the US Navy was in the immediate area and got a full dose? I didn’t realize so many folks were associating their illnesses. I’d only heard of two.

    The total count is now over seventy sailors. They have very bizarre health conditions for such a young group of people in their early twenties.

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