Fukushima exclusion zone (April 2011) © Donald Weber/Newsweek.
Today is the one year anniversary of the 9.0 Tōhoku earthquake and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster (see my related posts, here, here, here, here, here, here and here). On cue, Fukushima was hit today by a 4.5 magnitude earthquake, followed by a 4.4 magnitude quake. The 3/11 picture is a picture of ghosts. One snapshot of this catastrophe comes from Ghost Hunting Theories, regarding local fears of haunted ruins:
Some have called Fukushima, "a nuclear war without a war." There are other ghosts that haunt Japan and the world: radiation in a poisoned Pacific and fallout in Japan and abroad; 20 million tonnes of debris now floating toward the shores of North America; and the whole problem with energy policies worldwide. Developed and developing countries alike are hitting a wall. Science- and tech-hungry societies need vast amounts of energy. That need is driving conflict around oil production. Rising oil prices spurred nuclear power projects. But Fukushima exploded the myth that nuclear power is safe. More than the fallout, more than problems in the Middle East, more than fracking and Canada-to-US pipelines - energy haunts the world.The town of Ishinomaki has mixed feelings about the rebuilding. One shop owner believed that spirits were causing people rebuilding his store to become sick. One taxi driver admitted not wanting to pick up riders in one deadly part of the city because he worried they might be spirits. ... Shinto priests have been called in to clear certain areas of spirits and help them move on. At Buddhist ceremonies, many leave offerings in memory of the dead to hopefully find peace.
The tsunami was deadly enough. But how close Japan came (some say, may still come), to total ruination due to radioactive contamination is a matter of debate, overridden only by the stoic perseverance of its people. Tokyo potentially faced evacuation of 30 million city-dwellers, which is almost equivalent to Canada's entire population:
Radiocaesium has been found in all of Japan's prefectures. Imagine half or even all (!) of one of the wealthiest nations on the planet potentially declared uninhabitable. Imagine the displacement of most of the entire island's population of almost 128 million citizens. Around 22,000 people died. Three reactors (as opposed to Chernobyl's one) suffered full meltdowns. Imagine fallout potentially at fifty Chernobyls - or thirty Hiroshimas - or maybe 168 Hiroshimas. Imagine the consequences for Japan itself, for Russia and China, for the Koreas, Taiwan, for the west coasts of Canada and the United States, for the entire Asian-Pacific.In the days immediately after the crisis began at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the government received a report saying 30 million residents in the Tokyo metropolitan area would have to be evacuated in a worst-case scenario, former Prime Minister Naoto Kan revealed in a recent interview. Kan said he contemplated the chaos that would ensue if such a measure were taken. "It was a crucial moment when I wasn't sure whether Japan could continue to function as a state," he said.
In the 48 hours following the earthquake and tsunami, before the troubles at the nuclear plant even became clear, a telltale scene unfolded, not in Japan, but at JFK International Airport. Someone from CNN had the presence of mind to send a reporter down to JFK arrivals. And there, the CNN cameraman captured something that reminded me of the hours before Hurricane Katrina made landfall, and of many other catastrophes, wars and dangers throughout history. There were Japan's wealthiest families, arriving in New York City. When you see the rich flee en masse before all others do, you know desolation has come.
The Fukushima exclusion zone started at 20 km (around 12 miles). In June, the government evacuated some communities 60 km (almost 40 miles) away. No one knows the full scale of fallout; or if they know, they are not saying. This is a tragedy, enveloped in secrets. Conspiracy theorists argue that the government covered up the extent of the damage, because to acknowledge it and face the consequences would be unthinkable. The lessons of Chernobyl were not, or could not be, applied. Despite the superhuman courage of Fukushima's workers, which likely prevented the unthinkable, one engineer who spent years working the Chernobyl clean-up assured the world: whatever is really happening, you can be certain that the government is not telling the truth about it.
Government-cited radiation levels in June, 2011. Image Source: Japan Times.
In September, between 20,000 and 60,000 people rallied in Tokyo to call for an end to the nuclear power industry. Over 160,000 people remain displaced from the radiated exclusion zone. The unhappy public, spearheaded by angry mothers, has demanded transparency about fallout levels. They are not getting it. In response, the government angered citizens further by monitoring their online conversations about Fukushima. The monitoring job was contracted out to a Tokyo advertising company, at the price of 70 million yen (USD $913,000). This only fueled Internet conspiracy chatter. The government claims in response that Japan's whole energy policy is being completely reworked. Huge contracts were drummed up for three firms to build Japanese solar power complexes by 2013.
Immediate Leaks and Fallout
The government is accused of withholding or altering facts on the precise amount and nature of fallout. Initial releases from plant explosions may be twice or more what was stated. The radiation outside the exclusion zone is also higher than safe levels: "Of 160 monitoring sites in the designated areas outside the no-entry zone, 23 registered radiation levels exceeding 20 millisieverts over the three-month period." In June, areas 80 km away from Fukushima, well outside the exclusion zone, tests found radiation hot spots that were 1,000 times safe levels. High levels of radioactive strontium were detected that month at the Fukushima plant.
Tokyo's tap water has radioactive materials in it. Shortly after the disaster, Chris Busby, a Professor at the University of Ulster and secretary for the European Committee on Radiation Risk, conducted tests in Tokyo, one of which confirmed radiation levels much higher than in the Chernobyl exclusion zone.
Even though the reactors were reported to have reached cold shutdown by the end of 2011, there was still talk of leaks and the road up to that point was bumpy. Fukushima residents' urine was confirmed to be radioactive last summer. In August 2011, lethal levels of radiation were detected at Fukushima, while in the same time period, TEPCO's and the government's statements about the dangers were hazy: "we think the degree of accuracy [of radiation measurement] is still not that high."
Children have been wearing dosimeters to school. Radiation has been found in their thyroids, although this was "not considered a health risk." Despite soothing reassurances from authorities, there is a real 2-year goal to reduce radiation in children by 60 per cent. In November, radioactive caesium was found in babies' milk formula.
Beef contamination fears have been constant (see reports here, here and here). Beef shipping bans were not applied until July 19. Finally, Fukushima prefecture asked the government to buy the remaining radioactive beef. Pollution of the food chain is probably everywhere. On August 26, a report stated that rice from Fukushima prefecture was perfectly safe. The next day, the same authority contradicted that finding in another report.
The China Syndrome
In June 2011, Natural News reported that TEPCO was not focussing on building underground containment vessels (or a barrier, as was done at Chernobyl) to prevent melt through to bare ground, also known as the China Syndrome. This is the scariest of all nuclear possibilities, a catastrophic meltdown, when molten nuclear fuel melts through its containment vessels and through the floor of the reactor to reach dry earth. In June, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that the China Syndrome had indeed happened with one or more of the Fukushima reactors. It's not quite clear to me why the MSM are not talking about this catastrophe in detail - or at all.
They focus rather on upbeat, human interest stories: Der Spiegel has reported on how locals stay strong despite constant anxiety about radiation and depression due to being displaced from their homes. They followed one man who cheers people and seeks to calm their fears.
Damage to Marine Ecosystems
Radioactive materials spread in seawater up to 11/11/11. Video Source: Youtube.
Fukushima workers dumped most of the highly contaminated water used to cool the melting reactors directly into the Pacific. Wildlife and plant life on land were exposed to radiation levels hundreds of times greater than is considered safe. Wild monkeys have been set up to carry forest fallout monitors to check fallout levels. For marine life, the amount was thousands of times what is considered to be safe, which contaminated the ecosystems of the Asian Pacific. At least fifty kinds of radioactive isotopes were released, especially iodine-131 (half life 8 days) and caesium-137 (half life 30 years). Seaweed absorbed a lot of the toxic pollutants. Some say the damage will be minimal. But anyone who assumes Pacific ecosystems are unaffected is quite simply, wrong. One year on, the IAEA coolly remarks that the matter is being studied:
And don't worry: mysterious seal deaths in Alaska from February 2012 have nothing to do with Fukushima (for now). On 26 February 2012, reports indicated that oceanic readings of caesum-137 in an area 640 km (400 miles) off the coast of Japan were 1,000 times normal. The readings also found radioactive silver, indicating the oceanic presence of materials from the nuclear facilities' melted control rods. Radioactive materials were reported on 3 March 2012 to be present in Sri Lankan waters, 7,000 miles away. Another February 2012 report comments that the radioactive oceanic 'plume' encompassed Hawaii three months ago.Countries in the Asia and Pacific region requested the IAEA's support, worried that the considerable releases of radioactively contaminated water could reach their coasts, with possible damaging consequences for those communities and their economies. In June 2011, the IAEA Board of Governors approved an IAEA Regional Cooperation project to support countries in the Asia and Pacific region. Twenty-four countries are participating in the multi-year project Marine Benchmark Study on the Possible Impact of the Fukushima Radioactive Releases in the Asia-Pacific Region.
The European Commission on this issue reassured worried EU consumers that eating one tin of contaminated tuna was about as dangerous as smoking one cigarette (Hat tip: University of California, Berkeley, Dept. of Nuclear Engineering). A closer look reveals that in February 2012, EU Commission authorities were scanning Pacific fish and fish products, especially albacore, bluefin, bigeye, skipjack, swordfish and marlin for iodine-131, caesium-134 and caesium-137. The American Food and Drug Administration page on scanning foodstuffs for Japanese-related radiation is here. They had better keep scanning. As of March 2012, Fukushima's Reactor One may still be leaking contaminated water into the Pacific, although Tokyo Electric Power is fairly sure it isn't.
Radioactive Ocean Impact Map, March 2011-March 2012. Video Source: ASR via Youtube.
Fallout Beyond Japan
Image Source: Japan Times.
Aside from the question of exactly how much fallout is out there, official levels of 'safe radiation' in food vary from country to country. So what is 'safe' in one place is not 'safe' in another.
This grim picture naturally raises questions about how any other country with several nuclear power plants might fare if hit by a similar catastrophe. Would any other government and nuclear industry facility necessarily do better? Or would they respond with white-washed details and muffled reports? The Fukushima case also raises questions about earthquake preparedness and associated nuclear plant safety in the United States (see here and here), Canada and elsewhere in the world, especially in Europe, where nuclear power was widely implemented in the post-war period. Official silence on the matter has led to the mass purchase of radiation detectors, reflected in dozens of Youtube detector reviews, and in personal videos on fallout in the United States and Canada. In a later posts, I will cover fallout monitoring in countries outside Japan and the backlash against the global nuclear industry.
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