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General News    H3'ed 3/11/15

Fukushima Daiichi 4th Anniversary update and overview

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Although the government officially took ownership of the site in June 2012, there was no move to reorganize the cleanup until 2014, when a competent manager, Naohiro Masuda, was put in charge and allowed to restructure the working team.

Secrecy and cover-ups have marked the Japanese response. Discussion of the radiation hazard was prohibited during the 2012 election, with the result that a staunch upholder of nuclear power, Prime Minister Abe, was elected. He has pushed through a draconian secrecy law, with stiff penalties for journalists who breach "national security"- not defined. Another law prohibits reporting of radiation related disease. Thus, although thyroid cancer among children in Fukushima Province is already 60x normal, only 4 years after the disaster, the government continues to insist that there are no radiation-related deaths or illnesses. People are being encouraged to return to their homes in the area; most are not complying.

Abe wants to assure everyone that the situation at Fukushima is under control. He is concentrating on hosting the 2020 Summer Olympics, restarting the 40 nuclear reactors that were idled after March 2011, and restoring the fishing and farming industries in the evacuation zone. This attempt to bring normality to the region is like putting lipstick on a pig.


The good news is that the dangerous fuel pool atop Unit 4 is now emptied. The cleanup effort has been reorganized, and is running more sanely and smoothly. The groundwater is being captured in a series of ditches, monitored by wells, with the idea of diverting the water around the reactor cores so that it can be discharged cleanly into the ocean.

There's lots of bad news, however. First of all, TEPCO is unable to process all the water which is used to keep the molten reactor cores cool so they don't explode, and roughly 350 tons per day of radioactive water continues to spill into the ocean. Most of the cooling water is stored in tanks; a new one has to be built almost daily. The site is so overcrowded that the oversight body, the Japanese Nuclear Regulatory Commission, is pushing to dump all the water from the tanks into the Pacific.

There are continual leaks, with frequent reports that the water tested from one of the wells suddenly has hundreds, or thousands, of times more radioactivity than it did the day before. The dangerously radioactive water drains into the ocean until the leak is found and plugged. The leaks come from broken pipes, or leaky tanks, or recently, from untreated rainwater on the roof of reactor 2. This last leak was known about and unreported for a year, magnifying the huge credibility problem which already existed.

The tank water is supposed to be treated to remove the bulk of radioactivity, but the treatment plants don't work well, and none of the processes remove radioactive tritium, H3O, which is toxic for echinoderms and may be affecting the immune systems of higher level organisms. In any case, sea life is suffering- there are massive dieoffs of starfish, sardines, birds and mammals. How much of this is due to radiation, as opposed to ocean warming, acidification, plastic pollution, is hard to say, but it does seem be rather sudden, since 2011, and worsening every year. This is an ongoing catastrophe that could threaten all life!

Reactors 1, 2, and 3 all have spent fuel pools on the roof, which need to be emptied, and 1 and 2 are too hot to go near. Reactor 3 pool contains some plutonium fuel, and some of the rods are damaged, making it difficult to empty.

The site is battered by earthquakes and typhoons. During the last two summers, 5 or 6 supertyphoons rolled through the area, with high winds and flooding. One wonders how much the already damaged buildings can withstand. The pipes which control water flow are made of pvc and age fairly rapidly, especially since they are carrying radioactive water. The possibility of another explosion hangs over the site, as the work continues.

Locating the molten cores underground is impossible with current techniques, and once they are located, perhaps using cosmic rays, no one knows how to retrieve and disable them. The tasks ahead are daunting.

The cleanup crew under Masuda is struggling to keep up with the leaks and to figure out ways to deal with the overflow of contaminated water. Meanwhile, they have to figure out ways to clear out the spent fuel rods from the remaining 3 damaged reactors, and to deal with the underground melted down cores. The costs keep rising, the workers keep having to leave because they have reached the limit of radiation exposure, accidents keep happening, and earthquakes and typhoons, and an occasional tornado, are endemic.

Bringing the 2020 Summer Olympics to Tokyo may help Japanese self-esteem, but the preparations are diverting precious resources from the Fukushima cleanup. Over the next five years, another explosion may render all of northern Japan, including Tokyo, too dangerous to visit. The polluted groundwater connects to the Tokyo aquifer, and slowly seeps in that direction. The risk to athletes and their fans is great; Japan should gracefully withdraw as host.

Radioactive pollution of the Pacific is affecting the entire planet, and places all life in jeopardy. It's high time that Japan asked the international community for financial and technical assistance, via the United Nations.

And radioactive tank water MUST not be dumped into the Pacific.

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Carol S. Wolman, MD is a psychiatrist in Northern California. A lifelong peace activist, she is helping to distribute a Peace Plan for the Holy Land- email her for a copy. She also a film producer with Paradise Cove Productions, currently (more...)

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