“We either wait a few hundred thousand years for the radiation to cool, or we wait a few weeks to get organized and start filling those containments with concrete using boron sand,” says a physicist familiar with the reactors who is a former translator for TEPC) (Fukushima Dai-ichi plant operator and owner).
Boron is a widely found element in the earth’s crust and is used for everything from making glass to manufacturing wash day detergents and bleaches. It also has the property of being extremely good at stopping neutron type radiation, and is used as shielding in nuclear reactors.
If Japan is going to entomb the Fukushima reactors, they are calling on the same company that encased the Chernobyl reactor. In 1986, 11 specialized concrete boom pumps were sent by the German firm Putzmeister GmbH to Chernobyl that entombed the devastated reactor in concrete.
Many pumps are already at work in Fukushima pumping water and delivering sufficient volume. But four more pumps by Putzmeister are on the way , two smaller ones from Germany, and two from the United States, one of which is the largest concrete pump in the world .
This mega pump was designed to the special requirements of an American company.
“The pump has a boom that can reach over 227 feet and weighs over 190,000 pounds,” pump owner Mike Parigini told the Sacramento Bee . “Moving it will be a Herculean logistical task. The freight bill alone is over one million dollars”. The Antanov-225 cargo jet, the largest cargo jet in the world that can easily swallow a full sized locomotive.” It was scheduled to fly it from Los Angeles on April 9.
“Once it’s there,” Parigini says, “what they’re going to do is pretty basic. It’s not rocket science. They’re going to encase the reactors in concrete”. However, they may initially join the effort to cool the reactors, but ultimately seem destined to pump concrete. But the amount of concrete required to encase the reactors is enormous.
“I believe they used a million (cubic) yards of concrete at Chernobyl and that was only one reactor. This logistical operation is going to involve millions of (cubic) yards. It’s up there with the limit of any large military operation.”
If this is done, the pumps, which can be operated by remote control from as far away as three kilometers, will be so radioactive that they will have to be abandoned. They’ll have to haul the pumps off and bury them at a site.
However, other experts wonder if killing the Fukushima reactors by pumping them full of concrete is possible or viable. Recent articles in the prestigious magazine “Nature” considered one of the leading scientific magazines in the world, as well as comments by the American Nuclear Regulatory Committee cast doubt on a scenario of entombing the Fukushima reactors in concrete.
Nature magazine quotes Jack DeVine, an independent nuclear consultant , who spent six years in the clean up following the Three Mile Island accident. “Following the partial meltdown of a reactor at Three Mile Island in 1979… the state of the reactor core was subject to ongoing debate that went on for months. But when a camera was eventually lowered into the core in 1982, the damage was far worse than anyone predicted.”
DeVine, along with many other observers, believe that the Japanese would be very unwise to try to entomb Fukushima in concrete as was done with Chernobyl. There is too much risk of another earthquake or even tsunami damaging this structure and creating problems exceptionally difficult to deal with.
In the end, they think, Fukushima’s fuel will have to be removed in a process similar to that which took place at Three Mile Island and required 15 years to eventually complete.