A timely Russian-Japanese Rochade

by  Anton Keller, Secretary, Good Offices Group of European Lawmakers- url: www.solami.com/refuge.htm
with inputs by: Irina Gerassimova, Lidija Jametti, Patrick Martin, Patrick Masters, Erich Reyhl, Andreas Schweizer
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Turning a diplomatic headache into an insurance policy for national survival
  If geologists cant rule out Japan's disappearance in the Pacific,
diplomats may provide for its survival - e.g. in Siberia

After the events triggered in Japan on March 11, 2011, renewed public and political awareness of much bigger tectonic risks may last long enough and, among Japan's decision makers, provide for a national paradigma change. This would seem to entail a fundamental revision of national priorities and reorientation of foreign policies, seeking above all to secure Japan's survival as a political entity - even on foreign territory.

In the case of the Russian Federation, cooperation and long-term lease formulas would be called for which would reliably meet the long-term legitimate interests of both partner states. Concretely, this might involve a renewable 99-year Russian lease of the disputed Kuril Islands - in exchange for a a renewable 99-year lease of a Russian territory which must be suitable for development and accomodation of a survival-guaranteeing large segment of Japan's population, economy and civil society.

To this end, suitable third parties might explore rendering related good offices to both the Russian and Japanese authorities, including necessary research.

related links:
Kuril islands dispute between Russia and Japan, BBC, 1 November 2010 Last updated at 11:27 GMT
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev orders more arms on disputed Kuril islands, ningbo.com, 10 Feb 2011
Russian (Sergei Lavrov) & Japanese (Seiji Maehara) Leaders Meet On Kuril Islands Dispute, Voice of America, February 11th, 2011 at 8:55 am UTC
Video: Backgrounder: Importance of Southern Kuril Islands, cntv.cn, 02-12-2011 09:59 BJT
Tsunami waves reach Kuril Islands, AFP, Khaleej Times, 11 March 2011, 10:21 AM
The Tokai Earthquake of 20xx, about.com, Andrew Alden

Kuril Islands May 21, 2012 magnitude 4.7 earthquake

The earthquake causing the Fukushima disaster moved the whole of Japan 2 meters horizontally. Much bigger horizontal and vertical displacements cannot be excluded, eventually necessitating the evacuation of millions of persons. Proper preparation for such an eventuality is no luxury but is incumbent on responsible, deep-draught and visionary leaders. Nuclear accidents, like the ones detailed below, have necessitated evactions in the tens and hundreds of thousand range. The Fukushima disaster in particular is probably a high-water mark of the short history of man's fiddling with the nuclear génie. It is still not behind us, and it is widely seen as a global paradigma change in nuclear matters. It seems to mobilise the human genius across the globe in the quest for environmentally sound practises. And it may help to open up previously closed minds and doors. Thus foreign know-how, experts and technologies may help Japan - and the world - to win the race against the next monster quake and resolve in time the global Cesium and other radiation threats seen to be associated with Fukushima's fuel rod pool standing on damaged structures, looming 30 meters above the ground, and said to be many times that experienced with the Chernobyl disaster.

The Kuril Islands, showing the de facto division between Japan and Russia over time. Wikipedia

   Thus awakened and more visionary Japanese and Russian politicians may find it indicated, possible and mutually beneficial to resolve their long-standing territorial conflict with a reciprocal long-term lease of suitable territories. On the Russian side, this could be made to be in line with the new Siberian development plans. While for the Japanese, an organic solid development of an Eurasian foothold would, in the event of a tectonic cataclysm, constitute a genuine future-securing reserve position. Following are some examples of nuclear accident-induced large-scale evacuations.


1.    On 29 September 1957, an INES level 6 radiation contamination incident happened at the nuclear waste storage facility of the secret Mayak, USSR, plant (Mayak/Kyshtym disaster):

Map of the East Urals Radioactive Trace (EURT): area contaminated by the Kyshtym disaster

    In September 1957, the cooling system in one of the tanks containing about 70–80 tons of liquid radioactive waste failed and was not repaired. The temperature in it started to rise, resulting in evaporation and a chemical explosion of the dried waste, consisting mainly of ammonium nitrate and acetates (see ammonium nitrate bomb). The explosion, estimated to have a force of about 70–100 tons of TNT threw the concrete lid, weighing 160 tons, into the air.[3] There were no immediate casualties as a result of the explosion, which released an estimated 2 to 50 MCi (74 to 1850 PBq) of radioactivity.[2][4][5]
    In the next 10 to 11 hours, the radioactive cloud moved towards the northeast, reaching 300–350 kilometers from the accident. The fallout of the cloud resulted in a long-term contamination of an area of more than 800 square kilometers, primarily with caesium-137 and strontium-90.[2] This area is usually referred to as the East-Ural Radioactive Trace (EURT).[6]

At least 22 villages were exposed to radiation from the disaster with a total population of around 10,000 were evacuated. Some were evacuated after a week but it took almost 2 years for evacuations to occur at other sites.[7] (emphasis added, full Wikipedia text here)


2.    On 26 April 1986, an INES level 7 nuclear accident occurred at the Chernobyl, USSR, Nuclear Power Plant (Chernobyl disaster):

The nuclear reactor after the disaster. Reactor 4 (center). Turbine building (lower left). Reactor 3 (center right).

The Chernobyl disaster (locally Ukrainian: [...] Chornobylska Katastrofa – Chornobyl Catastrophe) was a catastrophic nuclear accident that occurred on 26 April 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine (then officially Ukrainian SSR), which was under the direct jurisdiction of the central authorities of the Soviet Union. An explosion and fire released large quantities of radioactive contamination into the atmosphere, which spread over much of Western USSR and Europe. It is widely considered to have been the worst nuclear power plant accident in history, and is one of only two classified as a level 7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale (the other being the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011).[1] The battle to contain the contamination and avert a greater catastrophe ultimately involved over 500,000 workers and cost an estimated 18 billion rubles, crippling the Soviet economy.[2]

Map of radiation levels in 1996 around Chernobyl

    The disaster began during a systems test on Saturday, 26 April 1986 at reactor number four of the Chernobyl plant, which is near the city of Prypiat and in close proximity to the administrative border with Belarus and Dnieper river. There was a sudden power output surge, and when an emergency shutdown was attempted, a more extreme spike in power output occurred, which led to a reactor vessel rupture and a series of explosions. These events exposed the graphite moderator of the reactor to air, causing it to ignite.[3] The resulting fire sent a plume of highly radioactive smoke fallout into the atmosphere and over an extensive geographical area, including Pripyat. The plume drifted over large parts of the western Soviet Union and Europe. From 1986 to 2000, 350,400 people were evacuated and resettled from the most severely contaminated areas of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine.[4][5] According to official post-Soviet data,[6][7] about 60% of the fallout landed in Belarus.
    The accident raised concerns about the safety of the Soviet nuclear power industry, as well as nuclear power in general, slowing its expansion for a number of years and forcing the Soviet government to become less secretive about its procedures.[8][notes 1] The government coverup of the Chernobyl disaster was a "catalyst" for glasnost, which "paved the way for reforms leading to the Soviet collapse."[9]
    Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus have been burdened with the continuing and substantial decontamination and health care costs of the Chernobyl accident. A report of the International Atomic Energy Agency,[7] examines the environmental consequences of the accident. Another UN agency, UNSCEAR, has estimated a global collective dose of radiation exposure from the accident "equivalent on average to 21 additional days of world exposure to natural background radiation"; individual doses were far higher than the global mean among those most exposed, including 530,000 local recovery workers who averaged an effective dose equivalent to an extra 50 years of typical natural background radiation exposure each.[10][11][12] Estimates of the number of deaths that will eventually result from the accident vary enormously; disparities reflect both the lack of solid scientific data and the different methodologies used to quantify mortality – whether the discussion is confined to specific geographical areas or extends worldwide, and whether the deaths are immediate, short term, or long term.
The initial evidence that a major release of radioactive material was affecting other countries came not from Soviet sources, but from Sweden, where on the morning of 28 April[83] workers at the Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant (approximately 1,100 km (680 mi) from the Chernobyl site) were found to have radioactive particles on their clothes.[84]

It was Sweden's search for the source of radioactivity, after they had determined there was no leak at the Swedish plant, that at noon on 28 April led to the first hint of a serious nuclear problem in the western Soviet Union. Hence the evacuation of Pripyat on 27 April 36 hours after the initial explosions, was silently completed before the disaster became known outside the Soviet Union. The rise in radiation levels had at that time
 Thirty one deaths are directly attributed to the accident, all among the reactor staff and emergency workers.[13] An UNSCEAR report places the total confirmed deaths from radiation at 64 as of 2008. The Chernobyl Forum estimates that the eventual death toll could reach 4,000 among those exposed to the highest levels of radiation (200,000 emergency workers, 116,000 evacuees and 270,000 residents of the most contaminated areas); this figure includes some 50 emergency workers who died of acute radiation syndrome, nine children who died of thyroid cancer and an estimated total of 3940 deaths from radiation-induced cancer and leukemia.[14]
    The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that, among the hundreds of millions of people living in broader geographical areas, there will be 50,000 excess cancer cases resulting in 25,000 excess cancer deaths.[15] For this broader group, the 2006 TORCH report predicts 30,000 to 60,000 excess cancer deaths,[16] and a Greenpeace report puts the figure at 200,000 or more. The Russian publication Chernobyl, which has received criticism for its methodology and sourcing, concludes that among the billions of people worldwide who were exposed to radioactive contamination from the disaster, nearly a million premature cancer deaths occurred between 1986 and 2004.[17]

Effects:    International spread of radioactive substances
    An exhibit at the Ukrainian National Chernobyl Museum. Mutations in both humans and other animals increased following the disaster. On farms in Narodychi Raion of Ukraine, for instance, in the first four years of the disaster nearly 350 animals were born with gross deformities such as missing or extra limbs, missing eyes, heads or ribs, or deformed skulls; in comparison, only three abnormal births had been registered in the five years prior.[72][73][74][75][76][77] Despite these claims, the World Health Organization states, "children conceived before or after their father's exposure showed no statistically significant differences in mutation frequencies."[78]Four hundred times more radioactive material was released than had been by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The disaster released 1/100 to 1/1000 of the total amount of radioactivity released by nuclear weapons testing during the 1950s and 1960s.[79] Approximately 100,000 km² of land was contaminated with fallout, the worst hit regions being in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia.[80] Slighter levels of contamination were detected over all of Europe except for the Iberian Peninsula.[16][81][82]
    The initial evidence that a major release of radioactive material was affecting other countries came not from Soviet sources, but from Sweden, where on the morning of 28 April[83] workers at the Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant (approximately 1,100 km (680 mi) from the Chernobyl site) were found to have radioactive particles on their clothes.[84]
    It was Sweden's search for the source of radioactivity, after they had determined there was no leak at the Swedish plant, that at noon on 28 April led to the first hint of a serious nuclear problem in the western Soviet Union. Hence the evacuation of Pripyat on 27 April 36 hours after the initial explosions, was silently completed before the disaster became known outside the Soviet Union. The rise in radiation levels had at that time already been measured in Finland, but a civil service strike delayed the response and publication.[85]

Areas of Europe contaminated with 137Cs (km2) [86]
Country    37–185 k Bq/m2     185–555 kBq/m2     555–1480 kBq/m2     +1480 kBq/m2
Belarus      29 900      10 200         4 200           2 200
Ukraine      37 200       3 200           900             600
Russia       49 800       5 700         2 100             300
Sweden       12 000
Finland      11 500
Austria       8 600
Norway        5 200
Bulgaria      4 800
Switzerland   1 300
Greece        1 200
Slovenia        300
Italy           300
Moldova          60
Totals      162 160      19 100         7 200           3 100
    Contamination from the Chernobyl accident was scattered irregularly depending on weather conditions, but rain was purposely seeded over the Belorussian SSR by the Soviet air force to remove radioactive particles from clouds heading toward highly populated areas.[87] Reports from Soviet and Western scientists indicate that Belarus received about 60% of the contamination that fell on the former Soviet Union. However, the 2006 TORCH report stated that half of the volatile particles had landed outside Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia. A large area in Russia south of Bryansk was also contaminated, as were parts of northwestern Ukraine. Studies in surrounding countries indicate that over one million people could have been affected by radiation.[88]
    Recently published data from a long-term monitoring program (The Korma Report)[89] shows a decrease in internal radiation exposure of the inhabitants of a region in Belarus close to Gomel. Resettlement may even be possible in prohibited areas provided that people comply with appropriate dietary rules.
    In Western Europe, precautionary measures taken in response to the radiation included seemingly arbitrary regulations banning the importation of certain foods but not others. In France some officials stated that the Chernobyl accident had no adverse effects.[90] Official figures in southern Bavaria in Germany indicated that some wild plant species contained substantial levels of caesium, which were believed to have been passed onto them by wild boars, a significant number of which had already contained radioactive particles above the allowed level, consuming them.[clarification needed][91]

Radioactive release
Contributions of the various isotopes to the (atmospheric) dose in the contaminated area soon after the accidentLike many other releases of radioactivity into the environment, the Chernobyl release was controlled by the physical and chemical properties of the radioactive elements in the core. While the general population often perceives plutonium as a particularly dangerous nuclear fuel, its effects are almost eclipsed by those of its fission products. Particularly dangerous are highly radioactive compounds that accumulate in the food chain, such as some isotopes of iodine and strontium.
    Two reports on the release of radioisotopes from the site were made available, one by the OSTI and a more detailed report by the OECD, both in 1998.[92][93] At different times after the accident, different isotopes were responsible for the majority of the external dose. The dose that was calculated is that received from external gamma irradiation for a person standing in the open. The dose to a person in a shelter or the internal dose is harder to estimate.
    The release of radioisotopes from the nuclear fuel was largely controlled by their boiling points, and the majority of the radioactivity present in the core was retained in the reactor.
    All of the noble gases, including krypton and xenon, contained within the reactor were released immediately into the atmosphere by the first steam explosion.
    55% of the radioactive iodine in the reactor, containing about 1760 PBq or 400 kg of I-131, was released, as a mixture of vapor, solid particles, and organic iodine compounds.
    Caesium (85 PBq Cs-137 [94]) and tellurium were released in aerosol form.
    An early estimate for fuel material released to the environment was 3 ± 1.5%; this was later revised to 3.5 ± 0.5%. This corresponds to the atmospheric emission of 6 t of fragmented fuel.[93]
Total atmospheric release is estimated at 5200 PBq.[95]
    Two sizes of particles were released: small particles of 0.3 to 1.5 micrometers (aerodynamic diameter) and large particles of 10 micrometers. The large particles contained about 80% to 90% of the released nonvolatile radioisotopes zirconium-95, niobium-95, lanthanum-140, cerium-144 and the transuranic elements, including neptunium, plutonium and the minor actinides, embedded in a uranium oxide matrix. (emphasis added, full Wikipedia text here)


3.    On 11 March 2011, an INES level 7 nuclear accident occurred at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant, following the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami (Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster):

    The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster [...] is a series of equipment failures, nuclear meltdowns, and releases of radioactive materials at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant, following the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami on 11 March 2011.[5][6] It is the largest nuclear disaster since the Chernobyl disaster of 1986.[7]

Reactor Unit 3 (right) and Unit 4 (left) on 16 March.
Three of the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi overheated, causing meltdowns which released large amounts of radioactive material into the air.
Pipes are the direction of the ocean.[231

    The plant comprises six separate boiling water reactors originally designed by General Electric (GE), and maintained by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). At the time of the quake, Reactor 4 had been de-fuelled while 5 and 6 were in cold shutdown for planned maintenance.[8] The remaining reactors shut down automatically after the earthquake, and emergency generators came online to control electronics and coolant systems. The tsunami broke the reactors' connection to the power grid and also resulted in flooding of the rooms containing the emergency generators. Consequently those generators ceased working and the pumps that circulate coolant water in the reactor ceased to work, causing the reactors to begin to overheat. The flooding and earthquake damage hindered external assistance.

Map of Japan's electricity distribution network, showing incompatible systems between regions

    In the hours and days that followed, reactors 1, 2 and 3 experienced full meltdown.[9][10] As workers struggled to cool and shut down the reactors, several hydrogen explosions occurred.[11] The government ordered that seawater be used to attempt to cool the reactors—this had the effect of ruining the reactors entirely.[12] As the water levels in the fuel rods pools dropped, they began to overheat. Fears of radioactivity releases led to a 20 km (12 mi)-radius evacuation around the plant, while workers suffered radiation exposure and were temporarily evacuated at various times. Electrical power was slowly restored for some of the reactors, allowing for automated cooling.[13]
    Japanese officials initially assessed the accident as Level 4 on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) despite the views of other international agencies that it should be higher. The level was successively raised to 5 and eventually to 7, the maximum scale value.[14][15] The Japanese government and TEPCO have been criticized in the foreign press for poor communication with the public and improvised cleanup efforts.[16][17][18] On 20 March, the Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano announced that the plant would be decommissioned once the crisis was over.
Map of contaminated areas around the plant (22 March – 3 April).

The Japanese government estimates the total amount of radioactivity released into the atmosphere was approximately one-tenth as much as was released during the Chernobyl disaster.[19] Significant amounts of radioactive material have also been released into ground and ocean waters. Measurements taken by the Japanese government 30–50 km from the plant showed radioactive caesium levels high enough to cause concern,[20] leading the government to ban the sale of food grown in the area. Tokyo officials temporarily recommended that tap water should not be used to prepare food for infants.[21][22].
2007: Tsunami-study ignored
In 2007 TEPCO did set up a department to supervise all its nuclear facilities, and until June 2011 its chairman was Masao Yoshida, the chief of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. An in-house study in 2008 pointed out that there was an immediate need to improve the protection of the power station from flooding by seawater. This study mentioned the possibility of tsunami-waves up to 10.2 meters. Officials of the department at the company's headquarters insisted however that such a risk was unrealistic and did not take the prediction seriously.[57]

2008: Seismic-concerns
In addition to concerns from within Japan, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has also expressed concern about the ability of Japan's nuclear plants to withstand seismic activity. At a meeting of the G8's Nuclear Safety and Security Group, held in Tokyo in 2008, an IAEA expert warned that a strong earthquake with a magnitude above 7.0 could pose a "serious problem" for Japan's nuclear power stations.[58]
The earthquake was followed by a 13–15 m (43–49 ft) maximum height tsunami arriving approximately 50 minutes later which topped the plant's 5.7 m (19 ft) seawall,[73][74][75] flooding the basement of the Turbine Buildings and disabling the emergency diesel generators[76][77] located there[72] at approximately 15:41.
Possibility of criticality
    Reports of 13 observations of neutron beams 1.5 km "southwest of the plant's No. 1 and 2 reactors" from 13 to 16 March raised the possibility that nuclear chain reactions could have occurred after the initial SCRAMing of the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi.[153] 16 March reports that fuel rods in the spent fuel pool at Unit 4 could have been exposed to air appeared to indicate that uncontrolled fission may have occurred in that fuel pool.[154] Later reports of exceptionally high iodine-134 levels appeared to confirm this theory because very high levels of iodine-134 would be indicative of criticality.[155] The same report also showed high measurements of chlorine-38,[156] which some nuclear experts used to calculate that self-propagating fission must be occurring in Unit 1.[157][158] Despite TEPCO suggesting the iodine-134 report was inaccurate, the IAEA appeared to accept the chlorine-based analysis as a valid theory suggesting criticality when it stated at a press conference that "melted fuel in the No. 1 reactor building may be causing isolated, uncontrolled nuclear chain reactions".[159] However, TEPCO confirmed its concern about the accuracy of the high iodine and chlorine report by formally retracting the report on 21 April,[160] which eliminated both the exceptionally high iodine-134 and chlorine-38 levels as proof of criticality. TEPCO did not appear to comment on the criticality concern when withdrawing its report,[161][162] but the IAEA has not withdrawn its comments, and some off-site experts find the currently-measured iodine-134 levels higher than expected.[163][164]
Possibility of criticality in the spent fuel pool
TEPCO claimed that there was a small but non-zero probability that the exposed fuel assemblies could reach criticality.[254][255] The BBC commented that criticality would never mean a nuclear explosion, but could cause a sustained release of radioactive materials.[254] Criticality is usually considered highly unlikely, owing to the low enrichment level used in light water reactors.[256][257][258] American nuclear engineer Arnold Gundersen, noting the much greater power and vertical debris ejection compared to the Unit 1 hydrogen blast, has theorized that the Unit 3 explosion involved a prompt criticality in the spent fuel pool material, triggered by the mechanical disruption of an initial, smaller hydrogen gas explosion in the building.[259] (emphasis added, full Wikipedia text here).

4.    An apparently knowledgable commentator to akiomatsumura.com, on April 7, 2012 (6:40am) pointed out the following specifity of the spent fuel situation at Fukushima:
Pool 4 and the nearby Fukushima spent fuel storage pond were NOT any ordinary spent fuel pools, here’s why:
    - nearly the entire stockpile of spent fuel that Japan has collected over decades of nuclear plant operation had only recently been moved to these pools from all over Japan, just months before the tsunami struck
    - this stockpile of spent fuel was actually a mother-lode of opportunity and was to have been then moved to the new fuel reprocessing facility almost completed in the north of Japan, ostensibly to make MOX fuel (that was co-incidentally being test-run in reactor 3), and make Japan largely independent from the Western dominated uranium markets
    - Japan has never been allowed to reprocess its own nuclear fuel since some of by-products are weapons grade plutonium and uranium. Japan doesn’t possess nuclear weapons despite being the only nation to be attacked by them.
    - If the spent fuel in these pools begins overheating and catches fire it will be almost the entire stockpile of decades worth of spent fuel from Japanese reactors that will be burning. The magnitude of the situation is difficult to overstate.
5.    On this earthquake-prone background in particular, it apears to be a real, yet widely ignored regional damocles sword all of its own that at Fukushima, some 30 m above the ground and supported only by a damaged structure, there looms a pool containing over 1200 irradiated spent fuel rods. The technical difficulties for transfering these fuel rods to safe places are such that these works are estimated to take up to two years. Expert opinions differ on whether during this time span the associated dangers entailed in a similarly big earthquake could be compounded by the proximity - 50 meters - of an additional some 10000 spent fuel rods. And whether all this adds up to a seismically exposed radiological inventory of truly global and immediate concern. One champion for enhanced and accelerated international attention and cooperation for dealing with the aftermath of Fukushima is Japan's former Ambassador to Switzerland and Senegal, Mitsuhei Murata. Following is an account of his commendable efforts.
akiomatsumura.com    April 3, 2012 [updated on 4/5/12 to reflect corrected calculations]

Fukushima Daiichi Site: Cesium-137 is 85 times greater than at Chernobyl Accident
By Akio Matsumura  (emphasis added; text available in Japanese and German - 94 comments)

Ambassador Mitsuhei Murata

Japan’s former Ambassador to Switzerland, Mr. Mitsuhei Murata, was invited to speak at the Public Hearing of the Budgetary Committee of the House of Councilors on March 22, 2012, on the Fukushima nuclear power plants accident. Before the Committee, Ambassador Murata strongly stated that if the crippled building of reactor unit 4—with 1,535 fuel assemblies in the spent fuel pool 100 feet (30 meters) above the ground—collapses, not only will it cause a shutdown of all six reactors but will also affect the common spent fuel pool containing 6,375 fuel assemblies, located some 50 meters from reactor 4. In both cases the radioactive assemblies are not protected by a containment vessel; dangerously, they are open to the air. This would certainly cause a global catastrophe like we have never before experienced. He stressed that the responsibility of Japan to the rest of the world is immeasurable. Such a catastrophe would affect us all for centuries. Ambassador Murata informed us that the total numbers of the spent fuel assemblies at the Fukushima Daiichi site excluding the assemblies in the pressure vessel is 11,421 (396+615+566+1,535+994+940+6375).

I asked top spent-fuel pools expert Mr. Robert Alvarez, former Senior Policy Adviser to the Secretary and Deputy Assistant Secretary for National Security and the Environment at the U.S. Department of Energy, for an explanation of the potential impact of the 11,421 assemblies.

I received an astounding response from Mr. Alvarez [updated 4/5/12]:

    In recent times, more information about the spent fuel situation at the Fukushima-Dai-Ichi site has become known.  It is my understanding that of the 1,532 spent fuel assemblies in reactor No. [4, 301] assemblies are fresh and unirradiated.
    This then leaves 1,231 irradiated spent fuel rods in pool No. 4, which contain roughly 37 million curies (~1.4E+18 Becquerel) of long-lived radioactivity.  The No. 4 pool is about 100 feet above ground, is structurally damaged and is exposed to the open elements. If an earthquake or other event were to cause this pool to drain this could result in a catastrophic radiological fire involving nearly 10 times the amount of Cs-137 released by the Chernobyl accident.
    The infrastructure to safely remove this material was destroyed as it was at the other three reactors.  Spent reactor fuel cannot be simply lifted into the air by a crane as if it were routine cargo.  In order to prevent severe radiation exposures, fires and possible explosions, it must be transferred at all times in water and heavily shielded structures into dry casks.. As this has never been done before, the removal of the spent fuel from the pools at the damaged Fukushima-Dai-Ichi reactors will require a major and time-consuming re-construction effort and will be charting in unknown waters. Despite the enormous destruction cased at the Da–Ichi site, dry casks holding a smaller amount of spent fuel appear to be unscathed.
    Based on U.S. Energy Department data, assuming a total of 11,138 spent fuel assemblies are being stored at the Dai-Ichi site, nearly all, which is in pools. They contain roughly 336 million curies (~1.2 E+19 Bq) of long-lived radioactivity. About 134 million curies is Cesium-137 — roughly 85 times the amount of Cs-137 released at the Chernobyl accident as estimated by the U.S. National Council on Radiation Protection (NCRP). The total spent reactor fuel inventory at the Fukushima-Daichi site contains nearly half of  the total amount of Cs-137 estimated by the NCRP to have been released by all atmospheric nuclear weapons testing, Chernobyl, and world-wide reprocessing plants (~270 million curies or ~9.9 E+18 Becquerel).
    It is important for the public to understand that reactors that have been operating for decades, such as those at the Fukushima-Dai-Ichi site have generated some of the largest concentrations of radioactivity on the planet.
Many of our readers might find it difficult to appreciate the actual meaning of the figure, yet we can grasp what 85 times more Cesium-137 than the Chernobyl would mean. It 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.

There was a Nuclear Security Summit Conference in Seoul on March 26 and 27, and Ambassador Murata and I made a concerted effort to find someone to inform the participants from 54 nations of the potential global catastrophe of reactor unit 4. We asked several participants to share the idea of an Independent Assessment team comprised of a broad group of international experts to deal with this urgent issue.

I would like to introduce Ambassador Murata’s letter to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to convey this urgent message and also his letter to Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda for Japanese readers. He emphasized in the statement that we should bring human wisdom to tackle this unprecedented challenge.

It seems to us that the Nuclear Security Summit was focused on the North Korea nuclear issue and on the issue of common security from a terrorist attack. Our appeal on the need for the independent assessment at Reactor 4 was regarded as less urgent. We predicted this outcome in light of the nature of the Summit. I suppose most participants fully understood the potential disaster which will affect their countries. Nevertheless, they decided not to raise the delicate issue, perhaps in order to not ruffle their diplomatic relationship with Japan.

I was moved by Ambassador Murata’s courage in pressing this issue in Japan. I know how difficult it is for a former career diplomat to do this, especially in my country.  Current and former government officials might be similarly restricted in the scope of their actions, as Ambassador Murata is, but it is their responsibility to take a stand for the benefit of our descendants for centuries to come—to pass on a world safer than our ancestors passed us.

If Japanese government leaders do not recognize the risk their nation faces, how could the rest of us be persuaded of the looming disaster? And if the rest of us do not acknowledge the catastrophe we collectively face, who will be the one to act?

Tokyo, March 25, 2012

Dear Secretary-General, Honorable Ban Ki-moon,

    I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude for your considerate letter dated 2 March, 2012. Your moral support for a United Nations Ethics Summit will remain a constant source of encouragement for my activities.
    Please allow me to pay a tribute to your great contribution to strengthen nuclear safety and security. The current Nuclear Summit in Seoul is no doubt greatly benefiting from the high-level meeting you convened last September.
    I was asked to make a statement at the public hearing of the Budgetary Committee of the House of Councilors on March 23. I raised the crucial problem. of N0.4 reactor of Fukushima containing1535 fuel assemblies. It could be fatally damaged by continuing aftershocks. Moreover, 50 meters away from it exists a common cooling pool for 6 reactors containing 6375 fuel assemblies!
    It is no exaggeration to say that the fate of Japan and the whole world depends on NO.4 reactor. This is confirmed by most reliable experts like Dr. Arnie Gundersen or Dr. Fumiaki Koide.
    Please allow me to inform you of an initiative being taken by a former UN official who is endeavoring to have the Nuclear Security Summit take up the crucial problem. of N0.4 reactor of Fukushima. He is pursuing the establishment of an independent assessment team. I think his efforts are very significant, because it is indispensable to draw the attention of world leaders to this vital issue.
    I am cooperating with him, writing to some of my Korean acquaintances that this issue deserves the personal attention of President Lee Myung-bak. I have written today to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. I asked him to consider taking the initiative of mobilizing human wisdom on the widest scope to cope with the Fukushima reactor No.4 problem, fully taking into account the above-mentioned “independent assessment team”.
    The world has been made so fragile and vulnerable. The role of the United Nations is increasingly vital. I wish you the best of luck in your noble mission. Please accept, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the assurances of my highest consideration.

Mitsuhei Murata
Former Japanese Ambassador to Switzerland and Senegal
Executive Director, the Japan Society for Global System and Ethics

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    U.S. Senator Concerned with Reactor 4, Urges U.S. to Help
    Correspondence on the New Photo of Reactor Unit no. 4 at Fukushima
    Letter from Spent-Fuel Pools Expert Robert Alvarez