Gov’t TMI Investigator: Fukushima Daiichi requires a Manhattan Project approach — “Accident involving nuclear fuel rods is virtually inevitable” — Virtually 100% probability of large quake in 10+ years required to defuel plant

Published: May 25th, 2012 at 4:30 pm ET


Fukushima Daiichi requires a Manhattan Project approach to avoid another nuclear accident
Beta News
By Robert X. Cringely
May 25, 2012

This is my sixth column about the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident […] this one looks forward to the next Japanese nuclear accident, which will probably take place at the same location.

That accident, involving nuclear fuel rods, is virtually inevitable, most likely preventable, and the fact that it won’t be prevented comes down solely to Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) incompetence and stupidity.


Understand that I have some cred in this space having worked three decades ago as an investigator for the Presidential Commission on the Accident at Three Mile Island and later wrote a book about that accident. I also ran for 20 years a technology consulting business in Japan.


Fukushima has always been a seismically active area. Called the Japan Trench Subduction Zone, it has experienced nine seismic events of magnitude 7 or greater since 1973.


An earthquake of 7.0 or greater is likely to disrupt cooling water flow and further damage fuel storage pools possibly making them leak. If this happens the fuel rods will be exposed, will get hotter and eventually melt


The probability of a large earthquake in the 10+ years required to completely defuel the plant is virtually 100 percent. If a big earthquake happens before that fuel is gone there will be global environmental catastrophe with many deaths.


Fukushima Daiichi requires a Manhattan Project approach. The sole role of the Japanese government should be to pay for the job.


Robert X. Cringely has worked in and around the PC business for more than 30 years. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, Forbes, Upside, Success, Worth, and many other magazines and newspapers. Most recently, Cringely was the host and writer of the Maryland Public Television documentary “The Tranformation Age: Surviving a Technology Revolution with Robert X. Cringely”.

Published: May 25th, 2012 at 4:30 pm ET


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38 comments to Gov’t TMI Investigator: Fukushima Daiichi requires a Manhattan Project approach — “Accident involving nuclear fuel rods is virtually inevitable” — Virtually 100% probability of large quake in 10+ years required to defuel plant

  • I thought it was the Manhattan Project that started this mess.

    • Max1 Max1

      A good place to end…
      … Sometimes is where you started.

    • fireguyjeff fireguyjeff


    • hbjon hbjon

      A fool to his folly as a dog to its vomit.

    • Fred

      "Discovery of Fission

      In 1938, two Germans, Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann, working at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin, discovered that when they bombarded uranium with neutrons they could split the uranium atoms' nuclei into two parts releasing energy and more neutrons (a process called fission.) From this it was obvious to scientists around the world that it was possible to create energy-producing fission chain reactions as the neutrons from one split-atom plowed into surrounding atoms, splitting them also. A controlled chain reaction could be used for constructive purposes like making heat that could be used to produce electricity. An uncontrolled chain reaction, however, would be a bomb of incalculable power."

      The German-Jewish immigrants merely made it work at Manhattan.

    • StPaulScout StPaulScout

      He means it as an example of the effort required. You could pick the development of the B29 Flying Fortress of WWII. Very large investment both projects were….. Many Billions, in the 40's…….

  • TheBigPicture TheBigPicture

    "and the fact that it won’t be prevented comes down solely to Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) incompetence and stupidity."

    The U.S. developed this killer technology, and should unload the rods.

    • "The U.S. developed this killer technology, and should unload the rods."

      Very good point! You are correct. In addition to that the U.S. is still pushing its ridiculously insane "nuclear rennaisance!"

      The U.S. pushed nuclear power on a reluctant Japan. We are responsible.

      Enough already!

      • SnorkY2K

        Our treaty also specifies our obligation to take the fuel back. The treaty is with many nations. Why aren't they demanding that the US exercise the option to demand that Japan immediately take action.


    "The sole role of the Japanese government should be to pay for the job." Finally…someone who gets it. This may be one of the reasons TEPGOV has been sitting on their hands over the last year. They may be waiting for the world-body to come running with a blank check in hand. Which, I'd have no problem with, if they match the prospective costs of Fukushima's remediation (dollar-for-dollar) with R&D and grants for development of renewables. And while we're all be asked to share in the pain, I'd also demand that GE be held financially responsible for their design of this series of power plants. Should they try to get out of it by hiding behind statute-of-limitation clauses, I'd suggest such indemnification goes into effect when Japan's no longer contaminated with nuclear radiation. That should keep the lawyers busy…

  • TheBigPicture TheBigPicture

    As it turns out, the whole nuclear industry is helpless, as proven by this, and past accidents, which are spewing radiation.

  • StPaulScout StPaulScout

    Aftershock – "And while we're all be asked to share in the pain,". I'm not sure I would describe putting up to fix this as 'pain'. It is the only option. Let's get on with it.


      "It is the only option." Really? Here's another: Let it fall and burn. Within a few decades, there will be a complete breakdown of this so-called modern society's infrastructure. The murderous ones will find themselves alone in the graveyard, having to pack-down the final shovelful of dirt onto the graves of their own children. Aren't you getting tired of living under the constant threat of these murderous sociopaths? Wouldn't it be wonderful to see justice unfurl its wings and carry us all away? Are you so fearful of the unknown, you'd do anything to avoid it?

      • enoughalready45 enoughalready45

        Oh the sweet delicious fantasy of justice as revenge for all the wrongs. I'm sure many of us have had it in one form or another. Back to reality…I want life to continue and want a further tragedy prevented.

        Fearful of the unknown, no, we will all face it someday because as a friend of mine says, "nobody gets out alive".



          "…I want life to continue…" It will. Just not on the terms of those who got us here.

          You have to go back to the days when even the housemaids were walked-up to the guillotine. The powerful have never respected anything other than the absolute loss of their privileged lifestyle. It's always been this way. They have a total disregard for all about them and what social convention is allowed. Yet, when it comes to hordes amassing on the horizon, all of a sudden we're all one-big-happy-family! When the latest threats dispelled (with the our sacrifices), society 'magically' returns to the 'natural order of things'; we find ourselves hauling rocks while they lounge about on the veranda, laughing at the fools.

          I see Fukushima as an opportunity for one of two things: the capitulation of the power elite to a sane and humane form of environmentalism, or, the utter demise of this endless exploitation of humanity and our environment.

          I'm done with half measures. They had their chance for compromise. And I'll not remain silent nor will I cower when it comes to resolving this nightmare. The "my way or the highway" philosophy of these self-righteous fools is finished. It's time to get in their faces and declare "No…it's our way or no way!"

          • HoTaters HoTaters

            Aftershock, I hear you, I really do. They've gone way too far this time (the past

            • HoTaters HoTaters

              They've gone way too far during the past 100 years (collective actions considered). I'm not looking forward to seeing the chips fall where they may, but they have created a colossal disaster in the making. Their foolish fantasy of escaping this will come to an end. If they have some idea they can watch their "eugenics" fantasies come to pass w/o cost to themselves, they are in for a rude surprise. And I do think some of these sociopaths/psychopaths think they can maintain power at all cost w/o injury or harm to themselves.

              They are delusional.


                @HoTaters: unless it means betrayal of its purpose, never fear the loss of life.

                Some have a vast expanse that awaits them; others, are confined by selfish pursuits. They obviously have so-much-more to lose when death comes a knock'n. On the other hand, some have a vast universe that awaits them with open arms. Just know where you stand…

                • HoTaters HoTaters

                  Thanks, I'm OK on this, and I do know where i stand. Clearly.

                  I have no fear of death, having looked it in the face many times already.

  • Sickputer

    The original Manhattan Project cost 2 billion dollars (25 billion in 2012 dollars). I agree a massive project is needed to defuel and secure Fukushima Daiichi. But the cleanup effort requires a Manhattan Project on steroids to paraphrase another well-known nuclear expert.

    The cost to secure Daiichi will require much more than $25 billion. Because all the super powers know this, they are reluctant to commit to a solution. The consequences for this inactivity will affect America worse than the others because of downwind contamination.

    The wars in the Middle East look like a very foolish waste of service personnel, money and resources now that America is faced with the dire threat of massive Japanese fallout ruining trillions of dollars in West Coast habitat and farmland.

    The question is how long will the Obama administration continue to ignore the danger of Japan's leaking nuclear reactors. Based on their response so far they seem to have little interest in confronting the issues facing Japan which are also affecting America. Yes, the Pacific Ocean is vast, but it will not be big enough to contain hundreds of tons of burning and leaking nuclear fuel.

    • Sickputer have you seen this video?

      At approximately 1:58 there is a very large light flare

      A red glow ensues in the aftermath of the flare

      Couple these types of images with the high radiation readings detected by Potrblog and the Radiation Network (in Colorado), and one has to wonder what is going on.

      Then, add Nuchelchen's video (with filters) from May 2. He just posted it yesterday:

      Bad happenings.

      The smoke is very thick here today in Phoenix from the fires.

      All of the fallout recently deposited, plus from nuke plant emissions of tritium, burning.

      Sensitive people are having problems.

      I am out-and-out-sick today with headache and stomach.

      Some of my friends are in town for a conference.

      They were asking me if our elevation is really high because they feel light-headed.

      Their home city elevations are 960 and 784

      Our elevation in Phoenix is 1,117

      Bad happenings alright.

      • Sickputer

        >At approximately 1:58 there is a very large light flare

        SP: Looks very dramatic, but after running the clip a few times from the seconds before the flare and seeing what the camera shows after the flare… I noticed the buildings really show up much better after the "flare". This makes me think it was caused by the camera or camera lens… Maybe the operator did something. They do man those cameras.

        I think you have a double whammy with the fires and the jetstream for Arizona:

        • Dr. Anne Lee Tomlinson Maziar anne

          I thought also that the "flash" might have just been a camera adjustment.

          • NoNukes NoNukes


            I'm so sorry that you are sick. I just posted to ChasAha that the flash reminded me of Dec 5, it was much more clear that night, and Johnny Blade and I were the only ones around I think, but it was the same kind of flash, then the JNN cam went down and when it came back there was less of r4, and the "work light" started up. Tepco explained there was a "planned demolition" that they had kept secret.

            It also reminds me of last week. It is unfortunate that these events seem to be increasing. I would hope that they are are a result of the camera flashes. Combined with the Network alerts, and the geiger increases that anne reports, your symptoms, my own, and those of others (lots of bronchitis, etc. in the SFBay in May is unusual), it is unsettling. Bad happenings is right.

        • "…I noticed the buildings really show up much better after the "flare"" – sickputer

          I think the buildings became clearer because the fog rolled out to sea and nightfall came. The video is at 20x speed so it seems to get clear quickly. But, I think that part was normal. The buildings were getting a bit clearer prior to the FLASH.

          If rad levels again go to alert status here in the next few days then we'll know more. It's certain they will NOT inform us.

  • Sharp2197 Sharp2197

    When I saw TMI in the headline all I could think was "Too much information"

  • "…HOW LONG will the Obama administration continue to ignore the danger of Japan's leaking nuclear reactors." – sickputer

    Two Answers:
    1. When the meltdowns have ceased and there is no longer any danger of mass destruction and it's proven that nobody died or got injured.

    2. When Hell freezes over! (or when Hell explodes!)

    I guessing option #2. 🙁

  • SteveMT

    This is a very bad analogy to use at a time like this. The aftermath of the Manhattan Project by the scientists involved was one of remorse and regret.

    "The Scientists' Petition:" A Forgotten Wartime Protest
    …..155 scientists working on the Manhattan Project to design and build the world's first A-bombs signed a petition to President Truman raising grave moral doubts about what they had created.

    Later, Oppenheimer tried to stop the development of the H-bomb, but failed as he was stripped of his security clearance and cast aside.

    • Sickputer

      SMT typed these pixels of light: "This is a very bad analogy to use at a time like this. The aftermath of the Manhattan Project by the scientists involved was one of remorse and regret."

      SP: Possibly not the best example. I would probably use Kennedy's Space Pledge to put a man on the moon (and return safely) in one decade. Undoubtedly the greatest achievement of mankind in the annals of the human race. Nothing else comes close in my opinion… Humans left this planet and walked on the moon 238,000 miles away. And returned alive.

      The trillion plus dollars America spent on the space program returned great benefits in world admiration and in technology spinoffs. I type these words on a phone 1000 times more powerful than the million dollar suitcase-sized Apollo computer. I connect to a 2 billion human communication network unthought of in 1969 except for some amazing computer scientists.

      Foremost in developing what became the Internet was not a slick former vice-president, but a Missouri scientist named Joseph Licklider who in 1962 revealed his concept for an “Intergalactic Computer Network". His work led directly to ARPANET. He died at age 75 in 1990, about a year before Tim Berners-Lee unveiled the first public World Wide Web.

      Tim is a great guy, an Englishman now living in Lexington, Massachusetts. Just two years younger than me. I really wish we could get him involved in the international effort to save the world from Fukushima Daiichi.

  • Jebus Jebus

    Nuclear, it's the whimper, that we're all just waiting for…

  • dodge

    It's time the world gets its act together. One effort with major costs and benefits to the world as a whole. 1) The present radiation releases, and potential for massive disaster must be addressed. Fuel must be removed, site sealed, clean up as much as possible, but at the very least stop additional releases. 2) The world as a whole must address energy/environment issues. We are a society which requires energy — it's far different camping for a couple weeks in the woods, cooking on a campfire, sitting in the dark than living in an urban area without elevators, air conditioning, refrigeration, street lighting, or communications. Cutbacks and efficiency will need to be part of our future, but are not the total answer. Safe, affordable, environmentally friendly, and renewable energy sources must be designed, constructed, and put into operation in key locations ASAP, finally 3) present nuclear energy generation sites need a three point plan put into effect quickly with information made publicly accessible to the world community. a) A rigorous safety inspection, including their past history of radiation releases, and any present areas of concern. b) An immediate plan to move spent fuel away from generation sites and into a guarded safe long term storage area. (difficult for sure, but necessary) c) finally after risk/requirement assessment, a plan to close every nuclear site within their expected operating life, and coordinated with alternative energy construction.