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With a half-life of 30, years, Cs-137 gives off penetrating radiation, as it decays. Once in the environment, it mimics potassium as it accumulates in biota and the human food chain for many decades. When it enters the human body, about 75 percent lodges in muscle tissue, with perhaps the most important muscle being the heart. Studies of chronic exposure to Cs-137 among the people living near Chernobyl show an alarming rate of heart problems, particularly among children. As more information is made available, we now know that the Fukushima Dai-Ichi site is storing 10,833 spent fuel assemblies (SNF) containing roughly 327 million curies of long-lived radioactivity About 132 million curies is cesium-137 or nearly 85 times the amount estimated to have been released at Chernobyl. The overall problem we face is that nearly all of the spent fuel at the Dai-Ichi site is in vulnerable pools in a high risk/consequence earthquake zone. The urgency of the situation is underscored by the ongoing seismic activity around NE Japan in which 13 earthquakes of magnitude 4.0 - 5.7 have occurred off the NE coast of Honshu in the last 4 days between 4/14 and 4/17. This has been the norm since the first quake and tsunami hit the site on March 11th of last year. Larger quakes are expected closer to the power plant.
Senator Wyden finds that TEPCO's plan for remediation carries extraordinary and continuing risk. He sensibly recommends that retrieval of spent fuel in existing on-site spent fuel pools to safer storage in dry casks should be a priority. Given these circumstances, a key goal for the stabilization of the Fukushima-Daichi site is to place all of its spent reactor fuel into dry, hardened storage casks. This will require about 244 additional casks at a cost of about $1 mllion per cask. To accomplish this goal, an international effort is required – something that Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has called for. As we have learned, despite the enormous destruction from the earthquake and tsunami at the Dai-Ich Site, the nine dry casks and their contents were unscathed. This is an important lesson we should not ignore.