Tepco, the owner of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant plans to remove a staggering number of fuel rods that have built up over time. Over 1,300 spent fuel rods are held at reactor Number 4 and they are capable of emitting the radiation of about 14,000 Hiroshima bombs if they are not handled within extremely small tolerances. The scheduled removal operation has now been moved up a week to November 8, according to an Oct. 30 EneNews article.
The rush is on because reactor Number 4 is sinking and is tipping over. The cages holding the rods are crumpled. As a result, the structure cannot withstand another high magnitude earthquake.
Japan's earthquake experts have predicted a high magnitude earthquake before year's end. This is based on the idea of a 75 year "recurrence interval". The last such interval occurred 75 years ago in 1938. There was a magnitude 7.4 quake that occurred in May. Two quakes, magnitude 7.7 and magnitude 7.8 occurred in November. When the three were combined, scientists arrived at a "moment-magnitude" of 8.1. This reasoning has led some scientists to predict a 9.0 quake before the end of this year.
In other words, they are very concerned that a high magnitude quake could finish the collapse of Reactor 4, leading to an unrecoverable catastrophe at Fukushima and around the world.
The rods are resting in a spent fuel storage tank that is 80 feet above ground and on the upper floor of the reactor. They weigh a total of about 400 tons.
A 273 ton mobile crane has been located in a separate room from the spent rods. Operators will remove them from their high position in what will be in a remote-control operation. The rods must remain covered by water as they are loaded into a steel chamber. The tolerances, as small as a millimeter, are critical and the crane operators will be operating without direct visual observation of the physical space.
Once the rods are in their steel chamber, they will be relocated to an intact building at the Fukushima power plant.
This will be a slow operation. If the work begins on November 8, it could go on throughout 2014. If the rods fall, are dropped or come within the millimeter tolerance of each other , they could explode, melt down and emit a massive amount of radiation that will never be contained. According to an Oct. 25 article, Global Research reports that radiation equivalent to 14,000 Hiroshimas could be emitted if anything goes wrong during the operation.
This novel operation has never been tried before and many experts are gravely concerned that a mistake could cause both fission and an explosion. Tepco has been responsible for several accidents and misjudgments, withholding the truth or outright lying.
The situation is one where Tepco and the Japanese government have lost the trust and support of the international nuclear science community. There has been a lot of talk about corruption in hiring workers, unbelievable errors made by operators, and concerns whether Tepco should be removed and put out of business. There are new reports that "Intensive contamination areas" exist far away from Fukishima, including Tokyo. In the end, the threat of a high magnitude earthquake and the rush to move such a massive number of spent, yet potentially active fuel rods is a very worrying matter.