The situation may be worse than the Japanese media are telling us. A lot worse.

CounterPunch have posted a translation of part of an interview with a long-time anti-nuclear activist and writer, Hirose Takashi:
Hirose Takashi: What They’re Covering Up at Fukushima:

Hirose Takashi has written a whole shelf full of books, mostly on the nuclear power industry and the military-industrial complex. Probably his best known book is Nuclear Power Plants for Tokyo in which he took the logic of the nuke promoters to its logical conclusion: if you are so sure that they’re safe, why not build them in the center of the city, instead of hundreds of miles away where you lose half the electricity in the wires?

He did the TV interview that is partly translated below somewhat against his present impulses. I talked to him on the telephone today (March 22 , 2011) and he told me that while it made sense to oppose nuclear power back then, now that the disaster has begun he would just as soon remain silent, but the lies they are telling on the radio and TV are so gross that he cannot remain silent.

I have translated only about the first third of the interview (you can see the whole thing in Japanese on you-tube), the part that pertains particularly to what is happening at the Fukushima plants.

Hirose: But what’s worrisome is that a nuclear reactor is not like what the schematic pictures show (shows a graphic picture of a reactor, like those used on TV). This is just a cartoon. Here’s what it looks like underneath a reactor container (shows a photograph). This is the butt end of the reactor. Take a look. It’s a forest of switch levers and wires and pipes. On television these pseudo-scholars come on and give us simple explanations, but they know nothing, those college professors. Only the engineers know. This is where water has been poured in. This maze of pipes is enough to make you dizzy. Its structure is too wildly complex for us to understand. For a week now they have been pouring water through there. And it’s salt water, right? You pour salt water on a hot kiln and what do you think happens? You get salt. The salt will get into all these valves and cause them to freeze. They won’t move. This will be happening everywhere. So I can’t believe that it’s just a simple matter of you reconnecting the electricity and the water will begin to circulate. I think any engineer with a little imagination can understand this. You take a system as unbelievably complex as this and then actually dump water on it from a helicopter – maybe they have some idea of how this could work, but I can’t understand it.

Yoh: It will take 1300 tons of water to fill the pools that contain the spent fuel rods in reactors 3 and 4. This morning 30 tons. Then the Self Defense Forces are to hose in another 30 tons from five trucks. That’s nowhere near enough, they have to keep it up. Is this squirting of water from hoses going to change the situation?

Hirose: In principle, it can’t. Because even when a reactor is in good shape, it requires constant control to keep the temperature down to where it is barely safe. Now it’s a complete mess inside, and when I think of the 50 remaining operators, it brings tears to my eyes. I assume they have been exposed to very large amounts of radiation, and that they have accepted that they face death by staying there. And how long can they last? I mean, physically. That’s what the situation has come to now. When I see these accounts on television, I want to tell them, “If that’s what you say, then go there and do it yourself!” Really, they talk this nonsense, trying to reassure everyone, trying to avoid panic. What we need now is a proper panic. Because the situation has come to the point where the danger is real.

If I were Prime Minister Kan, I would order them to do what the Soviet Union did when the Chernobyl reactor blew up, the sarcophagus solution, bury the whole thing under cement, put every cement company in Japan to work, and dump cement over it from the sky. Because you have to assume the worst case.

 [yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=veFYCa9nbMY&feature=related’]
I’ve been watching Japanese TV for the entire week since March 11, and sporadically since then. I have not heard much discussion of the “sarcophagus solution” or of the more important matter, when and how and who will decide there are no options left except this one.

From the Daily Mail, UK, March 19th:

Engineers are trying to get the coolant pumping systems knocked out by the tsunami working again after laying a new power line from the main grid.

And they today admitted that burying reactors under sand and concrete – the solution adopted in Chernobyl – may be the only option to stop a catastrophic radiation release.
It was the first time the facility operator had acknowledged burying the sprawling 40-year-old complex was possible, a sign that piecemeal actions such as dumping water from military helicopters or scrambling to restart cooling pumps may not work.

‘It is not impossible to encase the reactors in concrete. But our priority right now is to try and cool them down first,’ an official from the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co, told a news conference.

But some experts warned that even the concrete solution was not without risks.

‘It’s just not that easy,’ Murray Jennex, a professor at San Diego State University in California, said when asked about the so-called Chernobyl option for dealing with damaged reactors, named after the Ukrainian nuclear plant that exploded in 1986. ‘They (reactors) are kind of like a coffee maker. If you leave it on the heat, they boil dry and then they crack,’ he said.

‘Putting concrete on that wouldn’t help keep your coffee maker safe. But eventually, yes, you could build a concrete shield and be done with it.’

And Yukiya Amano, the head of the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency said workers were in a ‘race against the clock’ to cool the reactor.

via Daily Mail, UK: Japan earthquake and tsunami: Fukushima nuclear plant radiation leak could kill people

Hirose Takashi has a Wikipedia entry (only in Japanese and Korean at present). (The CounterPunch interview provides little background for Hirose, so I’ll post some key details here). He graduated from Waseda University‘s Engineering Faculty‘s Applied Chemistry Dept. His Wikipedia page has been updated since the March 11 tsunami/earthquake, and states that his March 17th Asahi NewsStar inverview has been uploaded to YouTube [the top-ranked video as of this writing had 109,195 views] and also to UStream and has attracted a great deal of attention. It adds that his believability has been questioned and points to this blog/website in particular (Japanese only).

Interested readers may wish to compare the Hirose interview with
this video of a press conference by a former Toshiba engineer (post-March 11, in Japanese with English translation: 1 hr, 40 mins);
this German website’s animated videos of radiation readings on a map of the Pacific (updated to March 25)
this Deutsche Welle (in English) article of March 23: Austrian authorities release detailed data on Japan radiation | Science & Technology | Deutsche Welle | 23.03.2011

the Brave New Climate blog,
the IAEA Fukushima nuclear accident update log,
the World Nuclear News site,
and this radiation dose chart.