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Vivian Norris

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Fukushima's Nuclear Nightmare Is Far From Over (or the Disturbingly Deadly Act of Placing Profits Before People)

Posted: 04/17/2012 8:10 am

The visit to Japan some twenty days after the catastrophic earthquake, horrific tsunami and resulting nuclear accidents at the Fukushima Daiichi site by French president Nicolas Sarkozy is described as having been focused on the continued sale of deadly MOX (a "dirty" mixture of Plutonium and Depleted Uranium). In the article, the claim is made that the French are now seen in Japan as "chi no shonin" or merchants of death. The false assertion that the French team arrived in Japan to show solidarity with those who had so greatly suffered is a joke. This is about a powerful nuclear industry protecting its own, and reaping profits from not only the sale of radioactive materials, but also winning extraordinarily lucrative contracts for the cleanup and disposal of the nuclear waste and what is left of the reactors at Fukushima. In other words, as in the oil industry where companies such as Halliburton make money off the building, operating and selling of materials to the oil industry, when disaster strikes, they also make billions off the cleanup. It's called a vertical monopoly. In other words, even disasters are lucrative. Just take a look at all of the funds investing on the negative outcomes of our common future if you want to see how the wealthiest are hedging their bets by betting on the worst of the worst kinds of outcomes for humanity and our planet.

This is very similar to what has been going on in the financial sector, where someone is going to find profits as a result of the swapping, debt-incentivizing economy. But these "crises" do not help the majority, they help the minority, those who pocket the profits. In this case, the "fallout" (pardon the pun) from the Fukushima catastrophe is that the French "merchants of death" will rake in profits in the billions (one estimate from a nuclear industry insider says up to half a trillion) dollars and contracts lasting decades. No wonder the French president and his team were on that plane before any other head of state. Yet they did not visit Fukushima itself as did the French Green party candidate, Eva Joly, who actually went to the area and met with people and officials directly impacted by the events. Greenpeace also went in right away to take real measurements that official agencies were either not taking, or simply not reporting.

One of the biggest problems is not simply that there is a massive cover-up related to what is really going on at Fukushima; it is that the media itself is to blame for its lack of front page coverage of what is taking place at Fukushima as the situation has become even more critical. Why? Because companies such as Japan's TEPCO filter which members of the press are allowed access to information and they filter the information itself. In the US, companies such as GE, owning media outlets such as NBC, are also in the nuclear technology services business. Bad press about nuclear is simply bad for business. President Obama has been pushing nuclear as well, along with renewables, while good old fossil fuels still reign. Why? Profits to US companies. But do we want these kinds of profits? Germany doesn't and will be off nuclear within a decade, replacing much of its energy needs with renewables such as solar power from the Sahara Desert.

Why does Fukushima still matter? Because no matter what TEPCO or the authorities have claimed, the reactors and the fuel pools are unstable. Jokingly, just as things have literally been heating up again, the thermometers have broken and thus no readings can be made. If one more sizable earthquake strikes near Fukushima Daiichi and disturbs what is left of the structures, especially the extremely precarious Reactor 4, and if the spent fuel pools holding thousands of rods catches fire, the release of deadly radioactivity into the air means cancers, death and contamination over an enormous area, not only in Japan but on the West Coast of the US, or virtually wherever the wind is blowing, as well as in the Pacific Ocean, where radioactivity has already been measured in kelp, fish and the water itself. Reactor 4 has leakage, this we know. Both Greenpeace and US authorities on the West Coast have measured the ocean and the presence in kelp. Some of the isotopes half lives are short enough that their presence is no longer as dangerous, but the reality is, a lot of radioactive destruction is going to be washing up on a West Coast beach near you in the months and years to come. Remember that Japanese ghost fishing boat off Alaska they blew up recently. Why do you think they blew it up?

So what in the hell is going on at Fukushima? Let's look at the recent facts related to the reactors and the fuel pools. One of the biggest problems is that the heating up of radioactive material, now mostly in molten blobs at the bottom of the heavily damaged structures, has not stopped and it is proving very difficult to keep the cooling process going. This results in what is called "decay heat."

Decay Heat is when the fission process has ended but heat is still being produced by disintegrating arms of radioactive waste materials and leads to the continual increase in temperature of fuel. As nuclear expert and former industry insider Arnie Gunderson writes in "Fukushima: The Crisis Is Not Over":

Radioactive byproducts produce heat. During the normal operation of a nuclear reactor, there is an accumulation of many man-made radioactive materials such as iodine-131, cesium-137, strontium-90, plutonium-239, and many others. These radioactive byproducts continue to produce a lot of heat, even after the reactor is shut down, because radioactivity cannot be stopped. This unstoppable heat is called "decay heat." Heat damages fuel, releasing hydrogen and radioactive gases. Unless the decay heat is removed as fast as it is produced, the temperature will continue to rise, eventually damaging the fuel and letting radioactive gases and vapors escape. When you see hydrogen explosions, that means that the outside of the fuel has gone past 1000 degrees Celsius and the inside of the fuel is well over 2000 degrees Celsius. At that point the fuel gets brittle, and the zirconium coating burns, giving off hydrogen gas.

The greatest amount of concern at the moment are the spent fuel pools and the fact that Reactor 4 is nowhere close to being contained. Even if concrete were poured onto Reactors 1, 2 and 3 entombing them as was done with Chernobyl, Reactor 4 is a different, potentially extremely deadly, story. Gunderson explains:

But that means there is absolutely no containment for the nuclear fuel in that pool, unlike the molten fuel in the reactor cores of Units 1, 2 and 3, which still have a containment structure above them to limit radioactive releases directly into the air. The entire spent fuel pool in Unit 4 is open to the sky, plainly visible from above. During the helicopter fly-overs you could look down into this blown-out shell of a building and see the fuel sitting there in the spent fuel pool. That fuel is still producing a lot of heat, because the reactor was only shut down in November. So the temperature rise can easily damage the fuel and cause large radiation releases, as has been observed, from Unit 4. Fuel pool fires are perhaps the biggest concern. Brookhaven National Labs did a study in 1997 that showed that if a fuel pool went dry and caught on fire, it could cause 138,000 fatalities among the surrounding population. So it's a big concern. In fact it is probably the biggest concern at the whole Fukushima complex. The Chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) stated that the reason he told Americans in Japan to stay 50 miles away from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi complex was his fear that the Unit 4 spent fuel would catch fire and volatilize large amounts of plutonium, uranium, cesium and strontium. If the Brookhaven study is to be believed, such an event could eventually kill more than a hundred thousand people as a result.

In this interview with Democracy Now, Arnie Gunderson goes as far as to say that a further accident at Fukushima could result in a million deaths from cancer:

Tracing someone's cancer in five or ten years' time to Fukushima is, of course, difficult to prove, as it has been with Chernobyl etc. Another interesting comment Gunderson makes at the beginning of the interview is that he states that Mikhail Gorbachev asserted that the Soviet Union fell more due to the Chernobyl disaster than due to anything else going on at the time.

Just a few weeks ago, the situation had become so glaringly obvious to one former Japanese diplomat, Mitsuhei Marata, who served as Japan's ambassador to Switzerland, that he spoke out at the Public Hearing of Councilors on March 22, 2012. He strongly stated that,

...if the crippled building of reactor unit 4 -- with 1,535 fuel rods in the spent fuel pool 100 feet (30 meters) above the ground--collapses, not only will it cause a shutdown of all six reactors but will also affect the common spent fuel pool containing 6, 375fuel rods located some 50 meters from Reactor 4. In both cases, the radioactive rods are not protected by a containment vessel; dangerously, they are open to the air. This would certainly cause a global catastrophe like we have never before experienced.

Please read the entire report here as it is extremely important.

He also went on to write letters to the head of the UN and speak out in filmed interviews. The former Prime Minister of Japan Naoto Kan once wholeheartedly supported nuclear and now is doing an about face, saying he was wrong and that Japan's future depends upon leaving its dependence on nuclear behind. With all of the face-saving that Japanese officials have been doing by not calling for an independent international advisory team of engineers and nuclear experts, they have put all of us in danger. Thanks to the few officials and former high-ranking Japanese civil servants and diplomats speaking out, and the odd nuclear expert based in Japan, trickles of information are getting out. But even well-established journalists and editors for major foreign press groups are not able to report on what is actually going on at Fukushima. I have received messages thanking me for keeping Fukushima in the forefront, messages which mostly come from Japanese nuclear and press folks. Why? Because I have the freedom to write and speak out on issues which they do not feel they can communicate either because they are worried about losing their jobs, or becoming pariahs by "losing face" as citizens of Japan.

It is interesting to note that those who are speaking out are mothers, retired citizens and older people, as well as those who have nothing left to lose.

The first week in May will see the first time in many decades that Japan is actually using no nuclear power as its last running reactor is shut off for maintenance. Two reactors are readying to go back online soon but public outcry and simply fear may halt that in its tracks.

What is France doing about its nuclear reactors? After assuring the public in an interview with Le Monde earlier this year (Andre-Claude Lacoste: "Il faut un investissement massif"), they are investing "massively" to make sure backup energy supplies (diesel) are installed in case the reactors created to supply energy fail to allow for continued cooling etc. In other words, what is the point of continuing to massively subsidize the nuclear industry if it is not ever going to be cost-efficient, risks millions of loves, destroys the planet and results in catastrophes which end up costing billions?

Look at what Japan will be doing in the decades to come and how they will replace nuclear with renewable energy. That will not only save face but will save the planet in the balance.

 

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