The latest available high resolution photographs from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant -- taken by pilotless drones over a week ago -- beg the question, have the storage pools for high-level radioactive waste survived the explosions and fires that have ravaged the facilities in the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami? Located immediately adjacent to the tops of the cores of reactor units 1, 2, 3, and 4, the frightful specter has been raised that one or more pools are not only damaged, but even destroyed, judging by the severe damage visibly suffered by the upper reaches of the secondary containment buildings, exactly where the pools are located. Unit 4's pool, at the very least, seems to have boiled dry, and its high-level radioactive waste caught fire, in the earliest days of this still-unfolding catastrophe. Given that the pools are not located in primary containment structures, and that the secondary containment buildings at all four reactor units were damaged or destroyed by huge hydrogen gas explosions, the large-scale radioactivity releases from pool fires and/or leaks are being directly discharged into the environment.
Whereas Fukushima Daiichi's Units 1 to 4 storage pools reportedly contain from 80 to 130 tons of high-level radioactive waste each, U.S. General Electric Mark 1 Boiling Water Reactors -- such as Oyster Creek, NJ; Vermont Yankee; and Fermi 2, MI -- contain over 500 tons each. Thus, pool boil downs and high-level radioactive waste fires could happen much more quickly than at Fukushima Daiichi, and the catastrophic radioactivity releases could be several-fold worse. It does not require an earthquake and tsunami. Any pathway to station blackout could cause such a catastrophe in the U.S. -- including power loss due to severe weather such as hurricanes, tornadoes, wind storms, ice storms, lightning strikes, etc. A tree branch touching a power line in northwest Ohio led to the second biggest power outage in world history on August 14, 2003 -- plunging 50 million people into darkness in the Northeast and Midwest U.S. and Ontario. A raccoon knocked electricity out to the Fermi nuclear power plant in the late 1980s. In addition to a pool boil down over the course of a day or two, a terrorist attack on the vulnerable pools (especially GE BWR Mark 1's), or the accidental drop of a heavy load, could drain a pool instantly. Once the cooling water supply is gone, the high-level radioactive waste will catch on fire within hours. A 2001 U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission technical study estimated that 25,000 people downwind, out to distances of 500 miles, could die of latent cancer due to the radioactive fallout from a high-level radioactive waste storage pool fire.