Fukushima nuclear crisis deepens

By CHRISTINE FRANK

The crisis at Fukushima Dai’ichi, the crippled nuclear power facility that was severely damaged by an M 9.0 megathrust quake and 40-foot tsunami in March 2011, is deepening. Every living thing in the Northern Hemisphere, if not the entire planet, is in peril from radioactive contamination. The list of problems resulting from the natural disaster is seemingly endless. It is clear that the steadily deteriorating situation is out of control, and those responsible are in way over their heads, coming up with one knee-jerk response after the other, which often brings more harm than good.

Radioactive wastewater has been hemorrhaging from the facility daily for 2 ½ years. It is pouring out of storage tanks and buildings and into the sea at a phenomenal rate. In August, officials from TEPCO, the company that is presiding over the cascading catastrophe, admitted that 300 tons of highly radioactive water had leaked from one of its hastily and poorly built on-site storage tanks.   In fact, that much is being released into the ocean on a daily basis!

The tanks are used to contain two kinds of wastewater: (1) the millions of gallons used to cool Units 1, 2, and 3, which melted down within days after the accident and the extremely hot spent fuel rods lying in pools and (2) groundwater, which is flowing through the basements of the irradiated containment buildings.

TEPCO constructed the tanks in miserly fashion having only bolted rather than welded them together. Consequently, they are anything but watertight, and the company, clueless as usual, has no idea from where exactly the leaks are coming among its 1000 tanks, which hold an alarming 430,000 tons of poisoned water. Part of the difficulty is the deadly level of radiation all around the facility, which prevents engineers and workers from examining the problem up close and getting an accurate assessment of what is going on.

The groundwater flushing through the containment buildings is due to their having been heavily damaged by the shaking from the earthquake so it is routinely entering through numerous conduits—ruptured pipes, trenches, and cracked foundations. The water is coming into contact with irradiated objects everywhere and becoming contaminated. TEPCO’s woefully inadequate decontamination system filters only about 100 tons of water per day, with 300 running through the complex and out into the Pacific.

In order to block the groundwater from reaching the sea, the company is going to build a “frozen wall” at taxpayers’ expense, adding to the nine-trillion-yen bailout it has already received. A chemical solution will be injected into the coastline embankment in an effort to solidify it. Independent nuclear engineers suggested the move immediately after the earthquake, but the skinflints did not want to spend the money for fear of putting off their investors.

Over the last 31 months, this deliberate contamination of the ocean now amounts to 280,000 tons of radioactive water. The marine ecosystem is being poisoned with tritium by as much as 20 to 40 trillion Bequerels, along with iodine, cesium, strontium, americium, and other dangerous radioisotopes. They are steadily bioaccumulating and biomagnifying through the food web, both terrestrial and aquatic. As a result, the Japanese fishing industry has been destroyed, suffering several billion yen in economic losses. In the first year of the disaster, oceanographers found that all bottom-feeding fish off the Japanese coast consistently showed high counts of cesium-137, which concentrates in the muscles. The contamination began to spread immediately across the Pacific Ocean.

The hydrogen explosions released a radioactive plume that blew with the prevailing winds. The fallout rained down on the West Coast of the United States, and then washed into the sea. As a result, the giant kelp forests off the California coast showed high iodine-131 levels two weeks later. This undoubtedly concentrated in the thyroid glands of the fish that fed off the kelp.

Also full of cesium are top predators such as salmon and albacore and bluefin tuna. Yet, the U.S. government is issuing no warnings against eating irradiated seafood. More alarming are the fish on the West Coast found bleeding from the gills, bellies, and eyeballs, which are showing obvious signs of radiation sickness.

The geographic scope of the contamination is enormous. There is a debris field from the tsunami roughly the size of Texas or California floating in the Pacific Ocean in radioactive seawater. It includes people’s personal possessions and the detritus of capitalist civilization as well as a lot of hazardous materials. Some of it has already reached the Pacific Northwest Coast.

Observers have reported a frightening scarcity of seabirds, fish, and healthy marine mammals. Instead they’ve spotted whales suffering from hideous tumors. With many species being overfished, other forms of industrial pollution intensifying, and seawater warming and acidifying from climate change, the marine environment is in a steep and rapid decline, and the ocean appears to be dying.

All of the buildings and ventilation stacks in the Fukushima complex have suffered structural damage from the quake and are in danger of collapse if there is another severe one. On Oct. 25, Northern Japan experienced a significant M 7.1 in the subduction zone off of its coast. TEPCO’s on-site video camera showed the entire complex shaking, there was a mild one-foot tsunami, and employees were evacuated during the latest event. More aftershocks were predicted and mudslide warnings for the country were issued.

The ground under the facility is becoming more and more unstable and subject to subsidence and liquefaction of soils made soggy by groundwater. Japan has been battered by 27 storms this year, so saturated soils are adding to the instability.

Clean-up efforts at the site have amounted to a series of futile stopgap measures. For instance, the ruined, rickety reactor buildings have been wrapped in Kevlar shrink wrap in a pathetic attempt to reinforce and prevent them from crumbling. This does nothing to keep radiation from escaping from the triple meltdowns.

Of greatest immediate concern is the spent fuel rod pool above Unit #4, whose structural integrity has been severely compromised with a concrete wall buckling and on the verge of collapse. Plus, it experienced a hydrogen explosion, loss of coolant, and subsequent zirconium fire.

TEPCO is planning to begin the removal of over 1300 heavy and unwieldy fuel rods, weighing 2/3 ton each, to another pool in November. Ordinarily, when rods are removed from a cooling pool, it is done with a crane guided by a computer that knows down to the millimeter where they are located. Those technologies were destroyed in the accident, so the operation will have to be done manually.

TEPCO has erected a mobile crane above Unit #4, and the spent fuel rods will be pulled from their racks and inserted one by one into a heavy steel chamber while the assemblies are still under water, and then removed from the building. This game of radioactive pick-up sticks by remote control is extremely risky. One false move on the part of the operator could result in the zirconium cladding being exposed to oxygen and catching fire or the fuel heating up, reaching criticality and setting off an unstoppable chain reaction.

The situation is even more precarious because the racks and rods have become brittle and bent due to loss of coolant during the accident and corrosion from saline seawater that was used for emergency cooling. Stress and heavy radiation exposures among the workers will add to the challenge.

All of northern Japan has been contaminated by this monstrous horror, and is completely uninhabitable. Any attempts at decontamination are a cruel joke. The air, water, soil, crops, and seafood have been poisoned beyond redemption, and the land should be abandoned. The body burden of the people is increasing daily with the ceaseless ingestion and inhalation of radionuclides and repeated bombardment of their bodies’ cells with ionizing radiation. It is children who are the most vulnerable.

With the clean-up and decommissioning of Fukushima expected to take well over the usual 40 years, the nightmare will continue not only through our lifetimes but well into those of the next generation. This is intolerable, yet there seems to be no end in sight, and we may anticipate that things will only get worse if we do not stand up and fight back.

We must counter the lies and cover-ups from the industry, government, and apologists in the scientific community who keep telling us that nukes are harmless, and accidents rare.

Nuclear power is a horrible perversion of human knowledge, and all of humankind should rue the day scientists ever engaged in the Faustian bargain of splitting the atom. The crime against nature and humanity that Fukushima represents is being unnecessarily prolonged because those profiting from nuclear power do not want to admit how truly daunting and complex the problems are in this unprecedented situation or to come clean about what it will take to solve them. It would expose their diabolical technology for what it truly is. Contrary to Prime Minister Abe’s proclamation before the International Olympic Committee, the situation is not under control. Far from it, and this malignity of capitalism must end now.

The best scientific and engineering minds on the planet should be devoted to dealing with the problems of decommissioning and cleaning up the mess at Fukushima Dai’ichi. The public must be kept informed of any dangers that may arise through full disclosure. No more lies, denials or lame apologies!

All nuclear reactors should be nationalized in every country and taken out of the hands of the private utilities to begin the process of decommissioning them immediately under the control of democratically-elected committees of workers and local residents. Long-term permanent dry-waste storage facilities should be found that are ecologically and geologically sound and are socially acceptable.

Because Northern Japan has been rendered uninhabitable, the entire population should be evacuated and humanely relocated. The populace and Fukushima workers should be given the best remedial medical care available, which includes detoxifying with natural methods. For instance, chelation therapies, anti-oxidants such as green tea, and apple pectin come strongly recommended by doctors who have treated the Chernobyl victims.

The families of Fukushima workers, who have sacrificed their lives during the crisis, should be compensated. Thorough monitoring of all food stuffs should be conducted by governments—with nothing unsafe being allowed in the markets.

Photo: Nurses test children who lived near the reactors for radiation. An April 2013 health survey showed that nearly 36% of children in Fukushima Prefecture were diagnosed with growths on their thyroids. By Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters.