The Fukushima Nightmare Gets Worse

by HARVEY WASSERMAN

Just when it seemed things might be under control at Fukushima, we find they are worse than ever.

Immeasurably worse.

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 U.S. 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 16 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 a 12.3 year 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 U.S., 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 and is author of SOLARTOPIA!  Our Green-Powered Earth.  His SOLARTOPIA GREEN POWER & WELLNESS SHOW is at www.prn.fm.  This article was first published at www.progressivemagazine.com

Harvey Wasserman wrote SOLARTOPIA! Our Green-Powered Earth. His Green Power & Wellness Show is at www.prn.fm

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 04, 2015
Vincent J. Roscigno
University Bureaucracy as Organized Crime
Paul Street
Bernie Sanders’ Top Five Race Problems: the Whiteness of Nominal Socialism
Herbert Dyer, Jr.
Is White Supremacy a Mental Disorder?
Ramzy Baroud
The Palestinian Bubble and the Burning of Toddler, Ali Dawabsha
Pepe Escobar
Reshuffling Eurasia’s Energy Deck — Iran, China and Pipelineistan
L. Michael Hager
The Battle Over BDS
Eric Draitser
Puerto Rico: Troubled Commonwealth or Debt Colony?
Colin Todhunter
Hypnotic Trance in Delhi: Monsanto, GMOs and the Looting of India’s Agriculture
Benjamin Willis
The New Cubanologos: What’s in a Word?
Matt Peppe
60 Minutes Provides Platform for US Military
Binoy Kampmark
The Turkish Mission: Reining in the Kurds
Eoin Higgins
Teaching Lessons of White Supremacy in Prime-Time: Blackrifice in the Post-Apocalyptic World of the CW’s The 100
Gary Corseri
Gaza: Our Child’s Shattered Face in the Mirror
Robert Dodge
The Nuclear World at 70
Paula Bach
Exit the Euro? Polemic with Greek Economist Costas Lapavitsas
August 03, 2015
Jack Dresser
The Case of Alison Weir: Two Palestinian Solidarity Organizations Borrow from Joe McCarthy’s Playbook
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Atomic Era Turns 70, as Nuclear Hazards Endure
Nelson Valdes
An Internet Legend: the Pope, Fidel and the Black President
Robert Hunziker
The Perfectly Nasty Ocean Storm
Ahmad Moussa
Incinerating Palestinian Children
Greg Felton
Greece Succumbs to Imperialist Banksterism
Binoy Kampmark
Stalling the Trans-Pacific Partnership: the Failure of the Hawai’i Talks
Ted Rall
My Letter to Nick Goldberg of the LA Times
Mark Weisbrot
New Greek Bailout Increases the Possibility of Grexit
Jose Martinez
Black/Hispanic/Women: a Leadership Crisis
Victor Grossman
German Know-Nothings Today
Patrick Walker
We’re Not Sandernistas: Reinventing the Wheels of Bernie’s Bandwagon
Norman Pollack
Moral Consequences of War: America’s Hegemonic Thirst
Ralph Nader
Republicans Support Massive Tax Evasion by Starving IRS Budget
Alexander Reid Ross
Colonial Pride and the Killing of Cecil the Lion
Suhayb Ahmed
What’s Happening in Britain: Jeremy Corbyn and the Future of the Labour Party
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington