We may now care for each Earthian individual at a sustainable billionaire's level of affluence while living exclusively on less than one percent of our planet's daily energy income from our cosmically designed reactor, the Sun, optimally located 92 million safe miles away from us.
– Buckminster Fuller
Fukushima: Will We Ever Learn?
Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of February 2011 isn't over yet. The six-reactor nuclear facility was severely damaged from a major earthquake registering 9.0 on the Richter scale, followed by tsunami waves of 130 feet that surged over the seawall, causing severe flooding and major damage at the nuclear facility. This is the newest source of radioactive pollution being spread around the globe, carried on air and water currents.
On May 3, 2013, the New York Times reported, "Flow of Tainted Water Is Latest Crisis at Japan Nuclear Plant." This is another unforeseen and barely controllable situation added to the many that continue to plague the crippled reactor and those in charge of protecting people and the environment from radiation damage. The new crisis involves a flood of highly radioactive wastewater that workers are struggling to contain.1,2
Groundwater is now pouring uncontrollably into the plants' ravaged reactor buildings, where it becomes highly contaminated. To avoid swamping the critical cooling systems, the water must be pumped out. The radioactive wastewater is being siphoned into huge storage tanks holding the equivalent of 112 Olympic-sized pools that cover 42 acres, but are not sufficient to hold the tons of strontium-laced water at the plant.1
In a feeble attempt to keep up with the ongoing flooding, TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) plans to cut down a small forest to accommodate hundreds of additional tanks. Previous efforts to contain the water in specially constructed pits proved worthless when the pits began to leak. Containment is daunting, precarious, and unreliable. Even TEPCO officials express concern over this latest threat. The situation is worrisome enough that Shunichi Tanaki, a longtime nuclear power proponent who is the chairman of Japan's newly formed Nuclear Regulation Authority, told reporters after the announcement of the leaking pits, "There is concern that we cannot prevent another accident."1
The situation at Fukushima gets more bizarre at every turn. Efforts to contain the radioactive flood water in covered pits failed. TEPCO admits that it can barely keep up with incoming flood water, and will need to increase storage capacity from 430,000 tanks to 700,000 tanks by mid-2015. TEPCO is hoping this will buy it about three years'time.3
For those readers curious about the reliability of the metal tanks, the answer is – not very. It seems that 280 of the metal tanks are made of steel plates bolted together with waterproof packing to seal the seams, instead of welded seams that are stronger and offer a longer-term solution. TEPCO believes that these temporary tanks will suffice until spring 2016, at which time the company plans to repair and replace them.3
Contaminated Fish and Tobacco
TEPCO would like to dump some of the water into the sea "after processing it to remove most, but not all, radioactive isotopes." Local fishermen are very much against this plan, fearing that it will taint the image of their product.3 Previous discharges have already entered the Pacific and contaminated marine life near the site and on distant shores. If present attempts to store increasing amounts of contaminated water at the nuclear facility fail again, there will likely be more radioactive water entering the sea and spreading around the globe on ocean currents.
As a result of all the radioactive pollution already entering the ocean, fish caught off the coast of Japan have been found to contain "more than 2,540 times the recently invented limit ... set for seafood by Japan's government." Irradiated marine life is showing up in distant oceans, including cesium-contaminated tuna caught off the coast of California. Even tobacco harvested near Fukushima was found to be contaminated with cesium-137 above the allowed limit.2
Three major aftershocks have hit northeast Japan since the quake and tsunami of 2011. On July 29, 2012, a 6.4 magnitude aftershock quake hit the area. On December 7, 2012, the region was hit by an aftershock quake of 7.3, which shook buildings and caused 3-foot tsunami waves, forcing an evacuation of 26,000 people. A February 2013 quake registering 6.9 did not cause a tsunami, but "sent waves of fear across the same region that was hit by the 9.0 earthquake that left 20,000 dead or missing" in 2011.2
NRC Chair Changes Mind
Gregory B. Jaczko, former chairman of the NRC (US Nuclear Regulatory Commission), recently acknowledged, "All 104 nuclear reactors now in operation in the US have safety problems that cannot be fixed, and they should be replaced with newer technology. Shutting them all down at once is not practical," he said, but he supports phasing them out, rather than extending their lives.4
When asked why the change of heart since his days as NRC chairman, Jaczko responded that he "didn't really come to it until recently, after thinking about the issues more, and watching as the industry and the regulators and the whole nuclear safety community continue to try to figure out how to address these very, very difficult problems," brought into sharp focus by ongoing failures following the Fukushima disaster. Jaczko acknowledged, "continuing to put Band-Aid on Band-Aid is not going to fix the problem." He now questions the NRC's liberal policy of extending an additional 20 years of operation beyond the initial 40-year licensing of many older plants. He also said, "It was unfeasible for the NRC to consider allowing reactor owners to apply for a second 20 year extension allowing some reactors to run for a total of 80 years.4
Health Studies Ignored
In February 1995, the Cancer Awareness Coalition Inc., a grassroots health and environmental organization, hosted a seminar in New Paltz, New York. Esteemed guest speaker Professor Emeritus Ernest Sternglass of the University of Pittsburg School of Medicine, where he taught radiation physics, explained how as a young man he believed that nuclear power could provide safe, clean energy and solve many of the world's problems. It was much later in his career that his research, and the work of colleagues, revealed the insidious invisible damage to humans and the environment, which made him take a pro-health stand against unnecessary radiation exposure, from medical X-rays to fallout from nuclear testing and airborne emissions from nuclear power reactors.
Sternglass explained that, by design, nuclear power reactors must regularly release steam to lower the intense heat produced. Invisible radioactive particles are emitted into the atmosphere along with the steam and are carried on air currents, eventually falling to the ground with rain and snow. Forty years ago, this discovery was made very apparent when an unusual number of breast cancer cases in Albany, New York, was later found to have a connection to above-ground nuclear testing in Nevada six years prior. Air currents carrying radioactive particles from the testing site rained down over Albany during a thunder storm, setting off Geiger counters in a university lab. This unusual phenomenon was recorded by university students, helping explain the rise in breast cancer cases six years later. Many cancer hot spots are related to nuclear fallout carried by wind currents from distant locations, which later come down with rain or snow over a particular area, raising the cancer risk among a local population that received the precipitated radioactive fallout.5
Another point that Sternglass emphasized was that in the 1960s, 1970s, and later, all nuclear power plants were built based on health information available in the early 1950s. Scientists such as Sternglass, Dr. John Goffman, and others were later hired by industry and government to study the possible effects of radioactive exposure to humans. When their study results showed serious negative impacts on human health, the researchers lost their funding, and their work was summarily ignored and buried. The nuclear industry and the regulatory agencies refused to acknowledge the latest scientific findings, which showed a clear and substantial increased cancer risk to the human population from nuclear plant emissions. And now the nuclear industry is pushing to extend the licensing of these aging, decrepit plants another 20, possibly 40, years beyond the original 40. Expecting 60-, 70-, or 80-year-old nuclear reactors to perform without major consequences is sheer lunacy.
While preparing this column, I happened to catch an on-line video of Sternglass giving a talk to university students in California in 2006, while en route to Japan, where he'd been invited to speak about health risks associated with nuclear fallout. How ironic that five years later, Fukushima Daiichi would become the world's second major nuclear reactor disaster, after the Chernobyl explosion of 1986. It is even more ironic that Japan, of all places on earth, having suffered catastrophic destruction and cancer-causing fallout from atomic bombs dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II, still decided to construct nuclear-powered generating plants. Worse yet, it built a six-reactor nuclear facility in an area prone to the uncontrollable forces of earthquakes and tsunamis.
The Spring 2013 issue of Nukewatch Quarterly, a consumer advocacy publication, summarized the current situation resulting from the Fukushima nuclear disaster as follows:
1. The destroyed six-reactor complex is still dangerously unstable;
2. the consequences of eating contaminated foods – including baby formula, rice, and fish – are ominous;
3. the costs of decontaminating poisoned territory and containing the radioactive wreckage are incalculable;
4. the widely dispersed radioactive poisons are only just now beginning to be addressed.2
We cannot fix a problem using the same logic that created the problem in the first place.
Will we ever learn?
Keeping a supply of potassium iodide (KI) on hand offers a bit of security for those who like to be prepared for emergencies. In fact, some states that have nuclear reactor plants offer free potassium iodide tablets to their residents as a precautionary measure in the event of a nuclear emergency. Potassium iodide works well as a thyroid blocking agent by preventing the absorption of radioactive iodine that goes straight to the thyroid and causes cancer – especially in children.
The safety and effectiveness of KI were proved during the Chernobyl nuclear crisis, wherein millions were exposed to radiation. Those taking the potassium iodide were protected against increased risk of thyroid cancer as opposed to the unprotected, who suffered a much greater incidence of cancer.
Anyone can purchase these FDA-approved tablets. They are quite reasonable at only $7 (plus shipping and handling) for a box of 14 tablets, and last six years or longer. Two reliable sources are ANBEX.com (866-463-6754 or 914-617-9548) and LifeExtension.com (800-544-4440). I first learned about ANBEXmore than 15 years ago and have kept several packets of ioSTAT in my home, car, and suitcase for when I travel, and given several packets to my daughters.
Eating a healthful diet including fresh, preferably raw, leafy green vegetables and fruits is the best prevention by keeping the immune system functioning at optimum levels. Since this is not always convenient nor available to all people, other protective measures can be taken against exposure to radiation, including medical overuse of diagnostic tests such as dental and other X-rays, mammograms, computerized tomography (CT scans), cardiac catheterizations, coronary CT angiograms, cardiac calcium scoring, and some types of stress tests. Coenzyme Q10 (100–200 mg/day, melatonin (1–5 mg/day), Nattokinase enzyme (50 mg/day), and vitamin C (100 mg/day) are also very immune supportive.6
1. Fackler M.Flow of tainted water is latest crisis at Japan nuclear plant. New York Times-Asia Pacific. Apr. 29, 2013.
2. LaForge G. Fukushima means radiation. Nukewatch Quarterly. Spring2013.
3. Yoshida R. Fukushima no. 1 can't keep its head above tainted water. Japan Times. May 21, 2013. Available at http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/05/21/reference/fukushima-no-1-cant-keep-its-head-above-tainted-water. Accessed May 20, 2013.
4. Wald M. Ex-regulator says reactors are flawed. New York Times. Apr. 8, 2013.
5. Marco Kaltofen on airborne radiation spread [online video]. Physicians for Social Responsibility. http://www.psr.org/resources/marco-kaltofen-on-radiation-spread.html. Accessed May 20, 2013.
6. Keep tabs on radiation exposure. Natural Awakenings. January 2013.
Rose Marie Williams, MA
156 Sparkling Ridge Road, New Paltz, New York 12561