By now, most of you know that the initial reports of what happened in Fukushima were incorrect. Whether or not the reports were intentionally misleading is not for me to say. However, what we know is that there was a meltdown in reactor #1. Thanks to the really intelligent and industrious work of Dr. Yuri Hiranuma, I am privy to material that is only available in Japanese, much of it is tragic and some is inspired and inspiring. It would be hard to do justice to all she has shared with me. There have been over 1000 emails from her since March 18th! So, I am really looking for nuggets now. One of these revolves around the blogging of Prof. Kunihiko Takeda of Nagoya [page no longer available.]
You might say that he is playing a role somewhat similar to that of Arne Gundersen except that his slant is a bit different and he seems to have defined his mission in a broader way. Prof. Takeda has a grasp of the bigger picture so if I excerpt some of the more damning information, it should not suggest that his writing is as critical as I might make it sound. However, I think we need to think about some of the details or we will never understand how managed our information is.
Prof. Takeda says that on March 11, TEPCO was in a position to assess the facts, i.e., that once the water in reactor #1 stopped circulating at 4:36 pm, the fuel rods would become exposed at 7:30 pm and reach the temperature for meltdown at 9 pm.
The hydrogen explosion was on March 12 at 3:36 pm. The Prime Minister of Japan visited Fukushima on March 12th and it is assumed that the meltdown was already occurring at that time. Thus an announcement two months after the fact seems at best irresponsible. At worst, who knows what to call the admission once it was made. Of course, the story is actually much more hair raising than acknowledged.
The next excerpt from Dr. Hiranuma's emails that I would like to share also comes from Prof. Takeda. For those who can read Japanese, the link is here:
Basically, what it says it that the measurements of contamination are being taken 15 meters above ground. However, the readings go way up as one gets closer to the ground. For instance, based on material excerpted from youtube.com, a reading taken at one meter above ground was 2.741 microSv/hr compared to 19.94
microSv/hr on the ground. Only after removing an inch of soil does the reading start moving in the opposite direction. Prof. Takeda is advocating indoor activities at schools so that children are not exposed to excessive amounts of radiation.
Now, let's go to Arne Gundersen. Like Prof. Takeda, he deals with facts and he has been the main source in the Western world for detailed reporting on the condition of the reactors. The short version of that story is that the incident was a level 7 disaster from the outset and there has been simply massive release of radioactive materials into the air and ocean. Of these, reactor #3 has been of the most concern because it uses MOX fuel which contains plutonium and strontium. You may recall that strontium-89 was found in Moscow. To understand how this could have happened, you might watch the videos of Arne Gundersen, but to deal with the medical and environmental significance, much more study is required.
Finally, TEPCO has admitted that 20,000,000,000,000 Bq of radioactive material was released into the ocean in a 41-hour period starting at 2:00 am on May 10th.
In sum, four reactors in Fukushima are in such a bad state that there is no real plan for containment or control. On top of this, there are accidents waiting to happen all over the world as plants are aging and nearing the point when they will be permanently decommissioned. In Japan, there is a serious problem with the Monju reactors as well:
That story is different but it speaks to the profit motive of the nuclear industry and how safety is ignored in the interest of the bottom line.
This said, there are many other dimensions to the tsunami-earthquake disaster. First of all, countless people are dislocated and living in temporary housing, but there has been calm and discipline as well as despair and questioning. One of the ironies of displacement is that people have time to think and reorganize, something that is much more difficult when carried by momentum. In addition, we are seeing new leaders emerging out of the disaster, people with more compassion and concern for the environment. Among these are some real heroes and heroines as well as innovators.
It is tempting to draw comparisons between the Deepwater Horizon explosion and Japanese tsunami-earthquake. In both cases, media coverage has been woefully incomplete and largely inaccurate, the major companies, BP and TEPCO concealed facts and exposed all life on Earth to immense risk; the public response has been generous and sometimes ingenious. For instance, if we remember the Gulf of Mexico pollution — which is, of course, ongoing — we can see three or four immediate responses. The Netherlands offered two ships to help with the spill and Russian offered deepwater submersibles. You might compare these to the French offer of boron and the attempt to move the immense concrete equipment from the U.S. to Japan.
Then, we have the specially outfitted ship A Whale provided by a Taiwanese tycoon and manned by Indian crew as well as Kevin Costner's water cleaning devices. In Japan, there are similar attempts underway. For instance, there is a water filtering device from Sosei:
Though the same handful of elitists are manipulating from behind the scenes everywhere on the Planet, I have more faith in the ability of the Japanese to acknowledge the challenges and devise a proper response. As we see, the response time is longer than most in the West can comprehend but risks to workers have been conservatively managed. Many important decisions in Japan are made through a process of consensus after long evaluation. This process does not guarantee that decisions will be wise but it provides nominal assurance that people are on the same page and proceed as a unit. The level of cooperation and teamwork thus tends to be quite high and once the team is organized, it is efficient. Speaking for myself, I have profound faith in something that might be called the Japanese conscience so I expect a thorough processing of facts and a responsible long-term strategy to correct the problems stemming from the disaster.
Many will say that such a response would be too little and too late. If this is true, then we are indeed in trouble, but survival has perhaps always been a matter of consciousness and this fact is now becoming clearer to all who are paying attention. There is no way to cope with risks except through wise responses to the hazards as they are noted.
The medical and health ramifications of radioactivity require much more detailed analysis. Most of this needs to go out in a separate post or perhaps printable pdf. For the moment, I would like to remind subscribers that while the press has focused primarily on radioactive iodine, the real problem has been cesium which has already been detected in milk and fish. This radioactivity bio-accumulates in the food chain so even if people stay indoors and wear masks when going outside, we are going have secondary exposure through what we eat, and this is a very unpleasant fact that will affect not only our generation but several generations to come. Since cesium is assimilated in a manner similar to potassium, it is really important that we ingest quality sources of potassium. Some of the foods that are normally excellent sources of potassium are exactly the ones most likely to be contaminated. This would include leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale. This explains my decision to use my tiny greenhouse for growing these foods. However, I believe this is also reason for sprouting indoors and for considering window gardening or hoops:
This is such an important issue that I want to find the time to present solutions by climatic zone. For instance, the last winters have been very cold here and spring doesn't seem to have much thrust. If you see the list of potassium-rich foods and herbs, you will find that many of the items on the list are also likely to be contaminated by the very substance(s) we are trying to avoid. You will also note that of the 19 items on that list, a relatively small number are suitable for any particular zone. Ginger, of course, will not grow here and even the rosemary bit the dust this winter. It is supposedly hardy to zone 9 (20ºF) so I might have been chancing it, but the nurseries around here say it is indestructible (which clearly is not true.) In short, if you want to grow your own food and herbs, the choices are limited by your growing conditions but this would appear to be the only way to know what exactly you are consuming.
So, this is the last of the updates. The next post will be on radiation protection with a specific appeal to people with microscopes to do a little extra work.
21 May 2011