The Japanese government is trying to calm fears about radiation levels and food safety in the region around the heavily damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility, even as it has raised the severity rating of the crisis to the highest possible level.
"Radiation is continuing to leak out of the reactors. The situation is not stable at all," says Dr. Michio Kaku, professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York and the City College of New York, in an interview with Democracy Now! April 13. "The slightest disturbance could set off a full-scale meltdown at three nuclear power stations, far beyond what we saw at Chernobyl... you're looking at basically a ticking time bomb."
Dr. Kaku was very critical of the Japanese government response to the ongoing crisis.
Here is an except from the interview:
DR. MICHIO KAKU: Well, Tokyo Electric has been in denial, trying to downplay the full impact of this nuclear accident. However, there's a formula, a mathematical formula, by which you can determine what level this accident is. This accident has already released something on the order of 50,000 trillion becquerels of radiation. You do the math. That puts it right smack in the middle of a level 7 nuclear accident. Still, less than Chernobyl. However, radiation is continuing to leak out of the reactors. The situation is not stable at all. So, you're looking at basically a ticking time bomb. It appears stable, but the slightest disturbance -- a secondary earthquake, a pipe break, evacuation of the crew at Fukushima -- could set off a full-scale meltdown at three nuclear power stations, far beyond what we saw at Chernobyl.
DEMOCRACY NOW!'S AMY GOODMAN: Talk about exactly -- I mean, as a physicist, to explain to people -- exactly what has taken place in Japan at these nuclear power plants.
DR. MICHIO KAKU: Think of driving a car, and the car all of a sudden lunges out of control. You hit the brakes. The brakes don't work. That's because the earthquake wiped out the safety systems in the first minute of the earthquake and tsunami. Then your radiator starts to heat up and explodes. That's the hydrogen gas explosion. And then, to make it worse, the gas tank is heating up, and all of a sudden your whole car is going to be in flames. That's the full-scale meltdown.
So what do you do? You drive the car into a river. That's what the utility did by putting seawater, seawater from the Pacific Ocean, in a desperate attempt to keep water on top of the core. But then, seawater has salt in it, and that gums up your radiator. And so, what do you do? You call out the local firemen. And so, now you have these Japanese samurai warriors. They know that this is potentially a suicide mission. They're coming in with hose water -- hose water -- trying to keep water over the melted nuclear reactor cores. So that's the situation now. So, when the utility says that things are stable, it's only stable in the sense that you're dangling from a cliff hanging by your fingernails. And as the time goes by, each fingernail starts to crack. That's the situation now.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the food, the level of contamination of the food? They are increasingly banning food exports.
DR. MICHIO KAKU: The tragedy is, this accident has released enormous quantities of iodine, radioactive iodine-131, into the atmosphere, like what happened at Chernobyl, about 10 percent the level of Chernobyl. Iodine is water soluble. When it rains, it gets into the soil. Cows then eat the vegetation, create milk, and then it winds up in the milk. Farmers are now dumping milk right on their farms, because it's too radioactive. Foods have to be impounded in the area.
And let's be blunt about this: would you buy food that says "Made in Chernobyl"? And the Japanese people are also saying, "Should I buy food that says 'Made in Fukushima'?" We're talking about the collapse of the local economy. Just because the government tries to lowball all the numbers, downplay the severity of the accident, and that's making it much worse.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the evacuation zone? Is it big enough?
DR. MICHIO KAKU: It's pathetic. The United States government has already stated 50 miles for evacuating U.S. personnel. The French government has stated that all French people should consider leaving the entire islands. And here we are with a government talking about six miles, 10 miles, 12 miles. And the people there are wondering, "What's going on with the government? I mean, why aren't they telling us the truth?" Radiation levels are now rising 25 miles from the site, far beyond the evacuation zone. And remember that we could see an increase in leukemia. We could see an increase in thyroid cancers. That's the inevitable consequence of releasing enormous quantities of iodine into the environment.
AMY GOODMAN: And you've been very outspoken when it comes to nuclear power in the United States. This, of course, has raised major issues about nuclear power plants around the world, many countries saying they're not moving forward. President Obama is taking the opposite position. He really is very much the nuclear renaissance man. He is talking about a nuclear renaissance and has not backed off, in fact reiterated, saying this will not stop us from building the first nuclear power plants in, what, decades.
DR. MICHIO KAKU: Well, there's something called a Faustian bargain. Faust was this mythical figure who sold his soul to the devil for unlimited power. Now, the Japanese government has thrown the dice with a Faustian bargain. Japan has very little fossil fuel reserves, no hydroelectric power to speak of, and so they went nuclear. However, in the United States, we're now poised, at this key juncture in history, where the government has to decide whether to go to the next generation of reactors. These are the so-called gas-cooled pebble bed reactors, which are safer than the current design, but they still melt down. The proponents of this new renaissance say that you can go out to dinner and basically have a leisurely conversation even as your reactor melts down. But it still melts. That's the bottom line.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, what do you think should happen? Do you think nuclear power plants should be built in this country?
DR. MICHIO KAKU: I think there should be a national debate, a national debate about a potential moratorium. The American people have not been given the full truth, because, for example, right north of New York City, roughly 30 miles north of where we are right now, we have the Indian Point nuclear power plant, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has now admitted that of all the reactors prone to earthquakes, the one right next to New York City is number one on that list. And the government itself, back in 1980, estimated that property damage would be on the order of about $200 billion in case of an accident, in 1980 dollars, at the Indian Point nuclear power station.