Sayonara Chernobyl! Hello Fukushima!

Fukushima is now officially as bad as Chernobyl was: An INES (International Nuclear Event Scale) level seven “major nuclear accident.”

Say goodbye, Chernobyl. You will soon be forgotten.

(Except for the 1,700 square mile exclusion zone that was once prime farmland, the pride of the Soviet Union. Who can forget that? And those deformed babies. Their parents don’t forget them.)

Things didn’t get particularly worse at Fukushima in the past few days. That’s not why they went to a “level seven” accident rating — the highest possible. Things didn’t get any better, either, but that’s also not why.

One thing that’s changed is they had to expand the evacuation zone. This time, they’ve given thousands of additional residents living northwest of the plant — as much as 30 kilometers away — 30 days to leave. Obviously, the sooner they leave, the better, and they should not expect to be coming back any time soon, either. Possibly many generations. The soil is contaminated.

Thousands more people, just outside the current 20 kilometer depopulation area around Fukushima Daiichi, are in districts that “might” be asked to self-evacuate on a moment’s notice. They have been told to make arrangements for evacuation on their own. Have a place to go. Have a way to get there. Have food and water (and cash and gas) for the journey. Pick up stragglers along the way. Turn out the lights and shut off the gas on the way out. Sayonara.

An old man was found wandering around the exclusion zone. He had been there, confused, the whole time. God knows what he breathed or ate.

Bitterness, shame, conflicting and confusing official orders, impossible orders (such as “stay indoors” and “don’t drink the tap water”) — it’s all there. It’s all happening. A radiological crime against humanity is unfolding before us, yet again. Shall we turn a blind eye to the cause?

I ask: What are governments for, if not to stop this sort of thing? Japan has failed at Fukushima, the technological wizards of the world. Russia has failed at Chernobyl, the workers-always-know-best method failed. England has failed at Sellafield, then called Windscale, and shown that Oxford and Cambridge couldn’t produce minds great enough to conquer the atom’s quirks and quarks, or human’s frailties and foibles. And America has failed a thousand little times and dozens of large ones, too — Hanford being the nation’s and possibly the world’s most polluted site without even having a Fukushima of our own… yet… The Hanford “reservation” is strewn with enormous quantities of deadly plutonium from mostly “proper” operations. You can’t live there. It poisons the Colombia River constantly. As additional radioactive plumes reach the river, they will poison it more and more.

What government, what entity, what human has any right to think they can control the atom? They can’t. And even if they can, the thousands of generations who will have to mind their waste for having done so probably can’t.

Now, global measurements are being compared to what was measured at the time of Chernobyl. That’s one reason Japanese nuclear authorities had little choice but to raise the Fukushima tragedy from a level 5 through 6 to a 7, making it at least equal to the world’s worst industrial and nuclear accident in history — Chernobyl.

But of course, neither Fukushima nor Chernobyl were really accidents at all any more than drunks have accidents on the highway. (We just call them “statistics” here in America.) In the case of Chernobyl it was reactor operators running unapproved and dangerous experiments: Criminal negligence. At Fukushima is was improperly designed and maintained reactors and safety systems that failed just when they were needed most: Criminal negligence. Criminal negligence on the part of the entire nuclear industry. THIS could have happened anywhere!

If you tell me you’ve solved all the problems with nuclear power (HA!), and I’ll tell you nuclear promoters all around the world told the public the same thing thousands of times in the years since Chernobyl and prior to Fukushima. And, of course, the biggest lie was that the reactors were different and this couldn’t happen with “Western” style reactors.

Now, nuclear promoters are telling the public they’ll apply the “lessons learned” very carefully from Fukushima to ensure nothing like this ever happens again. They’re lying.

They might fix something, but they’ll neglect something else. They don’t have enough time or money — or experience or know-how — or personnel — to fix everything. So if they fix one thing, they have to neglect something else. The income from an operating reactor is essentially finite (unless the NRC grants an uprate, which they did to one reactor yesterday, or the regulators grant a rate increase, which also happens, but only with much objection from everyone).

The reactor operators simply can’t keep up. Tighter enforcement and/or new safety regulations in one area almost invariably just means something falls by the wayside in another area. So really, all they ever do is gamble with your life. They’ll keep gambling until they lose — your life.

Nevada understands gambling. That’s why they want you to visit — because you don’t, and they do. They understand what a sucker’s bet is. That’s why Nevadan’s have overwhelmingly rejected Yucca Mountain, with its TENS OF THOUSANDS of shipments of nuclear waste. Any ONE shipment could ruin Las Vegas for thousands of generations. Many thousands of shipments are supposed to pass right through that city, risking an unquenchable fire, and the city evacuated. They don’t want that.

Yucca Mountain, located in an active earthquake zone, was an unworkable idea to begin with, but it was ALREADY a LAST RESORT. The Yucca scientific team was allowed to consider alternative methods, from deep-sea disposal to on-site storage to rocketing the waste into deep space, if they thought those ideas were any better (they weren’t). So don’t expect that cancelling Yucca Mountain will mean we’ll find something else.

It’s time to call an end to this obviously-unworkable “solution” to our energy problem. Nuclear power never deserved a chance anyway, and didn’t live up to its promises when given a chance it didn’t deserve.

Jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire simply doesn’t work. Fossil fuels are not the solution. Fracking for natural gas with dangerous mixes of corporate-secret chemicals destroys the water tables and is not the solution. But there ARE solutions.

Atmospheric vortex engines could create enormous amounts of electricity across the country. We don’t even have a national research plan for them, or a test site. But similar wind tunnels are used in vacuums all the time…

So what’s gone wrong? We put all our tens of billions of dollars into nuclear power.

Every renewable energy system has its faults and its detractors — mostly environmentalists and NIMBYs who won’t budge. Wind farms work fine. Offshore wind farms can even be out of sight and out of mind. Transcontinental power lines can ensure that wind blowing in one place can be used anywhere. Wyoming, Wisconsin, Colorado… the “wind-swept plains” could solve all our electrical energy needs.

Wave energy systems off our coasts could provide part or even all of the electricity we need. SoCal residents (and anyone who listened to the Beach Boys) know that San Onofre is a great surf break. Fukushima probably was too, and for 20 miles around, but not any more!

If wave energy systems were, theoretically, to absorb some of the wave energy from California’s coast, slightly calming some of the breaks, I’m sure it will be a long, long time before they would take even 1% of the wave energy that’s out there. 99.9% of all waves are not ridden by anybody! So even surfers should not oppose wave energy systems!

And with a proper national grid system, we can capture the wave energy in the frigid Aleutians, where no one surfs, ever — after designing them here, thank you! So don’t worry, surfers, you’ll catch a wave. And it won’t be radioactive! At least, not any MORE radioactive! (San Onofre Nuclear Waste Generating Station regularly poisons your water. Did you know that?)

The debris swarm from Japan that’s currently coming ashore on the west coast of America represents the invisible, odorless, tasteless (except in large doses) deadly radiation that’s coming along with it.

San Onofre can release tens of thousands of terabequerels of radiation per hour for hours on end, just as Fukushima has apparently done. San Onofre can do it without an earthquake or a tsunami and without ANY warning.

No time to evacuate.

So give us a break, all you other environmentalists, so busy on other projects, protecting something! I hear you. Save the trees, save the whales, save the waves, save the earth. BUT AS A MUST-DO FIRST STEP, TEAR DOWN THESE NUKES!

That’s our generation’s task.

Tidal energy. Most of the lagoons in California are restored using money from mitigation of other areas that were destroyed — there is really NO natural coastline here. If a tidal energy system is workable somewhere, it should be considered.

Solar rooftops. Solar parking garages. Solar roadways, even! These all work! We still need a good nationwide or global energy grid (just like Buckminster Fuller proposed almost one hundred years ago).

Have I mentioned hydroelectric power lately? Of course not, because so many people flat-out oppose all dams, and why stir up trouble? But really, it’s NOT that simple! One nuclear power plant accident can and WILL poison any river or lake, as well as the oceans, forever. So then a concrete dam doesn’t look so bad, does it? It changes the landscape, but it doesn’t produce ANY pollution.

So don’t knock hydroelectric power too much, fellow environmentalists! The old mill by the river wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Not everything is the size of the Three Gorges Dam.

There are alternatives to nuclear power, and we should use them. Where small-scale hydro works, or even where large scale hydro works, please consider that there are approximately 440 nuclear power reactors around the world threatening ALL our water supplies. Dams don’t poison the water. Nuclear power does. Even when dams fail they don’t kill for thousands of generations (or even one generation) afterwards! Nuclear power does. Fukushima will poison a lot of water for a long time to come.

Of course it’s true that there are no perfect energy solutions and any proposed solution can AND WILL be opposed by someone — often someone with a vested interest in an alternative system.

Nuclear power was promised to be so perfect it would become “too cheap to meter” but turned out to be the worst solution of all — and the most expensive. Coal is the second-worst polluter but just about the cheapest energy source. Society has to overcome these obstacles somehow. Finally admitting that Fukushima is the worst nuclear “accident” in history is a good first step towards facing reality. Congratulations on facing reality, Japan.

But if we don’t ALL face reality, and shut ALL the nuclear power plants down, Fukushima will be exceeded some day. And then again. And again.

RUSSELL D. HOFFMAN is author of The Code Killers: An Expose of the Nuclear Industry. He lives in Carlsbad, California, 25 miles south of the San Onofre nuclear generating station and runs a blog: