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June 22, 2021

Are we all screwed from Fukushima?

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International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)_ experts at Fukushima recently. Photo IAEA Imagebank/Flickr
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) experts at Fukushima recently. Photo IAEA Imagebank/Flickr

Hans Lovejoy

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant meltdown is ‘the most serious nuclear crisis since Chernobyl,’ says New Scientist magazine.

While many news agencies and governments would agree, why is this topic being largely ignored – or even silenced – by mainstream media?

Ever since Japan’s most powerful earthquake/tsunami on record crippled the reactor, containing the daily output of 400 tonnes of contaminated groundwater is proving unmanageable.

And when we need transparency more than ever, the very tight-lipped and proud nation of Japan looks set to introduce a new state secrecy bill, according to the UK’s Independent last November.

Critics say, ‘the law dramatically expands state power, giving every government agency and ministry the discretion to label restricted information “state secrets”.’

It triggered protests from Human Rights Watch, the International Federation of Journalists, the Federation of Japanese Newspapers Unions, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.

But that may be the least of Japan’s – and everyone’s – troubles. Scientist David Suzuki says Fukushima is the ‘most terrifying situation imaginable’ and the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), and the Japanese government are ‘lying through their teeth’.

‘Three out of four plants were destroyed,’ he told a symposium on water ecology held at the University of Alberta in Canada last October.

‘And the fourth is so badly damaged that an earthquake of a seven [magnitude] or above and it will go.’ He says the probability of that happening in the next two years exceeds 95 per cent.

‘What they have in there is 1,300 rods of spent fuel that have to be kept in water all the time, and they have no way of getting it out. They are pouring water in which is leaking out. And now there’s this cockamamie scheme of freezing the soil. They don’t know what to do. What is needed is international experts to go in there with complete freedom but that isn’t happening.

‘I have seen a paper which says that, if in fact, the fourth plant goes under in an earthquake and those rods are exposed, it’s bye-bye Japan, and everybody on the west coast of North America should evacuate. If that isn’t terrifying,’ he said, ‘I don’t know what is.’

Aust govt report

But what do our government and bureaucrats say?

Back in October 2012, The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), released Assessment of the impact on Australia from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident by Julia Carpenter and Rick Tinker.

While unprecedented, and the eventual outcomes are unknown, the report says, ‘very low levels of radioactive material were detected in Darwin,’ the following month after the meltdown.

‘At these levels there was no impact on health of people in Darwin. It is expected to take at least five years for ocean circulations to transport radioactive material to Australian waters. By this time the radioactivity will be diluted to such a degree that it will be difficult to detect.’

But circulation of ocean waters is not the only way radioactive water can travel.

Ballast water is water that ships take on board when sailing without cargo. It helps to stabilise an empty ship from tipping over. Again, the report downplays possible harm, ‘given the unlikely presence of the public at ballast water exchange points, there will be no risk to public health. The effects of dilution would also mean that there will be no impact to the biodiversity of marine life.’

As for imported Japanese foodstuffs, the report leans on the Japanese government to monitor safety levels.

Food testing

Japan has imposed food restrictions and their ‘testing results can be found on the Japanese Ministry of Health Labour and Welfare website’.

Thankfully Australia also monitors Japanese food imports. ‘In addition, food imported from specific regions in Japan are tested by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) for radioactive caesium when it arrives in Australia.’

Meanwhile, there is also evidence emerging that radiation fallout affected between 50 and 150 sailors tasked with the clean-up operation.

News organisation Al Jazeera, and others such as www.navytimes.com, recently reported that fifty-one crew-members from the USS Ronald Reagan are suing TEPCO, alleging that the utility mishandled the crisis and did not adequately warn the crew of the risks.

TEPCO sued by US sailors

‘Crew members, many of whom are in their 20s, have been diagnosed with conditions including thyroid cancer, testicular cancer and leukemia,’ says Al Jazeera.

Charles Bonner, attorney for the sailors, says, ‘Deployed ships desalinate their own water, so crew members were unknowingly drinking, cooking with, and bathing in contaminated water because of the ship’s close proximity to the disaster site.’

‘The USS Reagan was informed of the contamination after a month of living approximately 10 miles offshore from the affected region.’

The latest containment plan by Japan, says New Scientist, is to build a 1.4-kilometre wall and sink pipes carrying freezing fluids into the ground, ‘gradually freezing it to form a barrier of permafrost 30 metres deep, down to the bedrock’.

Where to now?

It will force the water to drain into the sea instead, something which is backed by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The expensive and time-consuming technique has been used in the US for years, it is claimed.

But mycologist Paul Stamets may have a better answer: fungi that gobble radiation to grow. He told www.permaculture.co.uk that mulching and wood-chipping everything around the reactor is the first step, ‘to a minimum depth of 12–24 inches’. Then native deciduous and conifer trees need to be planted, ‘along with hyper-accumulating mycorrhizal mushrooms’.

The radioactive mushrooms would need to be removed continuously, burned, and the ash safely stored.

The time-frame for rehabilitation could be decades, he added.

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