The nuclear reactor disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan was a terrifying tragedy that had many nations questioning the safety of their own nuclear power programs.
According to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), and the Japanese government, the situation is no longer a threat.
But according to nuclear experts, the threat is worse than ever.
When the disaster struck, meltdowns occurred in reactors 1, 2, and 3. 4, 5, and 6 were down at the time, but 4 was full of radioactive waste.
And it still is, which nuclear waste specialists say is a big cause for concern.
The risk levels have been compared to a super-Chernobyl, much worse than the 1986 nuclear disaster in the Ukraine. Levels of cesium-137 are 10 times higher than Chernobyl.
And if a new earthquake occurs that is big enough and close enough to the reactor, it could drain the pool in which it sits, releasing coolant and starting a radioactive fire.
The cesium-137 would be released, and the threat wouldn’t just affect Japan. Radioactivity could stretch far enough to harm North America.
And the element would take hundreds of years to disappear, entering the atmosphere and the food chain and causing health problems that could change or destroy civilization as we know it.
Kevin Kamps, a nuclear waste expert at Beyond Nuclear, said:
“Japan would suffer the worst, but it would be a global catastrophe. It already is, it already has been, but it would dwarf what’s already happened.”
The most unsettling thing about the disaster is not only the NRC’s and Tepco’s denial of the threat, but also the fact that they are ignoring a possible solution.
Dry cask storage has proved much safer than storage in fuel pools, particularly in the Fukushima disaster. The dry casks at Fukushima remained fully intact.
But they cost roughly $1 million per cask, and the NRC refuses. Robert Alvarez, who had been an energy adviser during the Clinton administration, said:
“The NRC has made a policy decision, which the industry is very violently opposed to changing because it saves them a ton of money. And if they have to go to dry hardened storage onsite, they’re going to have to fork over several hundred million dollars per reactor to do this.”
Nuclear waste experts are trying to make their voices heard, but for now the NRC won’t listen.