Fukushima: A human-made disaster brought on by bad faith

John LaForge

Explosions blew apart some of the Fukushima reactors. The total amount of radioactive iodine-131 and cesium-137 released to the atmosphere as of March 23, 2011 was more than 100,000 terabecquerels (one terabecquerel = one trillion bq), several tens of thousands of terabecquerels above the standard for a Level 7,or worst case accident.
Explosions blew apart some of the Fukushima reactors. The total amount of radioactive iodine-131 and cesium-137 released to the atmosphere as of March 23, 2011 was more than 100,000 terabecquerels (one terabecquerel = one trillion bq), several tens of thousands of terabecquerels above the standard for a Level 7,or worst case accident.

“Nearly seven years after the triple reactor meltdowns, this unique nuclear crisis is still underway,” Greenpeace International’s Shaun Burnie wrote in a blogpost last December. The word “unique” is an understatement but true. The March 11, 2011meltdowns are the world’s first combined earthquake-tsunami-reactor catastrophe. Moreover, while other power reactors have run out-of-control, melted down and contaminated large areas, never before have three simultaneously suffered mass earthquake damage, station black-outs, loss-of-coolant and complete meltdowns.

The consequences of its meltdowns-cubed are uniquely over three times deeper, broader and more expensive than anyone was prepared to handle. In the days following the initial quake, tsunami(s), and explosions, the head of the emergency response said, “There is no manual for this disaster.” Managers have had to invent, design, develop and implement the recovery whole cloth. Evacuation was so haphazard that on August 9, 2011, one local mayor accused the government of murder.

The crisis is ongoing in many ways: radioactively contaminated water is still pouring into the Pacific Ocean (permanently contaminating and altering sea life which bio-accumulates and bio-concentrates the radioactivity); radioactive gases and perhaps even “hot particles” are still wafting out of destroyed reactor structures and waste fuel pools; the constant threat of earthquakes and tsunamis in Japan puts millions of gallons of radioactive waste water now stored near the shore in tanks at risk of spilling; and the dangerous work of collecting radioactive soils, leaves and tree trimmings from farmlands, school yards, parks and gardens continuously adds to vast collections of 1-ton radioactive waste bags.

The government estimates that 30 million cubic meters of this collected rad waste — a nearly unimaginable 29 million tons — will eventually require burial, incineration or re-use in road-building. The disaster is ongoing because the dangerous radiation exposures endured by the workers in these disaster response jobs is cumulative and irreversible — and the work will continue for 3 centuries or so. This is because: 1) cesium-137, one of the principle pollutants spewed by the meltdowns, takes 300 years to decay to other isotopes; and 2) in spite of the gigantic amount of contaminated material that’s been scrapped together and bagged — at over 1000 Temporary Storage Sites and elsewhere at 141,000 locations across Fukushima — the effort covers “only a small fraction of the total landmass of radioactively contaminated areas,” as Greenpeace’s Burnie reports. The “largest areas of significant contamination [are] the forested mountains of Fukushima,” Burnie notes, and will continue for three centuries to re-contaminate the soil down-wind and down-river, “through weathering processes and the natural water and lifecycle of trees and rivers.”

Fukushima’s endless radiation effects — from thyroid cancers, to contaminated sea food, from poisoned pregnancies to irradiated clean-up workers -- should be the final insult from nuclear power and weapons. And they will be if the general public wises up to the unacceptable risks of continuing to operate nuclear reactors. 

In “Fukushima Meltdown” the first scholarly book to appear on the incident, author Takashi Hirose dashed off a grim warning after having published books and articles warning of the terrible danger of nuclear power since the 1980s. His cautions are more important now than ever, because commercial media will this week repeat the tragic-comic assurances that “no one died,” that Fukushima’s “released radiation was less than Chernobyl,” and that “nuclear power is clean.”

Natural disasters will never disappear, Takashi wrote, and there is no way of putting an end to earth quakes and tsunamis. “However, the Fukushima Disaster is neither a natural disaster nor ordained by fate. It is a human-made disaster brought about by bad faith.” In his terrifying 150 pages, Takashi methodically proves the case that the Fukushima catastrophe “was easily predictable and preventable.” In a nutshell, two principle government and corporate lies demonstrate how bad faith brought about the worst reactor accident in history. Exposing and rejecting these lies can prevent another meltdown.

Initially the Japanese government and the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) asserted over and over that “there is no crisis” and even that “there will be no radiation release.” A month after the start of the disaster, the government admitted that radiation gushing to the sea and spewing to the atmosphere was at the same level as Chernobyl (the 1986 reactor disaster in Ukraine). Author Takashi calls this use of disinformation “as terrifying as what is happening at the actual site.” “From day one I had been saying that huge amounts of radiation were sure to be escaping.… From day one the situation had reached the highest level for nuclear accidents, Level 7, and from day one the government knew this, but it concealed that information from the people, thus causing far more people to be irradiated than otherwise would have been the case.”

The other glaring example of bad faith has been Tepco’s repeatedly saying, “We could not imagine that a once-in-a-thousand-years earthquake might come,” and further that “the tsunami was beyond our expectation.” These are lies. The destroyed Fukushima reactors were hit by an easily imaginable 14-meter tsunami. In 1896, the Meji-Sanriku quake’s tsunami reached 38.2 meters on the Iwate coast not far from Fukushima; the 1933 Hokkaido quake caused a 28.7 meter tsunami. Indeed, since the late 1970s experts have warned that a disaster like Fukushima was possible. In the late 1990s, seismology professor Ishibashi Katsuhiko at Kobe Univ. coined an explicit new term meaning “nuclear-power-plant-earthquake-disaster.” Because Prof.  Ishibashi’s many books on the subject are well-known, “it is impossible that his warnings were unknown to the officials of Tepco,” who just want to dodge criminal charges.

The lessons for the 99 faulty reactors in this country and the other 300 around the world are clear enough. It’s absurd to put reactors near earthquakes or volcanoes or anywhere near the water. And, as Takashi says, “The people responsible for the horror of this nuclear accident are the people who promoted nuclear power.”