You’d never know that the crisis at the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant is at a critical point if you only paid attention to the mainstream corporate media.  They’re not reporting the massive story about how TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) will, sometime in the next 60 days, begin the process of trying to remove more than 1300 spent fuel rods from a badly damaged pool perched 100 feet in the air.

If you’re not up on nuclear power plants, you might not know why this is such a big story.

Gaius Publius, who joined me on the show this morning, explains the technicalities at AmericaBlog:

We want to focus on reactor unit 4. Here’s a schematic of what one of these reactor units looks like (skillfully designed by GE, who wants you to know they “bring good things to life”):

Fukushima Mark I-style reactor and fuel storage unit

Fukushima Mark I-style reactor and fuel storage unit

What you care about is ” SFP,” where the fuel rods are stored. Here’s the legend provide with this sketch:

Rough sketch of a typical Boiling water reactor (BWR) Mark I Concrete Containment with Steel Torus including downcomers, as used in the BWR/1, BWR/2, BWR/3 and some BWR/4 model reactors.

DW = Drywell
WW = Wetwell
SFP = Spent Fuel Pool
RPV = Reactor Pressure Vessel
SCSW = Secondary Concrete Shield Wall

Notice where the fuel rods are stored — high off the ground and in water, in the area marked SFP.

Here’s what Fukushima unit 4 looks like today:

Fukushima Unit 4 today

Fukushima Reactor 4 today

Notice that it has no roof. The spent fuel rods (and about 200 “fully loaded” unspent rods — remember that “reactor 4 had been de-fueled” prior to the accident) are stored in a water-containing chamber high off the ground in a crumbling room and building without a roof.

How will “they” get the damaged fuel rods out of that crumbling room?

This is the problem today. There are about 1300 fuel rods stored in that room, packed together vertically in racks. Think of a pack of cigarettes standing upright with the top of the pack removed. Normally, the movement of fuel rods is done by a computer-driven machine that reaches into the room from above and removes or replaces a fuel rod by drawing it upward or lowering it downward.

The machine knows to the millimeter where each fuel rod is located. Also, the rods are undamaged — perfectly straight.

The problem is that this pack of cigarettes is crumpled, and the process must done manually. Therefore, the likelihood that some of the fuel rods will break is high. If that happens and fuel rods are exposed to the air — BOOM. What does “boom” look like?

Fukushima’s owner, Tokyo Electric (Tepco), says that within as few as 60 days it may begin trying to remove more than 1300 spent fuel rods from a badly damaged pool perched 100 feet in the air. The pool rests on a badly damaged building that is tilting, sinking and could easily come down in the next earthquake, if not on its own.

Some 400 tons of fuel in that pool could spew out more than 15,000 times as much radiation as was released at Hiroshima.

That’s just part of the story. I urge you to click over and read the whole thing.

Then check out what Harvey Wasserman, editor of, wrote about the severity of the situation at Common Dreams:

The pool rests on a badly damaged building that is tilting, sinking and could easily come down in the next earthquake, if not on its own.

Some 400 tons of fuel in that pool could spew out more than 15,000 times as much radiation as was released at Hiroshima.

The one thing certain about this crisis is that Tepco does not have the scientific, engineering or financial resources to handle it. Nor does the Japanese government. The situation demands a coordinated worldwide effort of the best scientists and engineers our species can muster.

Why is this so serious?

We already know that thousands of tons of heavily contaminated water are pouring through the Fukushima site, carrying a devil’s brew of long-lived poisonous isotopes into the Pacific. Tuna irradiated with fallout traceable to Fukushima have already been caught off the coast of California. We can expect far worse.

Tepco continues to pour more water onto the proximate site of three melted reactor cores it must somehow keep cool. Steam plumes indicate fission may still be going on somewhere underground. But nobody knows exactly where those cores actually are.

Much of that irradiated water now sits in roughly a thousand huge but fragile tanks that have been quickly assembled and strewn around the site. Many are already leaking. All could shatter in the next earthquake, releasing thousands of tons of permanent poisons into the Pacific. (Note: A relatively small earthquake struck Fukushima prefecture on Thursday, an indication of the inevitable occurrence of larger future ones in the area.)

The water flowing through the site is also undermining the remnant structures at Fukushima, including the one supporting the fuel pool at Unit Four.

More than 6,000 fuel assemblies now sit in a common pool just 50 meters from Unit Four. Some contain plutonium. The pool has no containment over it. It’s vulnerable to loss of coolant, the collapse of a nearby building, another earthquake, another tsunami and more.

Wasserman’s point, highlighted in the above passage, that the best and brightest must be brought in to insure that this operation goes flawlessly, is necessary if we are to protect life as we know it on the planet Earth.  It is that serious an issue!

Should the attempt fail, the rods could be exposed to air and catch fire, releasing horrific quantities of radiation into the atmosphere. The pool could come crashing to the ground, dumping the rods together into a pile that could fission and possibly explode. The resulting radioactive cloud would threaten the health and safety of all us.

Chernobyl’s first 1986 fallout reached California within ten days. Fukushima’s in 2011 arrived in less than a week. A new fuel fire at Unit 4 would pour out a continuous stream of lethal radioactive poisons for centuries.

Former Ambassador Mitsuhei Murata says full-scale releases from Fukushima “would destroy the world environment and our civilization. This is not rocket science, nor does it connect to the pugilistic debate over nuclear power plants. This is an issue of human survival.”

Neither Tokyo Electric nor the government of Japan can go this alone. There is no excuse for deploying anything less than a coordinated team of the planet’s best scientists and engineers.

We have two months or less to act.

For now, we are petitioning the United Nations and President Obama to mobilize the global scientific and engineering community to take charge at Fukushima and the job of moving these fuel rods to safety.

If you have a better idea, please follow it. But do something and do it now.

The clock is ticking. The hand of global nuclear disaster is painfully close to midnight.

I still can’t fathom why the 2020 Olympics were awarded to Tokyo…

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