The silence is deafeningJune 4, 2011
Three month have past since an earthquake and the following tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. We heard first, that this was a level 5 accident on the International Nuclear Events Scale and by far not as severe as Chernobyl. The mainstream media displayed irritation and voiced concern about the future of the nuclear industry (which is seemingly more important than the future of prospective radiation victims). After showing a fair amount of indignation and exceptional creative hand-wringing, which up to a point was entertaining to watch, mainstream media stopped reporting — indicating that everything is fine now.
The news blackout is not watertight and alternative media with the help of independent and conscientious experts tell the true story, which is:
The cores of reactor 1, 2, 3 have melted. Radiation in the air has reached 4,000 millisieverts per hour in unit 1. Contaminated water covers the basement floors and leaks into the environment. Radioactive water accumulating in service trenches may overflow in a few days. Unit 4 is leaning and could collapse.
Contamination in the soil around Fukushima has exceeded the levels in Chernobyl, where a “dead zone” remains 25 years after the reactor in the former Soviet Union exploded. Tomio Kawata of the Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan acknowledged, that 1,300 square kilometers around Fukushima are above the levels that mandated migration in Chernobyl. Soil samples showed one site with radiation from Cesium-137 exceeding 5 million becquerels per square meter 25 kilometers to the northwest of the nuclear plant. Five more sites about 30 kilometers from Daiichi showed radiation exceeding 1.48 million becquerels per square meter.
Japanese probes of radioactivity in food found, that salmon was contaminated with 990 becquerels/kg, shiitaki mushrooms with over 2700 becquerels/kg (Cesium-137 levels). Safety limits are 500 for adults, 200 for children.
Japan faces a shortage of green tea, as the government decided to curb shipments of dried tea leaves containing more than 500 becquerels/kg of Cesium-137 and ordered a halt in shipments from the eastern prefectures of Ibaraki, Chiba, Kanagawa and Tochigi.
Seaweed contamination levels are 50 times higher than safety limits. The contamination is spreading over a wide area and accumulating in sea life, rather than simply dispersing like the Japanese authorities originally claimed would happen.
Nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen, who fears that Fukushima could become “50 Chernobyls”, said in an interview:
About unit 1 and 2: We have no reactor essentially, just a big pressure cooker. The molten uranium is on the bottom of the containment. It spreads out at that point, because the floor is flat. And I don’t think it’s going to melt its way through the concrete floor. It may gradually over time; but the damage is already done because the containment has cracks in it and it’s pretty clear that it is leaking. So you put water in the top […] and it’s running out the bottom and it’s going out through cracks in the containment, after touching directly uranium and plutonium and cesium and strontium and is carrying all those radioactive isotopes out as liquids and gases into the environment.
Unit 3 may not have melted through and that means that some of the fuel certainly is lying on the bottom, but it may not have melted through and some of the fuel may still look like fuel, although it is certainly brittle. And it’s possible that when the fuel is in that configuration that you can get a re-criticality. It’s also possible in any of the fuel pools, one, two, three, and four pools, that you could get a criticality, as well. There’s been frequent enough high iodine indications to lead me to believe that either one of the four fuel pools or the Unit 3 reactor is in fact, every once in a while starting itself up and then it gets to a point where it gets so hot that it shuts itself down and it kind of cycles.
Unit 3 has another problem and the NRC mentioned it yesterday for the first time and it gets back to that saltwater and the effect on iron. They are afraid that the reactor bottom will break, literally just break right out and dump everything. Because it’s now hot and it’s got salt on it and it’s got the ideal conditions for corrosion. So the big fear on Unit 3 is that it will break at the bottom and whatever else remains in it, which could be the entire core, could fall out suddenly.
My biggest fear right now is the unit 4 spent fuel pool… There was a report this week that they found iodine-131 in that fuel pool. Iodine-131 can only come from nuclear fission, and because it has a short life, it disappears after about 80 days. In other words, the presence of iodine-131 suggests that the spent fuel has started its own chain reaction without any human intervention […] We could still get a fuel pool fire. That would volatilize some really heavy elements, sending some highly carcinogenic materials into the atmosphere.
I have said it’s worse than Chernobyl and I’ll stand by that. There was an enormous amount of radiation given out in the first two to three weeks of the event […] there is so much contamination that luckily wound up in the Pacific Ocean as compared to across the nation of Japan. It could have cut Japan in half. But now the winds have turned, so they are heading toward Tokyo and now my concern and my advice to friends that if there is a severe aftershock and the Unit 4 building collapses, leave. We are well beyond where any science has ever gone at that point and nuclear fuel lying on the ground and getting hot is not a condition that anyone has ever analyzed.
Japanese authorities try to save the problem by raising limits of allowed radiation exposure. This method worked in case of the emergency crews in Fukushima, who now can be exposed to 250 millisievert, but it didn’t work for Japans children. Education minister Yoshiaki Takaki tried to raise the exposure limit for children at school to 20 millisievert and was forced by angry parents and a public outcry to reinstate the old limit of 1 millisievert.
Most governments have avoided unwelcome public discussions by not measuring radiation or withholding the results. It is left to Greenpeace and other NGOs, university institutes (like UCB) and the Japanese Communist Party to inform the public about radiation contamination levels.
No milk anymore
My initial assumptions about Fukushima, voiced in Heroes and Villains and Who could have imagined? were unfortunately correct. I wrote in March: “With the prospect of a significant increased level of background radiation all over the world there will be now an additional incentive to abstain from eating meat and avoid the accumulation of pollutants in the food chain.”
Milk from the large dairies in Hawaii has shown elevated levels of radiation, from 400 to 2400 times the recognized safe levels, Dairy farmers treat the cows and the pastures now with boron.
The radiological research institute CRIIRAD in France cautioned pregnant and breastfeeding women and children to avoid certain foods, including milk, creamy cheese, spinach and other broad leaf vegetables. CRIIRAD estimated, that the US West Coast is subjected to 8 – 10 times higher levels of radiation than Europe.
British scientist Chris Busby: “There’s no doubt Fukushima dwarfs Chernobyl. The thing is still fissioning. Strontium 90 and uranium and particulates will be building up in the USA and Europe. I think it is prudent to stop drinking milk.”
Glad to see that the ideas and suggestions, that I presented in my earlier post New business opportunities, have been well received and to some extent already realized. The entrepreneurial spirit and the superiority of our economic system will also transform this calamity into a “win-win” situation for everybody!