One of the sad realities of the late 20th and early 21st centuries on this little planet of ours is that when the US deems that another nation (or a small group of people in that nation) is a threat to US national security, invasion is very likely to be in the near future of that nation. Just in the last decade, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, and Yemen have all felt the sting of US fears made manifest by explosive ordinances. Syria, Iran, Sudan, North Korea and China seem destined to follow unless sanity returns to the world.
So it is quite disconcerting that a US has offered up the notion that the spent fuel pool (SPF) which dangles like the Sword of Damocles over the damaged reactor at Fukushima #4 is the latest threat to US security.
The spent fuel in the hobbled unit 4 at Fukushima Daiichi not only sits in an elevated pool outside the reactor core’s reinforced containment, in a high-consequence earthquake zone adjacent to the ocean — just as nearly all the spent fuel at the nuclear site is stored — but it’s also open to the elements because a hydrogen explosion blew off the roof during the early days of the accident and sent the building into a list.
Alarmed by the precarious nature of spent fuel storage during his recent tour of the Fukushima Daiichi site, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, subsequently fired off letters to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko and Japanese ambassador to the U.S. Ichiro Fujisaki. He implored all parties to work together and with the international community to address this situation as swiftly as possible.
A press release issued after his visit said that Wyden, a senior member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources who is highly experienced with nuclear waste storage issues, believes the situation is “worse than reported,” with “spent fuel rods currently being stored in unsound structures immediately adjacent to the ocean.” The press release also noted the structures’ high susceptibility to earthquakes and that “the only protection from a future tsunami, Wyden observed, is a small, makeshift sea wall erected out of bags of rock.”
We will note that the good Senator Wyden might be the first high-ranking official to conclude that the Japanese government is downplaying the severity of the Fukushima crisis, a point of which many in Japan have long been convinced. But where Wyden’s concerns might actually result in more beneficial openness and honesty from the Japanese government, the extension of his concerns are troubling.
AlterNet asked Sen. Wyden if he considers the spent fuel at Fukushima Daiichi a national security threat.
In a statement released by his office, Wyden replied, “The radiation caused by the failure of the spent fuel pools in the event of another earthquake could reach the West Coast within days. That absolutely makes the safe containment and protection of this spent fuel a security issue for the United States.”
Cue the Marines conveniently stationed in Okinawa to act to protect US interests.
Of course, this is all in jest. The US will not act to force Japan to do anything to alleviate this threat to US security because doing so would threaten the nuclear power industry which concerns, from all appearances, trumps the damage that radioactive fallout from the Fukushima #4 SPF might present to the residents of the US.
With all due respect to the position of the Senator, these decisions are no longer made in the US Congress, but in the boardrooms of multinational corporations. Senator Wyden has either eschewed donations from these companies or he is acting to ensure that more donations will be forthcoming in return for his future silence on the issue, a situation which seems to infest the legislatures of both Japan and the US.
So why isn’t the NRC and the Obama administration doing more to shed light on the extreme vulnerability of these irradiated fuel pools at Fukushima Daiichi, which threaten not only Japan but the U.S. and the world?
Nuclear waste experts say it would expose the fact that the same design flaw lies in wait — and has been for decades — at dozens of U.S. nuclear facilities. And that’s not something the NRC, which is routinely accused of promoting the nuclear industry rather than adequately regulating it, nor the pro-nuclear Obama administration, want to broadcast to the American public.
“The U.S. government right now is engaged in its own kabuki theatre to protect the U.S. industry from the real costs of the lessons at Fukushima,” Gunter said. “The NRC and its champions in the White House and on Capitol Hill are looking to obfuscate the real threats and the necessary policy changes to address the risk.”
The lesson for all Japanese (and those living downwind on the west coast of the US) is that a small percentage of the world’s 7 billion inhabitants are merely acceptable losses when political and economic interests in Japan and the US converge.