The Fukushima Nightmare Gets Worse
August 10, 2013
Harvey Wasserman / The Progressive & Sam Mull / Surfer Magazine
Just when it seemed things might be under control at Fukushima, we find they are worse than ever. Massive quantities of radioactive liquids are now flowing through the shattered reactor site into the Pacific Ocean. And their make-up is far more lethal than the "mere" tritium that has dominated the headlines. Cesium-137 from has been found in fish caught as far away as California; Strontium-90's (half-life 29 years) settles in our bones.
The Fukushima Nightmare Gets Worse
Harvey Wasserman / The Progressive
(August 8, 2013) -- Just when it seemed things might be under control at Fukushima, we find they are worse than ever.
Massive quantities of radioactive liquids are now flowing through the shattered reactor site into the Pacific Ocean. And their make-up is far more lethal than the "mere" tritium that has dominated the headlines to date.
Tepco, the owner/operator -- and one of the world's biggest and most technologically advanced electric utilities -- has all but admitted it cannot control the situation. Its shoddy performance has prompted former US Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner Dale Klein to charge: "You don't what you are doing."
The Japanese government is stepping in. But there is no guarantee -- or even likelihood -- it will do any better. In fact, there is no certainty as to what's causing this out-of-control flow of death and destruction.
Some 28 months after three of the six reactors exploded at the Fukushima Daichi site, nobody can offer a definitive explanation of what is happening there or how to deal with it. The most cogent speculation now centers on the reality that, simply enough, water flows downhill.
Aside from its location in an earthquake-prone tsunami zone, Fukushima Daichi was sited above a major aquifer. That critical reality has been missing from nearly all discussion of the accident since it occurred.
There can be little doubt at this point that the water in that underground lake has been thoroughly contaminated.
In the wake of the March 11, 2011, disaster, Tepco led the public to believe that it had largely contained the flow of contaminated water into the Pacific. But now it admits that not only was that a lie, but that the quantities of water involved -- apparently some 400,000 gallons per day -- are very large.
Some of that water may be flowing from the aquifer. Much of it also, simply enough, flows down Japan's steep hillsides, through the site and into the sea.
Until now, the utility and regulatory authorities have assured an anxious planet that the contaminants in the water have been primarily tritium. Tritium is a relatively simple isotope with an 8-day half-life. Its health effects can be substantial, but its short half-life has been used to proliferate the illusion that it's not much to worry about.
Reports now indicate the outflow at Fukushima also includes substantial quantities of radioactive iodine, cesium, and strontium. That, in turn, indicates there is probably more we haven't yet heard about.
This is very bad news.
Iodine-131, for example, can be ingested into the thyroid, where it emits beta particles (electrons) that damage tissue. A plague of damaged thyroids has already been reported among as many as 40 percent of the children in the Fukushima area. That percentage can only go higher. In developing youngsters, it can stunt both physical and mental growth. Among adults it causes a very wide range of ancillary ailments, including cancer.
Cesium-137 from Fukushima has been found in fish caught as far away as California. It spreads throughout the body, but tends to accumulate in the muscles.
Strontium-90's half-life is around 29 years. It mimics calcium and goes to our bones.
That these are among the isotopes being dumped into the Pacific is the worst news to come from Japan since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, whose bombings occurred 68 years ago this week, and whose fallout has been vastly exceeded at Fukushima. Indeed, Japanese experts have already estimated Fukushima's fallout at 20-30 times as high as the 1945 bombings.
This latest revelation will send that number soaring.
The dominant reality is this: There is absolutely no indication how or when this lethal outflow will stop. Thus far, Tepco has built scores of tanks on the site to contain whatever contaminated water it can capture. But the company is by no means getting all of it, and it is running out of space.
Some of the tanks, of course, have already sprung leaks.
There is no clear idea whether this outflow is accelerating. Tepco has injected chemicals into the ground meant to harden and form a wall between the reactors and the sea. There's also a surreal discussion of super-cooling a part of the site to conjure up a wall of ice. But water has a way of flowing around such feeble devices.
We may yet hear that this massive outflow is a temporary phenomenon, but that's not likely. The site is still unpredictably radioactive. It remains unclear what has happened to the melted cores of the three exploded reactors. The recent appearance of a steam plume has raised the specter that fission may still be occurring somewhere in the area.
It is also unclear what will happen to the hundreds of tons of spent fuel perched precariously in a pool 100 feet in the air above Unit Four. Sustaining that cooling system until the rods can be removed -- and it's unclear when that will happen -- is a major challenge.
Should an earthquake come before that's done, and should those rods go crashing to the ground where they and their zirconium cladding could ignite in the open air, the consequences could only be described as apocalyptic.
Through it all, Japan's new pro-nuclear administration has been talking of restarting the 48 reactors that remain shut since Fukushima. Tepco has been among the utilities pushing to resume operations at its other plants.
In the US, there is talk of atomic reactors somehow solving the global warming crisis. But what we now know all too well at Fukushima is that the world's worst atomic catastrophe is very far from over.
The only thing predictable is that worse news will come. And when it does, our increasingly fragile planet will be further irradiated, at immeasurable cost to us all.
Harvey Wasserman edits www.nukefree.org. His Solartopia Green Power & Wellness Show can be heard at www.prn.fm.
Jeff Mull / Surfer Magazine
(JULY 23, 2013) -- The head of Japan's Nuclear Regulatory Agency (NRA) recently confirmed that contaminated water from the Number 3 nuclear power reactor at Fukushima has likely been leaking into the ocean for the past two years.
In March of 2011, a massive earthquake and deadly tsunami ravaged much of Japan and three of the six nuclear reactors in Fukushima melted down. In a recent statement, Shunichi Tanaka, the head of the NRA, said he believes that groundwater near the plant is leaking into the basement of the damaged reactors, becoming contaminated, and eventually making its way out to sea.
Neither the NRA nor TEPCO (the organization that runs the Fukushima plant) have been able to detect where the leak is coming from or been able to stop it.
"I think contamination of the sea is continuing to a greater or lesser extent," Tanaka told a reporter from Reuters recently. "It was contaminated at the time of the accident, but I think it has been continuing for the last two years.
"Coming up with countermeasures against all possible scenarios is a top priority. We've seen for a fact that levels of radioactivity in the seawater remain high, and contamination continues -- I don't think anyone can deny that. We must take action as soon as possible."
In the past, TEPCO has been vocal in stating that contaminated water had not been leaking into the ocean. But recently, they switched positions, stating that contaminated water had indeed leaked into the sea and apologizing to the people of Fukushima. A recent radiation test conducted by TEPCO showed a soaring amount of radioactive cesium in an observation well near the damaged plant.
According to TEPCO, over the course of three days this month the radiation levels in the well increased 90 fold, which brought the levels to more than 150 times Japan's safety standard. However, recent tests of seawater were reported as normal.
Hawaii's Kekoa Bacalso, who traveled frequently to Japan in the past, has vowed not to surf anywhere near the affected area for years to come.
"Japan is such an amazing place, but when you hear that they still don't have a handle on the radiation problems at Fukushima, you have to do a double-take. It's been two years since the disaster and they're just now admitting that contaminated water has been leaking into the Pacific." exclaimed Bacalso. "I'm baffled. I absolutely love Japan, but I won't be surfing or traveling near Fukushima for a while because of this."
Hiromi Matsubara, executive director of the Japanese chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, describes the situation at Fukushima as dire and worries that the situation could get worse.
"Massive amounts of radioactive water is stocked inside the Fukushima Daiichi Plant. The water is primarily used to cool the reactor. TEPCO is running out of a place to store the water and there were a few occasions when they publicly announced the possibility of intentionally discharging this contaminated water into the ocean, but only after they adequately decreased and treated the radiation level below the legal limit," said Matsubara. "Obviously, local fisherman, unions, citizens, NGOs, and the Surfrider Foundation strongly opposed this plan and it has been put on hold."
For Keito Matsuoka, a Japanese surfer from the town of Sendai, the news of the ongoing problems at the reactor have forced him to lose faith in his government's ability to handle the situation. "I don't know what to believe anymore. There are so many conflicting reports from the government.
"One day you'll hear that the radiation levels are low, and the next you hear about the recent spike we had. The town where I'm originally from, Sendai, is located near Fukushima. And even though the government says that it's safe to go in the area, I don't trust them. I can't surf my home break more than a few times every month because I'm scared of the radiation."
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