August 19, 2012
Were it not for certain nuclear whistle blowers and outside, independent
experts, the public would have to rely on the glib and technically inaccessible
reports from Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) or the Japanese government.
Not that those reports are entirely without substance, but due to the
incomprehensible technical jargon most people simply throw up their
hands and hope for the best.
Luckily, in this day of the internet we can learn a lot about what is
going on thanks to independent researchers and writers. To the extent
that mainstream newspapers have covered the issue responsibly, and there
has been substantive coverage, web sites like “enenews.com”; “fukushima-diary.com”
and “rense.com” have served as information clearinghouses for mainstream
news, academic studies and independent sources of journalism about the
nuclear crisis in Japan.
Given this wide perspective, it is hard to see how any meaningful progress
is being made at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant (FNPP). This is the
conclusion I drew, or anyone with reasonable skills of observation would
have drawn, in April of 2011. The Japanese government kept telling us
that “everything is under control” and there is “no immediate danger,”
all the while, lying through their teeth about the reactor meltdowns.
“Any intelligent layperson who considers the technical aspects of the
disaster will be at a loss as to how the plant operators will be able
to restore the cooling system, which may be badly damaged, to reactors
that themselves may be unrepairable or in various states of melt-down.
If the nuclear fuel in the reactors has melted through to the floor,
what would be the point of setting up a cooling system to a dysfunctional
reactor and a pool of melted fuel? No one in the government clearly
answers these questions nor has the international community come forth
with a possible solution.” (1).
Credit must be given to the hard work of engineers and makeshift cooling
systems were installed, but the state of the reactors is precarious--highly
radioactive--and things have not gone smoothly for plant operators,
Tepco. As for long term solutions, none are presented. We are supposed
to believe that out of this gigantic mess of strewn rubble and constantly
leaking pipes and cooling systems, progress is being made. At some level
there is: as long as the melted fuel keeps cooling and there are no
other major earthquakes, the level of radioactivity will naturally decrease.
But this is a hypothetical, best-case scenario.
The fuel pools of Units three or four could collapse in another large
earthquake and the highly radioactive fuel rods will not be removed
until 2013 at the earliest-- putting the entire world in grave peril
every second that ticks by.
Nuclear expert, Arnie Gundersen, recently stated regarding units 1 -
3 that they will “get to the point where they throw some concrete down
on the top of it and come back in 300 years.” Gundersen thinks this
may not even be cleaned up in “500 years!” (2) This bears repetition:
FUKUSHIMA’S ENVIRONMENT WILL NOT EVEN BE RESTORED IN 500 YEARS
It’s no wonder nuclear watchdogs have created a special rating system
for Fukushima-- putting it in a new category, above Chernobyl, as a
no. 8 level nuclear disaster. Fukushima is a “[m]ulti-source major nuclear
accident requiring international assistance and monitoring” (3).
A Few Quadrillion Becquerals Here, A Few Quadrillion There...
Meanwhile in Tokyo the Japanese government admits that the incineration
of radioactive debris shipped from the tsunami disaster zone, from 2011
to 2013, will emit at least 2 billion becquerals of radiation into the
air (according to my calculations) (4; 5). Yes, you read that correctly:
TWO BILLION. Compared to the FNPP disaster that is not much at all,
that number could end up being lower, or even much higher, depending
on how much debris is burned, how radioactive it is, whether the equipment
malfunctions, and so on. The curious point is that the Japanese government
admits they are intentionally emitting radiation into densely populated
urban environments. Nominally, this policy is “to help the people in
the Northeast” (or more likely to help their buddies in the incineration
business). This is sheer insanity, but these are the times we live in,
when even Japanese school children are being given pamphlets “full of
misleading information and half-truths” about the safety of burning
radioactive debris (6).
The government’s heartfelt concern for the inhabitants of the northeast
is touching. But after 17 months are there still evacuees living in
classrooms partitioned with cardboard (7) and rumors of many people
dying from cancer due to radioactive fallout. This has gone unreported
in the establishment press (8).
Meanwhile, the situation at the FNPP is still unstable. Tepco has admitted
“a total of about 10 million becquerals per hour of radioactive cesium
was being emitted from the No. 1 to No. 3 reactors as of June. That
is about one-80 millionths of the level that was being spewed immediately
after the accident” (9).
This is down from a peak of thousands of trillions of becquerals at
the time of the reactor explosions (10; 11). Measured as quadrillions
or as petabecquerals (10 to the 15th power) (12), the radiation emitted
was comparable to Chernobyl, being well over half if not roughly equivalent
in volume (13). While the worst Chernobyl had to offer was pretty much
over once it had blown its lid, Fukushima could still release vastly
greater amounts of harmful radiation due to the nuclear fuel at the
The Unimaginably Unimaginable Danger Of Being (Nuked)
Although the government continues to dismiss the idea that the quakes
themselves were the main cause of the nuclear meltdowns, while attributing
the entire crisis to the “unforeseen” natural phenomenon of the tidal
wave, they admit the quake caused “a 3-square-centimeter rupture in
the piping of the emergency cooling system for the No. 1 reactor.” In
addition, they note “the possibility that tremors from the earthquake
created a tiny rupture of 0.3 square centimeter or less, which later
grew larger when the reactor temperature and pressure rose and radioactive
substances leaked from there” (14).
This is controversial given that independent scientists are not allowed
to inspect the facilities and that witnesses saw the Unit 1 building
collapsing before the tsunami arrived.
“One worker, a maintenance engineer in his late twenties who was at
the Fukushima complex on March 11, recalls hissing and leaking pipes.
‘I personally saw pipes that came apart and I assume that there were
many more that had been broken throughout the plant. There’s no doubt
that the earthquake did a lot of damage inside the plant,’ he said.
‘There were definitely leaking pipes, but we don’t know which pipes
that has to be investigated. I also saw that part of the wall of the
turbine building for Unit 1 had come away. That crack might have affected
the reactor’ ” (15).
In addition to the accumulation of evidence that the earthquake itself
was a primary cause of the meltdowns (16; 17)--something the industry
does not want to admit--there are other inherent flaws in the way nuclear
power plants are built and operate. Gundersen points out that the service
pumps failed because they were flooded by the tidal wave on 311. These
pumps send water from the ocean to cool the back up diesel generators
(18). Gundersen (at 19:00 mark in audio): “There could have been 14
meltdowns and not three. If you look at the data, there were six units
at Fukushima Daiichi [power station no. 1], there are four at Fukushima
Daini [station no. 2], three at Onagawa and one at Tokai. The net affect
is that there were 37 diesel generators between those plants. 24 of
those diesels were knocked out by the tsunami. You need the diesels
to cool the plant.” This occurred because at FNPP no. 1 the tsunami
flooded the actual diesel generators, but at the other plants the “tsunami
knocked out the cooling water to the diesels, something called service
water. So, Japan narrowly missed 14 meltdowns and not three because
the cooling water to 24 of the 37 diesels was destroyed.”
This bears repetition: JAPAN NARROWLY MISSED 14 NUCLEAR MELTDOWNS
Furthermore, it was sheer luck that there were not eight meltdowns,
for another totally different, random, reason: “The plant manager at
Fukushima Daini, which is six miles away from Daiichi, is quoted as
saying that if the tidal wave happened on a Saturday his four units
would have melted down too. He had a thousand people on site because
it was a Friday, but if it happened on a weekend there would have been
a skeleton crew there. The roads had been destroyed so nobody could
have gotten in to help, and we would have had Fukushima Daiichi and
Daini in meltdown conditions. What happened was almost unimaginably
To repeat: had the earthquake happened on a Saturday or Sunday there
would have been eight instead of merely three meltdowns-- you can’t
make this stuff up, folks.
The FNPP site is fraught with danger, with constant reports of highly
toxic water leaking from this pipe or that, or this reactor or that.
For example, water in Unit 2 turbine basement was found to have 47 million
becquerals per liter (19). These sorts of conditions are common. Many
engineers are “highly suspicious” of government assurances that things
are going well. For example,
“Takahashi Kei, a former cooling system worker at the plant now working
as a radiation survey volunteer, said the utility company’s executives
are portraying the situation in the best possible light. ‘There are
leaks everywhere, wreckage too. It’s not as simple as they portray,’
Japanese nuclear expert, Hiroaki Koide, recently said that “The state
of the reactors is still deteriorating” (20). Let’s repeat that for
the audience at home:
THE STATE OF THE REACTORS IS STILL DETERIORATING.
This hardly sounds like a successful “cold shutdown” and tends to support
Gundersen’s idea that the units 1 - 3 will have to be entombed in concrete
(if not with Japanese parliament member’s tempura, leftover from their
extravagant taxpayer funded banquets). Recently there is talk from engineers
who have intimate knowledge of the FNPP situation, and even from the
government, that Japan needs to recruit help from the international
community of scientists and engineers (21; 22; 23). Hey! Good idea,
let’s hope they don’t wait too long. After all, this disaster is not
only Japan’s fault, but an international issue from start to finish.
The lesson yet to be learned is that nuclear power is inherently dangerous
and that the consequences for humanity and the environment continue
to be “unimaginably, unimaginable” in their size.
Richard Wilcox has a Ph.D. in Environmental Studies from a social science,
holistic perspective. He teaches at a number of universities in the
Tokyo, Japan area. His articles on the Fukushima nuclear disaster have
been published at Counterpunch, Global Research, Dissident Voice, Activist
Post, Zen-Haven, and Rense.com. His most recent interview with Jeff
Rense is available at the website <http://www.rense.com>www.rense.com.
Many of his environmental articles are archived at:
1. Testimony from Japan: Evolving Coverup of a Nuclear Disaster
2. Arnold Gundersen with the latest on Fukushima, including the perilous
worldwide consequences if reactor no. 4 collapses
3. Nuclear incident scales
4. My Opinion on Radioactive Disaster Waste
5. Radiation in Japan: Tokyo Will Burn Miyagi's Disaster (and Radioactive)
6. Radioactive Disaster Debris: Kitakyushu City Educates Kids How Safe
It Is to Burn the Debris
7. Over 200 Evacuees from Futaba-machi Still Live in Classrooms
8.`We receive tons of frightening information'
9. After 500 days, Fukushima No. 1 plant still not out of the woods
10. Fukushima-derived radionuclides in the ocean and biota off Japan
11. Scientists: Far more cesium released than previously believed
13. Chernobyl: Assessment of Radiological and Health Impact 2002 Update
of Chernobyl: Ten Years On
14. GOVERNMENT PROBE: Reactor cooling botched at Fukushima No. 1, but
not No. 2 plant
15. Meltdown: What Really Happened at Fukushima?
16. Report on Nuclear Disaster Holds Key to Reactors' Fate
17. July 6, 2012, Pacifica Radio Host Ian Masters and Fairewinds' Arnie
Gundersen: Lessons Not Learned From Fukushima Daiichi
18. SolarlMG podcast with Arnie Gunderson- Aug 10/2012
19. Unit 2 water 10 times more radioactive than Unit 1
20. In Japan, a nuclear ghost town stirs to life
21. Retired Fukushima engineers to seek U.S. assistance
22. Fukushima Chief Yoshida on Video: We must bring foreign experts
in to help
23. Japanese government strengthening international cooperation in nuclear
decommissioning and decontamination