SYDNEY – Months after the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, the ongoing nuclear disaster at Fukushima compounds the humanitarian tragedy and impedes recovery. The damaged reactors and spent-fuel ponds contain around ten times as much nuclear fuel as did the Chernobyl reactor that exploded in 1986. In three reactors, the fuel has melted, almost certainly through the reactor vessels; primary containment structures have been breached; explosions have torn away the secondary containment (the buildings); radioactive releases continue; and closed-loop cooling has not been re-established.
More than 100,000 tons of highly radioactive wastewater now flood the facility to capacity, as water continues to be poured in to prevent further massive radioactive emissions. The spent fuel in pools adjacent to each reactor, containing more radioactivity than the reactors themselves, has also been severely damaged, has leaked radioactivity, and is still without needed stable cooling. The spent fuel at the Reactor 4 caused a hydrogen explosion and fire on March 15.
As a result, large amounts of radiation, on a scale comparable to Chernobyl, have already been released into the air, earth, and ocean. Further releases will continue, probably for years.
And yet, while the Fukushima disaster is attracting overdue global attention to nuclear safety and security, and provoking a reconsideration of nuclear power, its implications for nuclear weapons remain largely unremarked. The nuclear reactions that drive reactors and weapons are the same, as are the radioactive products that are dispersed by wind, rain, and water if released, with the same lack of respect for borders and the same indiscriminate long-term cancer and genetic hazards.