22 June 14
ust because meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear site aren’t much in the news of late, it’s not safe to assume they’re under control. They’re not. The 2011 accident continues uninterrupted, beyond control, beyond reliable measurement, beyond honest reporting in most media, and beyond any hope of being significantly mitigated for years and probably decades to come. That’s the best case. Alternatively, radiation levels are rising, especially for Tritium and Plutonium, and much of it goes right into the ocean. Either way, officials in Japan and the U.S.have responded by arbitrarily raising the officially “safe” level of radiation exposure.
Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) released an 8-page report June 11, based on what it shows was very limited sampling, taken three months (in 2011) and 32 months (in 2013) after the meltdowns. Distributed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the report lacks any useful detail for an exposed public, and its main conclusion is opaque on human safety:
Air dose rates in both “Road and its adjacent area” and “Vacant land lot” have decreased more rapidly than we expected considering the physical half-life of radionuclide in 32 months after the accident.
Who’ll stop the rain? Or the groundwater? Or fuel pool coolant?
Recently the Tokyo Electric Company (TEPCO), responsible for the nuclear site, has acknowledged that rain is a problem. TEPCO has thousands of storage tanks filled with radioactive groundwater collected from the site, but rain adds to the water in the tanks and becomes part of the total volume of radioactive water on site and flowing out. TEPCO has suggested a variety of ways of putting a cover, a roof, or a tent over the tanks to keep the rain out. But TEPCO hasn’t done it yet.
The Fukushima nuclear power plants have been shut down for more than three years, but the nuclear fuel is not yet stabilized and the site leaks radioactivity constantly, but at a varying, often unknown rate. The Fukushima disaster is unprecedented in scale, complexity, and consequence. Fukushima’s continuing release of radioactivity long since passed the scale of Chernobyl in 1986. Fukushima releases are now estimated at three times the Russian accident, but with no end in sight for Japan.
There’s no end in sight for Ukraine, either, where the Chernobyl accident may be better contained than Fukushima, but Chernobyl won’t be over till it’s over, either. Reasonably enough, Japan and Ukraine have been working together to launch satellites that will monitor their respective nuclear disasters. A Ukrainian-designed rocket carrying two Japanese-developed satellites is scheduled to launch into orbit from Russia’s Ural space station on June 26. The rocket will be carrying 33 small satellites from 17 countries.
The satellites from Ukraine and Japan are intended to maintain a continuous record of conditions at and around the two nuclear disasters. How governments use and/or share this data remains to be seen. As one Tokyo University professor involved in the project expressed concern over government accountability, “I hope that the data will help Japan and Ukrainecorrectly acknowledge the impact on the environment near the two plants.” [Emphasis added.]
“I’ve been involved in this Fukushima volunteer for 3 years. Blood splashes out of the skin suddenly, and quite often. This is the reality.”
A Fukushima decontamination volunteer posted that comment on Twitter. (There the translation is rougher: “Voluntary activities [scary internal radiation threat: Fukushima from the third year. This reality that one day, often happen to be suddenly spewing blood from the skin.”) The anecdotal suffering of people affected by Fukushima and the years of inadequate official response goes largely unreported, except by a few like Mochizuki Cheshire Iori, who has maintained his Fukushima Diary since immediately after the meltdowns. He recently reported a massive spike of Cesium in Yaiti City, midway between Fukushima and Tokyo.
Fukushima Diary also posted a report of elevated radiation levels in Tokyo in February 2014. These are anecdotal reports, but there have been other reports of radiation in Tokyo. Nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen reported personally measuring material in Tokyo in December 2012 that was hot enough to be classified as radioactive waste in the U.S. Japan did nothing about it. There is apparently no consistent, official monitoring of radiation in Tokyo. If there were, and the measurements were high, that might threaten the Olympics scheduled for Tokyo in 2020.
The official Japanese position, expressed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the International Olympic Committee in September 2013, goes like this: “Let me assure you the situation [in Fukushima] is under control. It has never done and will never do any damage to Tokyo.”
Public policy, based on average exposures and estimated “safe” levels, is not all that concerned with personal safety, not even for Olympic athletes. Beat the averages and, officially, there’s no damage. But if you, personally, win the bad lottery and ingest a random“hot particle,” you may have a problem, about which most governments don’t much care.
“We have yet to form the ice stopper because we can’t make the temperature low enough to freeze water,” a TEPCO spokesman said.
To control the flow fresh of water into the Fukushima site, where it gets irradiated by the melted reactor cores before it flows on out to the Pacific, TEPCO’s plans (reports vary) included building a gigantic, underground ice wall to keep the fresh water out. Another reported plan was to build a gigantic, underground ice wall to keep the radioactive water in. A third plan was to build a gigantic, underground ice wall all the way around the contaminated site, keeping the outside water out (except rain) and the inside water in.
TEPCO tried and failed to freeze about 11,000 tons of radioactive water (about 2.6 million gallons) in place in trenches underneath two of the destroyed reactor buildings.
TEPCO also continuously adds to the radioactive water build-up with the water it must pump into the site to keep the melted reactor cores and fuel pools cool enough that they don’t go critical again and spew more radiation.
So far the ice wall plans, which would take a decade or more to complete if all went well, are already behind schedule and not really working out. On June 18, Al Jazeera summed it up in a story under the headline: “FUKUSHIMA ‘ICE WALL’ LOOKING MORE LIKE A DIRT SLURPEE.”
The next day, TEPCO issued a news release saying the earlier media reports, also based on a TEPCO news release, were wrong. TEPCO said the media had confused two different projects, both being carried out by Kajima Corp.: (1) the effort to freeze the ground around Fukushima and (2) the failed attempt to freeze water under only part of Fukushima.
The nuclear-industrial complex is a global power
In recent years, we’ve heard predictions of a global “nuclear renaissance,” which has yet to materialize despite heavy government subsidy of nuclear power in the U.S. and elsewhere. In 2002, by official count, the world had 444 “operating nuclear reactors,” now that number is less than 400. And even that total, a decline of 10%, is an inflated mirage created by the IAEA, which counts Japan’s 48 reactors as “in operation,” even though they are all shut down or inoperable, thanks to the Fukushima meltdowns.
Another nuclear industry promotional organization, the World Nuclear Association, continues to promise “The Nuclear Renaissance,” arguing that:
With 70 reactors being built around the world today, another 160 or more planned to come online during the next 10 years, and hundreds more further back in the pipeline, the global nuclear industry is clearly going forward strongly. Negative responses to the Fukushima accident, notably in Europe, do not change this overall picture. Countries with established programmes are seeking to replace old reactors as well as expand capacity…. Most (over 80%) of the expansion in this century is likely to be in countries already using nuclear power.
American, Japanese, and other governments around the world have long been in thrall to the nuclear industry. Currently the commercial nuclear industry is dominated by three Western-Japanese conglomerates: the French Areva with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and two American companies, General Electric and Westinghouse, with Hitachi and Toshiba, respectively.
The human cost of Fukushima doesn’t come out of their bottom lines, and most governments will also shirk paying for it as much as possible.
TEPCO sends mixed message about how safe Fukushima is
A Fukushima report from VICE (published May 26) notes that the Japanese government continues to try to keep information secret as much as it can. A former Japanese legislator says his government tried to conceal measurements of radioactive Cesium at Fukushima that were 168 times higher than the level at Hiroshima after the 1945 A-bomb attack. The government keeps telling the public that everything is OK.
The 13-minute video covers some of the more familiar Fukushima horrors: radiation poisoning and increasing thyroid cancers; the government allowing the sale of highly radioactive food; inadequate official measurement of Fukushima radiation levels; and the lethal effect of feeding radioactive leaves from Fukushima plants to healthy butterflies. There is a scene of TEPCO officials refusing to talk on camera beyond a short, bland reassurance that everything is OK. There is a TEPCO worker (his identity concealed) who says the equipment at Fukushima is deteriorating and the cooling systems might fail. And there is a dissonant sequence showing a government official wearing no protective clothing leading the camera crew (in protective clothing) inside the Fukushima site – until TEPCO workers (in protective clothing) chase them all away because it’s too dangerous.
When U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy visited the Fukushima ruins, she was unidentifiable under her protective clothing, as was her son with her. Ambassador Kennedy reportedly said that the U.S. would help “in any way that it can,” which could mean no way.
In June, the governor of Fukushima Prefecture was asking the Tokyo Olympics committee to have the 2020 Olympics torch relay run along a road only 2 kilometers from the Fukushima meltdowns that caused more than 100,000 people to be evacuated, most of whom cannot return. The governor is also lobbying for an Olympics training camp 20 km from the meltdowns, in buildings that presently house workers hired by TEPCO to carry out the decommissioning and decontamination that even TEPCO expects to take decades.
Meanwhile there are some things that don’t change: the Fukushima cores are still melting down, earthquakes still happen in the neighborhood (most recently June 16), and President Obama is still pushing to build more nukes.
William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.