The New York Times reports that any estimate of how long it will take to contain and begin 'cleanup operations' at Tokyo Electric Power Company's Fukushima Daiichi reactor complex is hampered by one critical factor: No one knows the exact conditions inside the four damaged reactors.
Think of it this way: You're a surgeon, dealing with what you know is a condition that could be fatal to the patient if not treated. Based on observed symptoms, you believe the best course of treatment is X.
But -- you only have a poor set of X-Rays to work with. CT scans and MRIs can't be performed. And some of the test result you have are suspect because equipment at the lab may be malfunctioning. You're making life-and-death decisions, based on incomplete data and your deductions of the state of the patient's internal organs -- not what you actually know them to be.
Oh, and to make it really interesting -- if you decide to perform exploratory surgery the patient's condition will mean that some or all of your surgical team will die. It's like an episode of "House", on Steroids.
And to make it really, really interesting -- some members of your diagnostic and surgical teams do not trust each other; some are withholding information about the patient; there is an atmosphere of suspicion, mistrust, and office politics.
What kind of an outcome do you think you'll get from that? Good? Bad? Evacuate central Japan and go for pizza for 25,000 years?
Nearly one month after Japan’s devastating nuclear accident... How much danger is still posed by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant?Looks like pizza for everyone on Honsho -- 25,000 years; leave note: "Gone for pizza -- back in April, 27,011". Simple!
That depends to a considerable extent on how hot the uranium fuel rods at the power plant remain, and whether fuel has escaped its containment, or might still do so. Yet remarkably little is known for sure about what is really happening inside the reactors because some areas remain far too radioactive for workers to approach, and some instruments have malfunctioned...
The commission speculated this week that the nuclear fuel in the core of one of the stricken reactors had probably leaked from its thick steel pressure vessel, its most important protective barrier. If that proved to be accurate, it would raise the prospect of continuing fuel leaks and high levels of radioactive releases ...
But Japanese officials said there was no evidence of a compromised pressure vessel, and they wondered why they were reading about it in the newspapers.
“If they have a concern, they should inform us,” said Kentaro Morita of Japan’s nuclear regulatory body... after its American counterpart sounded the alarm over a possible nuclear fuel leak at the plant’s Reactor No. 2, clearly contradicting Japanese accounts...
Much of the automated measurement equipment in the reactors has been damaged, either by explosions in the early days of the crisis or by intense radiation since then. Damage to the reactors, as well as high radiation, has prevented technicians from making detailed assessments.
Unless that's not an option.