While the world media are paying little note, and most of the stateside public thinks of the Fukushima disaster in the past tense, in fact the ongoing effort to stabilize the stricken nuclear complex is now about to enter its most dangerous phase. Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) will this month begin removing fuel rod "assemblies" from reactor building No. 4—where they are vulnerable because the containment dome was shattered by a hydrogen explosion four days into the disaster, on March 15, 2011. They are to be transferred to an "undamaged facility" within the complex. There are 1,533 of these zirconium-plated "assemblies," and they are said to be in a chaotic "jumble." The transfer is to take about a year—if all goes well. (Japan Times, FukuLeaks, Nov. 14; EneNews, Nov. 6; Fukushima Update, Sept. 14)
Canadian scientist David Suzuki warns that if another major earthquake hits Japan before the transfer of the assemblies is complete, it could mean a nuclear disaster that would dwarf anything the world has yet seen. "[I]f in fact the fourth plant goes under in an earthquake and those rods are exposed, it's 'bye-bye Japan,' and everybody on the west coast of North America should evacuate," he said at a "Letting in the Light" symposium at the University of Alberta. The meeting was officially on water policy, but Suzuki emphasized potential consequences for the entire planet from a mishap in the assembly transfer process. "Fukushima is the most terrifying situation I can imagine," he said. "Three out of the four plants were destroyed in the earthquake and in the tsunami. The fourth one has been so badly damaged that the fear is, if there's another earthquake of a seven or above that, that building will go and then all hell breaks loose… And the probability of a seven or above earthquake in the next three years is over 95%." (Global Research Report, Nov. 7)
Some in Japan have been trying to raise the alarm—including at least one courageous politician (generally an oxymoron). Independent Diet member Taro Yamamoto was officially censured after he breached protocol by handing a letter to Emperor Akihito about the new Fukushima risks during a reception at the Imperial Palace, urging him to speak on the matter. He is to be barred from future events at the Palace for trying to "involve the emperor in politics." (BBC News, Nov. 8)
Following last year's alarming news about a jump in thyroid abnormalities in Japan since the Fukushima disaster began, come more such unsettling findings—which are practically failing to make English-language media at all. Asahi Shinbun reported Sept. 28 (only in Japanese, with a citation in English on Akihabara News, a tech blog) on a study indicating that up to 70% of youth from newborns to 18 years in the Kanto region (where Tokyo is located) have radioactive cesium in their urine. This is based on a sampling of 150, apparently picked at random.
And worse news (or, alas, non-news) could be yet to come, even barring a mishap in the assembly transfer. Ken Buesseler, a senior scientist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, who has analyzed thousands of samples of fish from the Fukushima area, says the initial leak from the complex had a high concentration of cesium isotopes—but the water flowing from the plant into the ocean now is likely to be much higher in strontium-90, posing a greater threat. "Cesium is like salt—it goes in and out of your body quickly," he told National Geographic. "Strontium gets into your bones." While he's still not too concerned that fish caught off the US coast will be affected, "strontium changes the equation for Japanese fisheries, as to when their fish will be safe to eat." (Via EneNews, Aug. 7)
And local fleets have resumed fishing off Fukushima. Twenty-one trawlers brought in five tons of seafood, including octopus and squid, from a trial operation; if they're confirmed safe in tests, they will be shipped to markets across Japan, Common Dreams reported Sept. 27, citing Japanese media. We haven't heard any reports on the results of those tests, if they are separate from those being conducted by Woods Hole. Another example of the terrifying paucity and vagueness of reportage on this ongoing disaster.
And yet another. Daily Beast on Sept 26 said that it had obtained unpublished data on birth defects in Japan, which showed a jump in prevalence rates for 2011. The "2011 Report on Congenital Malformations" found the prevalence of malformed infants to be at 2.43%, the highest figure since 1999 (1.48%). It is true that the figure for 2010, the year before the Fukushima disaster began, was 2.31%, indicating only a small increase between that year and 2011. Adding to the ambiguity is the fact that Yokohama City University, which conducted the study, won't release regional figures—to the protest of many experts, who are calling on authorities to measure the health impact of Japan's nuclear problems, including birth defects, "with not just annual data but monthly data and broken down by prefecture."
An online petition is calling for transparent public oversight of the clean-up at Fukushima, and also demanding that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe formally retract his statements to the International Olympic Committee: "The [Fukushima] situation is under control… The effects of the [radioactive] discharges are completely blocked within the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant's harbor." This was part of his successful bid to win the 2020 Olympics for Japan—but the statement was contradicted by a TEPCO senior manager just days later. At a public meeting in Koriyama, Fukushima prefecture, Kazuhiko Yamashita, TEPCO's top technology executive, reportedly told local lawmakers that he "does not believe [TEPCO] is able to control" the situation. TEPCO diligently issued a press release within hours attempting to downplay Yamashita's statement, saying he was only talking about unexpected leaks at some of the hundreds of water tanks in the complex, not the general situation. (Japan Subculture Research Center, Sept. 27; Daily Beast, Sept. 26; Japan Times, Sept. 13)
Another petition, No Olympics, is calling for Japan to abandon the 2020 Olympics altogether, and notes more such dissembling statements. Japan Olympic Committee chair Tsunekazu Takeda, responding to press questions on the issue, said: "Not one person in Tokyo has been affected by this issue. Tokyo and Fukushima are almost 250 kilometers apart. We are quite remote from Fukushima." Rather embarrassing in light of the cesium urine findings.
US anti-nuclear spokesman Harvey Wasserman on EcoWatch is calling not only for public intervention but a UN-directed international take-over the Fukushima clean-up—a demand that has won nearly 40,000 signatures at NukeFree.org.
Meanwhile, pro-nuclear propagandists continue their hubristic crowing about how the Fukushima disaster actually proves nuclear power is safe! John Watson in Australia's The Age offers this typically denialist headline: "Japan's radiation disaster toll: none dead, none sick." He cites a World Health Organization study predicting there would be "no noticeable increases in cancer rates for the overall population" of Japan due to Fukushima. A third of emergency workers were found to be at some increased risk, he admits.
We've noted before this perverse eagerness to gamble with the health of future generations on the basis of technocratic conjecture. A little corrective perspective is provided by Norway's environmentalist Bellona foundation, which says the WHO report has been "greeted with broad skepticism." Bellona portrays connivance between WHO and Japanese authorities to cook the books:
The WHO report says that it has found no data on any cancers among the population in the area, but humanitarian organizations have offered contradictory evidence to those claims, saying at least three cases of thyroid cancer have been linked to the disaster.
Additionally, it was earlier reported that in 2011, Japan's former Nuclear Safety Commission—which has been supplanted by the Nuclear Regulatory Authority—denied public access to the results of thyroid check-ups for more than 1,000 Fukushima children that were exposed to radiation.
And Watson's touting of the "overall population" projections obscures the fact that "[i]n the most contaminated area, the WHO estimated that there was a 70 percent higher risk of females exposed as infants developing thyroid cancer over their lifetime." Apparently they don't count in the pro-nuclear calculus.
The comfortably cooked WHO projections are also touted in a sneering piece on the British tech website The Register with the utterly obnoxious headline "Fukushima SCARE-mongers: It's YOUR FAULT Japan DUMPED CO2 targets." This is a reference to the fact that at the Warsaw climate summit now underway, Japan announced it is dropping its former goal, based on the Kyoto Protocol, to reduce greenhouse emissions by 25% over 1990 levels by 2020. The new goal is an increase of 3%—with Japan's leaders blaming public backlash against nuclear power in the wake of Fukushima! (The Verge, PRI, Nov. 15) This despite the fact that Japan has repudiated calls from its own special commission convened after the disaster to phase out nuclear power. And despite the fact that much greenhouse emissions come from automotive transport, and cars don't run on nuclear power. Simple illogic that The Register's Lewis Page happily lets Japan's leaders get away with. Displaying his own illogic, he gloats:
If the Fukushima crisis has proved one thing, it's that nuclear power is safe. Everything that could possibly go wrong did, the accident was agreed to be at the top of the international scale for seriousness, and yet in decades to come scientists will not be able to attribute any deaths to radiation released from the Daiichi plant.
As we've stated before in response to such nonsense: If tsunamis, earthquakes and human error are inevitable, this is an argument against nuclear power, not for it. And the juxtaposing of nuclear power and fossil fuels as an either/or is a false dilemma. Ultimately, the way out of the crisis is abandoning an economic system predicated on the inexorably unsustainable foundation of endless growth.
This point is made in an Indigenous Elders Statement on Fukushima issued by Sioux, Dakota and Miccosukee elders last month, which states: "This self destructive path has led to the Fukushima nuclear crisis, Gulf oil spill, tar sands devastation, pipeline failures, impacts of carbon dioxide emissions and the destruction of ground water through hydraulic fracking, just to name a few… [T]hese activities…continue to cause the deterioration and destruction of sacred places and sacred waters that are vital for Life."
Not that world leaders are in the habit of listening to indigenous elders. Just as the Elders' statement was being issued, Shinzo Abe was on a trip to Turkey, where Kyodo news agency reported he met with Prime Minister Erdogan to "discuss closer bilateral economic cooperation, including on exports of Japanese nuclear reactors."
Do not let the captains of this death-dealing industry get away with perversely turning the disaster they have foisted upon the world into a propaganda coup. The illusions and general lack of awareness about nuclear power even in the wake of Fukushima must be vigorously combated.
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