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Issue #1496      6 April 2011

Fukushima fallout reaches USA

Three of the six nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant have partially melted down and highly toxic plutonium is seeping into the soil outside. Plutonium is less volatile than other radioactive elements like iodine or cesium, but it’s also more deadly.

According to Businessweek, “When plutonium decays, it emits what is known as an alpha particle, a relatively big particle that carries a lot of energy. When an alpha particle hits body tissue, it can damage the DNA of a cell and lead to a cancer-causing mutation.” If plutonium leaches into groundwater or pristine aquifers, the threat to public health and the environment will be extreme. This is an excerpt from an article in the UK Guardian:

“The radioactive core in a reactor at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant appears to have melted through the bottom of its containment vessel and on to a concrete floor, experts say, raising fears of a major release of radiation at the site. The warning follows an analysis by a leading US expert of radiation levels at the plant....

“Richard Lahey, who was head of safety research for boiling-water reactors at General Electric when the company installed the units at Fukushima, said workers at the site appeared to have ‘lost the race’ to save the reactor...”

It also appears that underground tunnels at the facility have been flooded with radioactive water that contains high concentrations of caesium-137. A considerable amount of the water has made its way to the sea where samples show the levels of contamination steadily rising. This is from the Wall Street Journal:

“Levels of radiation in the ocean next to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have surged to record highs, the government said, as operators try to deal with large amounts of radioactive water – the unwanted by-product of operations to cool the reactors.

“The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said water taken from the monitoring location for the troubled reactors Nos. 1 to 4 had 3,355 times the permitted concentration of iodine-131. That is the highest yet recorded at the sampling location, which is 330 meters south of the reactors’ discharge outlet.” All fishing has been banned in the vicinity as the toxins pose a danger to human health.

The Japanese government’s chief spokesman, Yukio Edano, issued a public statement admitting that the situation at Fukushima is progressively getting worse with no end in sight. “We are not yet in a situation where we can say when we will have this under control,” said Edano. In other words, the emergency effort is failing.

The fact that Japan is experiencing the biggest environmental catastrophe in history explains why the media has been trying so hard to divert the public’s attention to Obama’s military adventure in Libya. But it hasn’t worked; all eyes are locked on Fukushima where the crisis continues to get more precarious by the day. News anchors assure their viewers that they are only being exposed to “safe levels of radioactivity”, but people aren’t buying it. They’ve seen the comparisons to Chernobyl and made their own judgements. Here is an excerpt from an article in Counterpunch that gives a thumbnail sketch of the human costs of the meltdown at Chernobyl:

“The health effects of the Chernobyl accident are massive and demonstrable. They have been studied by many research groups in Russia, Belarus and the Ukraine, in the USA, Greece, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and Japan. The scientific peer reviewed literature is enormous. The result: more than a million people have died between 1986 and 2004 as a direct result of Chernobyl.”

One million dead, that’s the bottom line.

It is all bad, which is why the nuclear industry needs stooges in the media to soft-peddle the news. Because, in truth, what they’re selling is a noxious stew of irradiated poison that kills and maims people while causing incalculable damage to the environment. That is why industry bigwigs have turned to their friends at the EPA to loosen regulations so that the radioactive material that’s presently showering down on the US falls within EPA safety standards. Here’s a clip from Washington’s Blog that explains what’s going on behind the public’s back:

“....the EPA is considering drastically raising the amount of allowable radiation in food, water and the environment.”

In the wake of the continuing nuclear tragedy in Japan, the United States government is still moving quickly to increase the amounts of radiation the population can “safely” absorb by raising the safe zone for exposure to levels designed to protect the government and nuclear industry more than human life. It is all about cutting costs now as the infinite-growth paradigm sputters and moves towards extinction.

The disaster in Japan merely buys a little time for us to rethink our own policies before a similar crisis strikes here. And, it will strike here; it’s only a matter of time. Consider the comments of Dave Lochbaum, Director of Union of Concerned Scientists’ Nuclear Safety Project, who testified before the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee:

“Today, tens of thousands of tons of irradiated fuel sits in spent fuel pools across America. At many sites, there is nearly ten times as much irradiated fuel in the spent fuel pools as in the reactor cores. The spent fuel pools are not cooled by an array of highly reliable emergency cooling systems capable of being powered from the grid, diesel generators, or batteries. Instead, the pools are cooled by one regular system sometimes backed up by an alternate makeup system.

“The spent fuel pools are not housed within robust concrete containment structures designed to protect the public from the radioactivity released from damaged irradiated fuel. Instead, the pools are often housed in buildings with sheet metal siding like that in a Sears storage shed. I have nothing against the quality or utility of Sears’ storage sheds, but they are not suitable for nuclear waste storage.

“The irrefutable bottom line is that we have utterly failed to properly manage the risk from irradiated fuel stored at our nation’s nuclear power plants. We can and must do better.”

Nuclear energy is a ticking timebomb. There are safer ways to keep the lights on.

Information Clearing House  

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