Rising Tritium Could Trigger
By Yoichi Shimatsu
YOTSUKURA, FUKUSHIMA The rising level of tritium measured in kelp samples south of the Fukushima 1 nuclear site is an indicator of intensifying nuclear reactions deep in the soil below the cracked reactors. Following the meltdowns in spring 2011, superheated fuel rods in up to three reactors have penetrated multiple barriers including the core shrouds, containment chambers and concrete foundations, escaping into the porous ground. Now inaccessible and scattered underground, the remnant fuel is getting hot enough to create huge flows of deuterium and radioactive tritium, which are commonly known as heavy water.
Two serious threats are emerging during this tritium build-up:
- medical effects of exposure to beta particles on top of gamma radiation from the Fukushima releases;
- and more ominous, the possibility of a tritium-deuterium fusion reaction that triggers a plutonium blast more powerful than the 2011 explosion at Reactor 3.
A bizarre sky over the Fukushima region as tritium releases soared
Apologists for the nuclear industry, including the Wall Street Journal, boldly assert beta radiation emitted by tritium poses no health threat. This irresponsible claim is based on a gross underestimate of the effects of beta rays. While less powerful than gamma radiation, beta radiation can ionize DNA. Externally beta rays can be blocked by a thin sheet of metal foil, but inside human tissues there are no physical barriers to prevent beta particles from rupturing chromosomes.
As summarized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: “The main chronic health effect from (beta) radiation is cancer. When taken internally beta emitters can cause tissue damage and increase the risk of cancer. The risk of cancer increases with increasing dose.” Tritium is a beta emitter.
pools where tritium-soaked kelp samples
The argument for tritium safety becomes even more fallacious because heavy water is at a practical level indistinguishable from normal water and readily ingested through beverages, food, bathing and respiration. Beta rays add to the daily exposure level from gamma, alpha, ultraviolet and electromagnetic radiation, significantly raising the risks of cancer and heart failure. Advice for visitors to Fukushima: Don’t drink the water.
Kelp Reveals Hidden Dangers
How prevalent is tritium leaking from Fukushima into the Pacific Ocean? The best estimate, in this early stage of the tritium releases, is based on dosage levels in vegetation at a fair distance from the leaking nuclear site. Beta radiation can be measured with a reasonable degree of accuracy on the border between the coastal villages of Hisanonuma and Yotsukura, inside the exclusion zone 16 kilometers south of the Fukushima No.1 plant.
the distance behind the gate of a shrine are the
Fern kelp samples were taken from tide pools by this writer in mid-July, about two months after tritium started to spike. Beta radiation accounted for one-fourth to one-third of the total dosage count, as compared with gamma rays. The beta component raised the per-hour dosage to 0.34 microSieverts, a dangerous level that sets off the alarm buzzer. Constant exposure to that level would result in death for humans within 8 years. Compared with my previous measurements along that coast, the gamma level in kelp has been stable and undiminished since the 311 meltdowns, which is due to annual regrowth of kelp.
The 12-year half life of tritium means that large quantities will be appearing around the Northern Hemisphere, carried by the jet stream and the North Pacific current.
An odd observation among local residents is that the presence of tritium is sometimes visible in a spookily dense fog. Amateur fishermen told me that narrow bands of fog hugging the cliffs are frightening enough to deter them from venturing to the shore. The fog was described by a 78-year-old local resident as “moya” or miasma. “Throughout my entire life along this shore, I have never before in summertime seen such an eerie miasma,” he whispered. “It is as if a ghost has descended on our bay.”
Fern kelp is abundant between the tsunami-swept rocks.
Before gathering kelp for Geiger counter and dosimeter measurements, I spotted off in the far distance a band of unseasonable mist lifting in the oppressive heat of noon. Within that fog bank, there were slow-moving clouds, smoldering and tumbling like a witches brew. Too bad that GE and Hitachi executives were not there to take a dip in that bay of beta radiation.
Indeed, a solo brave diver was bobbing in the tritium waves. The tattooed swimmer was gathering sea urchins to sell to sushi bars. His tattoos showed him to be a member in good standing of a local self-help group. The hale fellow opened a shopping bag to show me his undersea treasure. Urchins feed on kelp, absorbing cesium, strontium and tritium into their bright orange sperm sacs.
Uni is a delicacy now deadlier than poison-laced blowfish, and thus a must-gorge for every fanatic foodie and the connoisseur seeking a delicacy to die for. The expensive, salty, fat-rich globs melt on the palate and are best finished with a chardonnay. The exquisite taste hits like a bullet to the brain. A toast to TEPCO!
Creating a Hydrogen Bomb
Nuclear engineers with the Tokyo Electric Power Co. have hewed to the absurdly unscientific belief that hydrogen gas was the cause of the explosion that broke through Reactor 3 on March 15, 2011. Given its relatively low combustion energy, hydrogen cannot possibly crack thick steel alloy. The more probable energy source in that rupture was a fusion reaction between tritium and deuterium. Heavy water produced in abundance inside the reactors, especially during a meltdown.
Just a few grams of tritium and deuterium can merge in a fusion reaction that releases a highly energetic neutron, which then greatly smashes into plutonium, greatly amplifying a fission explosion. The hydrogen bomb that annihilated Nagasaki in August 1945 was a plutonium-based device boosted or triggered by tritium.
A diver is wading among the kelp beds.
The term “hydrogen bomb” is derived from the chemistry of heavy water. Natural water is composed of two atoms of hydrogen and one of water, and thus its symbol H2O. Under bombardment by radioactive isotopes, inside a reactor or in radioactive wastewater at Fukushima, the nucleus of a hydrogen atom can absorb one neutron to become deuterium or two such particles to form tritium.
The Manhattan Project’s design by Edward Teller required precise geometry to use concave mirrors made of beryllium metal to focus the implosion for an interactive tritium-plutonium blast. Can similar conditions be created “spontaneously” inside the mass of rocks and dirt underneath Fukushima No.1?
The tattooed diver holds a bag of sea urchins destined for sushi bars.
Hatchery of Destruction
The meltdown of mixed oxide (MOX) fuel, which contains highly enriched plutonium, is suspected of having seared through the shroud, containment chamber and ferroconcrete foundation, thereby escaping into the soil. Steam from vents in the ground, along with tritium releases in leaked water, indicate that the meltdowns are not only continuing but also heating up dramatically.
Lumps of corium can melt the surrounding silicate rock to create a glassy bubble, which traps the tritium and deuterium steam and reflects back their radiation. These subterranean pockets resemble a soft-boiled egg, with a “yolk” of melting nuclear fuel surrounded by the “egg white” of pressurized tritium-deuterium steam inside a “shell” of reflective glazed rock. The self-enclosed reaction chamber will gestate and then hatch with a blast wave of sufficient force to trigger other corium pockets to explode.
A Geiger counter is starting a field count of radiation in a kelp sample.
The serial nuclear blasts could blow the ground into the sky, momentarily lifting the Fukushima reactors. Then everything will come crashing down into the gaping pit, ending any hopes of quelling the meltdowns. Needless to say, the nuclear workers and local population would be killed by the blast wave or the lethal emissions. The release of vast amounts of radiation would force the evacuation of nuclear plants in operation across Japan, resulting in dozens more meltdowns.
Civilization will become untenable, as hundreds of millions of casualties mount. This is probably a best-case scenario, since the downward blast force could have more dire consequences.
Hell and High Water
The Fukushima nuclear plants rest atop the Abukuma block, a mega-sheet of bedrock uplifted by the subduction of the Pacific plate under the Okhotsk plate. Inside the impact zone, both plates are cracking under enormous pressure, which heats the rock into magma and causes volcanic activity in the region.
The hundreds of tons of escaped nuclear fuel beneath the Fukushma No.1 plant exceeds the combined weight of all fissile material in nuclear-weapons testing to date. If this melting mass of uranium and plutonium were to explode, the seams in the tectonic plates could be blown apart, unloosing rivers of magma onto the Earth’s surface. A vast cloud of radioactive particles, toxic gases, sulfur and industrial waste would encircle the globe with more deadly consequences than the 1883 Krakatoa eruption.. The human species, a parasite dependant on other life-forms and vulnerable to oxygen depletion, will be among the first to go extinct.
are clearing Yotsukura Beach just days before the official
Deeper Darker Depths
The coming self-destruction of humankind may well be only a minor prelude to a grand finale for the planet. Could a mega-nuclear blast at a geological pressure point like Fukushima puncture the Earth’s brittle crust and release a flow of hot liquefied minerals from the mantle?
What the little geologists know about the mantle is based on some ancient rock samples and data from ultra-long frequency waves pulsed through the center of the Earth during nuclear-weapons tests. The dominant opinion among Earth scientists is that below the crust is a thick zone of hot viscous rock, which acts in ways similar to asphalt. It seems highly unlikely that the amorphous layer could be as stable as the tarmac on a road since the mantle is heated from below by molten metal. Torsion is also straining the mantle, due to the difference in the rotational speed between the Earth’s surface and its metal core.
The mantle’s fluid dynamics means that a nuclear shock could burst on top of a convection flow, releasing billions of tons of molten mantle onto the planet surface, blanketing the Earth and shooting out fiery lava fountains. If so, the Earth would be propelled out of its orbit like a sputtering and spiraling rocket to the frozen edge of the solar system or, otherwise, into a nosedive toward the Sun. The gravitational disturbance would unhinge the orbits of other planets. Spinning wildly out of control, Earth could collide with another gyrating planet or be pummeled by a horde of asteroids.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust: The violent destruction of our planet will hardly amount to a footnote since nobody will survive to record the event. On a cosmic scale, human history is a tiny and brief experiment in evolution that has gone awry, adding up to nothing more than a blip in an inconsequential solar system.
Prophecy of How It Ends
This scenario of our home planet becoming engulfed by molten iron is, by strange coincidence, predicted in Buddhist prophecy as the last stage of “mappo”, the historical process of moral degradation of humanity. In their shabby defense of a malignant nuclear industry, the political-industrial oligarchy is bringing about this end-of-world prospect.
The annihilation of our species, along with all life on Earth, is man’s death wish writ large and his last achievement. Prodigal man has proven himself to be a sworn enemy of God the Father and Mother Nature. Thou shalt kill thy father and mother, demand our global leaders, their regional henchmen and media minions as if they too will not be killed.
From either a Judeo-Christian or Buddhist philosophical perspective, the global oligarchs are genocidal criminals, damned in this life and for eternity. Human responsibility, however, means that punishment must not be left to fate. Stern action is required against these diabolical madmen until the last millisecond of the final hour.
Can Criminal Stupidity Be Stopped?
My spirit grows weary of repeating the same formula to the pack of evil morons known as energy executives, nuclear engineers, government bureaucrats and politicians. But here we go again, preaching to the wicked.
The underground corium pockets can be detected by radiation scanners and with blast tomography, which reveals the locations of larger concentrations. Next, steam-injection pumps used at near-exhausted oil fields should be deployed to pump borax solution into those pockets. Borax unlike boric acid, crystallizes in solution, thereby partitioning the underground spaces with neutron-absorbing barriers. Subdivided into smaller cysts, the fissile materials will be deprived of critical mass.
It is guaranteed by the sheer inertia of stupidity and greed that none of this will be carried out. So when push comes to shove, my friends, be sure to push them into the Inferno first before it’s your turn to leap into the fire.
Yoichi Shimatsu, a Hong Kong-based science writer, is former editor of the Japan Times Weekly.
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