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The Fukushima Gyre
“Nuclear Free Zone” reads the comforting, official sign at the corner of Highway 116 and Lynch. It welcomes people coming into Sebastopol from the south.
“What’s a nuclear free zone?” 8-year-old William recently asked his mother, Lynda Williams, who teaches physics at Santa Rosa Junior College. One of Sebastopol’s many anti-nuke activists, she took it as a teaching moment and explained the sign’s meaning.
Unfortunately, nuclear radiation is heading toward the West Coast from Fukushima, Japan. How safe are we? What can we do?
An unprecedented triple disaster hit Fukushima in March, 2011—earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdowns. The earthquake and tsunami were short-lived catastrophes; 20,000 people were killed and 90,000 lost their homes. However, the crisis at Fukushima is not over and potentially more devastating. Physician Carol Wolman, M.D., recently wrote that “a damaged nuclear facility is like a wounded beast—exceedingly dangerous and hard to control.”
A dozen people from the new Fukushima Response group recently met at Sebastopol’s Grange. They decided to organize three summer educational forums. Women from the Fukushima Mothers Delegation, eyewitnesses to the catastrophe, will visit the West County in mid-July. They recently staged a Die-In, now on youtube. The new hour-long documentary “Fukushima Never Again” will also be shown. The film exposes the cover-up by the Japanese government and TEPCO, a company that runs nuclear power plants.
Dr. Wolman, a long-time researcher on nuclear risks, will make a public presentation at the Grange on July 29. A retired engineer from Japan touring the U.S. to promote the Fukushima cleanup, Yastel Yamada, will join her.
The organizers and their expert consultants are concerned that people have not been adequately informed of the dangers of radioactive contamination reaching us. “We have a choice,” writes psychiatrist Dr. Wolman. “We can deny the imminent threat posed by the damaged reactors, or we can unite and work together…to defuse the danger.”
U.S. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon visited Fukushima this April. He is “pushing for faster action” to avoid radioactive plumes of nuclear waste reaching his state, according to the May 26 New York Times. Sen. Wyden is especially concerned with a pool of radioactive cesium sitting on top of the damaged reactor building # 4. He concluded that it poses “an extraordinary and continuing risk.” Dr. Wolman writes that another earthquake could topple that fuel pool and lead to “an unquenchable fire which would spew out 9 times as much radiation as Chernobyl.”
Kyoto University’s Professor Hiroaki Koide, who worked as a fuel engineer at Fukushima in the l990s, shares her concerns. “The No. 4 reactor is visibly damaged and in a fragile state. Any radioactive release could be huge,” he told the Times.
Another earthquake–and there have been hundreds in the region since March of 2011–could ignite that pool and create a horrendous radioactive fire that could not be extinguished by water. Fukushima Response advocates stabilizing that hazardous pond.
Meanwhile, the Japanese government continues to maintain that the problem has been contained. However, according to a June 8 Times article, “Some current and former government officials admitted that Japanese authorities engaged in a pattern of withholding damaging information and denying facts of the nuclear disaster.” The officials were apparently concerned that it could lead to public panic.
On June 17, Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced restarting two of Japan’s 50 workable reactors, all of which have been offline since the March, 2011, catastrophe. A majority of the Japanese public objects to restarting them.
How concerned should we be in Sonoma County? “Here in California, we are directly in the path of winds and ocean currents coming from Japan,” writes Dr. Wolman. “The Japanese government seems more intent on reassuring people than on accelerating the cleanup…We must mobilize public support to force this quick change.”
Shepherd Bliss farms in Sebastopol, teaches college, and can be reached at email@example.com.