Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A Summary of the Continuing Fukushima Disaster

As prophetic witnesses to Jesus Christ, it isn’t enough for us to go to church on Sundays and simply be nice the rest of the week. Jesus refuses to leave us that much alone. While we would rather sleep, he calls and enables to respond creatively to the challenges of our times.
What exactly are these challenges? As Christians and churches, we have the sad habit of getting excited over the same issues as everyone else in our Olympian society. These issues are the ones identified as important by the handful of individuals who control the corporate media of communication.
Unfortunately, the issues these corporate media barons identify as the challenges of our times are rarely those deemed important by Jesus. That stands to reason. These powerful individuals are Olympians; that is, they are people who each have subordinated their Christian personality to their Olympian one. They use their very Olympian media to keep our society as a whole, and the Olympian personality of each one of us, as devoted to the Olympian gods as possible. To keep Christians and others from making creative responses to the challenges of our times, they use their media of communication to agitate us about false issues, tranquilize us about true issues, and otherwise distract us from discerning the meaningfulness of any issue.
Occasionally, however, a glimpse of a genuinely important issue can come to our attention. Today that issue is our destructive devotion to Vulcan, god of technology, through our use and justification of nuclear energy.
March 11, 2016, marked the fifth anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan. On December 26, 2014, Katsuya Hirano and Hirotaka Kasai interviewed Koide Hiroaki, a retired nuclear engineer, about that disaster and its aftermath. That interview was published as “‘The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster is a Serious Crime,’” by The Asia Pacific Journal on March 16, 2016. Reflecting on comments made by Koide during that interview may prove instructive.
Introduction. On March 11, 2011, the cores of three nuclear reactors located in the city of Fukushima, Japan, suffered simultaneous meltdowns. These meltdowns released three radioactive substances from containment: cesium-137, the main contaminant of Japanese soil; strontium-90, the main contaminant of the Pacific Ocean; and tritium.
Comparative levels of radioactive contamination. No one knows how much cesium-137 was released. The disaster destroyed the measuring equipment. The Japanese government, in reports to the International Atomic Energy Agency, has estimated that 1.5x1016 Becquerels of cesium-137 were released into the air. That’s about 170 times more than was released by the atomic bomb used against Hiroshima.
Other experts in institutes around the world believe that the Japanese government has seriously underestimated the amount of cesium-137 released. Based on the work of these other experts, Koide believes that the meltdowns released into the air about 500 times more than what occurred in Hiroshima. He estimates a similar amount initially spilled into the ocean and warns that such spillage has continued ever since.
Combining the release of radioactive cesium-137 into both air and sea would put total contamination at perhaps 1,000 times the amount occurring in Hiroshima. Since the amount released during the Chernobyl disaster is estimated to be 800 to 1,000 times the amount in Hiroshima, Chernobyl and Fukushima are more or less equivalent disasters.
Koide then notes that the amount of radiation released during the testing of nuclear weapons by the US and the USSR in the 1950s and 60s was far worse than Fukushima and Chernobyl combined. Those tests released 50 to 60 times the amount estimated by the Japanese government to have been released in Fukushima. The radiation released during atmospheric testing increased cancer rates suffered by humans and other animals globally. The radiation released at Chernobyl and Fukushima has and will continue to add to those rates. Because atmospheric testing was done in the temperate zone of the Northern Hemisphere, contamination remains heaviest there even though it has spread worldwide.
Emergency response on 3/11. Koide called it disastrous. On March 12, when an explosion removed the roof over reactor one, he knew that a reactor meltdown had occurred and that everyone in the area needed to be evacuated immediately. Neither the Japanese government nor Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) had spokespeople alert the public concerning the danger they were in.
After subsequent meltdowns occurred, the government announced an evacuation of everyone within two kilometers of the nuclear power plants. Although they eventually expanded the range of evacuation to twenty kilometers, they took no action. It turned out that every one of the officials at the emergency center near the nuclear power plant with responsibility for coordinating the evacuation had run away.
Corporate control of information. Others with critical information were no more helpful. Nuclear experts being interviewed on TV immediately after the disaster uniformly underestimated its seriousness. Soon enough the government forbade those experts to publicly express their personal opinions. While Koide disobeyed this order, most nuclear experts complied. They all took turns going to TV studios to repeat whatever they were told to say. Those telling them what to say worked for the government or corporations involved in building and operating nuclear power plants, the mass media, or both.
Sometimes a TV station would interview Koide at his office. He was never happy with the result. Even if he was interviewed for an hour, only 30 seconds would make it to the news—and then only the brief moment when he wasn’t being critical of government or industry. An alternative radio program during which he shared his opinions live was shut down.
In Japan, the corporate media has labelled those who ask critical questions about Fukushima, like Koide, as unpatriotic and criminal. Koide disagrees. He thinks those individuals responsible for the disaster are the criminals.
Rejection of the rule of law. Koide stated that the Japanese government raised the legal limit of radiation to which one could be exposed from 1 unit/year to 20 units/year for no good scientific reason. The change in policy was strictly political.
Japanese law states that no objects may be taken from a “radioactivity management area.” After the Fukushima disaster, Koide estimates that perhaps 10 million people live in what by law should be declared such an area. He believes it is the responsibility of the government to evacuate these people to save them from what is legally defined as a toxic radioactive environment. As a nuclear scientist, Koide is not allowed into the area and wouldn’t drink the water if he was. He calls the governmental decision to leave ordinary people in that area “a serious crime by Japan’s ruling elite.”
Such radioactive contamination causes cancers and leukemia. Yet the government has not conducted any epidemiological studies of the rates of these diseases among people living in the area contaminated by Fukushima. Koide believes the government does not want to fund these studies so that it may continue to deny the damage done. Even so, a spike in the incidence of thyroid cancer, at a rate similar to that in Chernobyl after its disaster, has occurred.
Corporate and political avoidance of responsibility. Right now the abandoned farmers in Fukushima and surrounding areas continue to grow food for sale to others. Koide suggests the food should be sold to people advocating the use of nuclear energy. First, TEPCO should pay for testing the level of contaminants in the food and report those results to the public. Then the most heavily contaminated food should be sold in the cafeterias of parliament and TEPCO. The worst of it should be eaten by people ages 60 and above, then food with increasingly less contamination to increasingly younger adults, with the safest food being fed to children. That way, the adults most responsible for allowing Japan to build and use nuclear power plants would be the ones exposed to the food posing the greatest risk.
After the Fukushima disaster, Japan’s remaining nuclear power plants were shut down. Now the corporate managers of them want to restart them. They know they won’t be punished by the government if even another disaster occurs. No one from TEPCO ever went to prison. Leaving Japanese nuclear reactors idle also means a lot of money spent with no earnings gained.
Right now it’s impossible to contain the radiation leaking out of the Fukushima site. No one knows the location or status of the missing cores. No way exists, human or robotic, to find out. Koide thinks it is likely that the reactor cores have melted through the steel vessel built to contain them are now contaminating the groundwater.
Already at the Fukushima plant over 400,000 tons of radioactive water are being stored in temporary containers. Every year an increasing amount of water needs to be stored. This water contains plutonium 239. A person only needs to breath in one microgram of the stuff to be poisoned to death. Room for more containers on site is almost gone. Existing containers are starting to leak. Groundwater and coastal waters are increasingly contaminated. Soon the decision will be made simply to dump the containers in the ocean.
The problem with radioactive substances: there’s no throwing them away. There’s only moving them from one place considered more unsafe to another considered less so. Since TEPCO owns this highly lethal radioactivity, Koide insists it should be stored on their property—perhaps their corporate headquarters. He would also have corporate executives do their share of risky decontamination work.
At the time the Fukushima disaster occurred, the US military evacuated all its personnel within 80 km of the power plant. Before all the information was in, they reacted to the disaster by considering it a worst-case scenario and taking no chances. The Japanese government, in contrast, reacted by considering it a best-case scenario and eventually evacuating only those people within 20 km of the plant.
Worse, Koide believed that government officials were incapable of thinking any other scenario would be possible. That’s why those same officials fled their emergency management office when confronted by an emergency that exceeded their rosy expectations. They did nothing but run because there was nothing else they could do.

Copyright © 2016 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.