May 26, 2011
New readings show levels of radioisotopes found up to 30 kilometers offshore from the on-going crisis at Fukushima are ten times higher than those measured in the Baltic and Black Seas during Chernobyl.
"When it comes to the oceans, says Ken Buesseler, a chemical oceonographer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, "the impact of Fukushima exceeds Chernobyl."
The news comes amidst a tsunami of devastating revelations about the Fukushima disaster and the crumbling future of atomic power, along with a critical Senate funding vote today:
Fukushima's owner, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, has confirmed that fuel at Unit One melted BEFORE the arrival of the March 11 tsunami.
This critical revelation confirms that the early stages of that melt-down were set in motion by the earthquake that sent tremors into Japan from a relatively far distance out to sea.
Virtually all of Japan's 55 reactors sit on or near earthquake faults. A 2007 earthquake forced seven reactors to shut at Kashiwazaki. Japan has ordered shut at least two more at Hamaoka because of their seismic vulnerability.
Numerous reactors in the United States sit on or near major earthquake faults. Two each at Diablo Canyon and San Onofre, California, are within three miles of major fault lines. So is Indian Point, less than 40 miles from Manhattan. Millions of people live within 50 miles of both San Onofre and Indian Point.
On January 31, 1986, the Perry reactor, 35 miles east of Cleveland on Lake Erie, was damaged by an earthquake rated between 5.0 and 5.5 on the Richter Scale---orders of magnitude weaker than the one that struck Fukushima, and that could hit the sites in California, New York and elsewhere around the globe.
TEPCO has confirmed that at least three of the Fukushima reactors---Units One, Two and Three---have suffered at least partial fuel melts. In at least one case, the fuel has melted through part of the inner containment system, with molten radioactive metal melting through to the reactor floor. A wide range of sources confirm the likelihood that fission may still be proceeding in at least one Fukushima core. The danger level is disputed. But it clearly requires still more commitment to some kind of cooling regime that will send vast quantities of water into ocean.
At least one spent fuel pool---in Unit Four---may have been entirely exposed to air and caught fire. Reactor fuel cladding is made with a zirconium alloy that ignites when uncovered, emitting very large quantities of radiation. The high level radioactive waste pool in Unit Four may no longer be burning, though it may still be general. Some Fukushima fuel pools (like many in the United States) are perched high in the air, making their vulnerability remains a serious concern. But a new report by Robert Alvarez indicates the problem in the US may be more serious that generally believed.
Unit Four is tilting and may be sinking, with potentially devastating consequences. At least three explosions at the site have weakened critical structures there. Massive leakages may have softened the earth and undermined some of the buildings' foundations. Further explosions or aftershocks---or a fresh earthquake---could bring on structural collapses with catastrophic fallout.
TEPCO has now confirmed that there are numerous holes in the containment covering Unit Two, and at least one at Unit One. The global nuclear industry has long argued that containments are virtually impenetrable. The domes at Fukushima are of very similar design and strength as many in the US.
The health impacts on workers at Fukushima are certain to be devastating.
After Chernobyl, the Soviet government sent more than 800,000 draftees through the seething wreckage. Many stayed a matter of 90 seconds or less, running in to perform a menial task and then running out as quickly as possible.
Despite their brief exposure, these "liquidators" have suffered an epidemic of health effects, with an escalating death toll. Angry and embittered, they played a significant role in bringing down the Soviet Union that doomed them.