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Nuclear Meltdown in Japan
by Stephen Lendman
Email: lendmanstephen (nospam) sbcglobal.net
13 Mar 2011
Nuclear Meltdown in Japan - by Stephen Lendman
For years, Helen Caldicott warned it's coming. In her 1978 book, "Nuclear Madness," she said:
"As a physician, I contend that nuclear technology threatens life on our planet with extinction. If present trends continue, the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink will soon be contaminated with enough radioactive pollutants to pose a potential health hazard far greater than any plague humanity has ever experienced."
More below on the inevitable dangers from commercial nuclear power proliferation, besides added military ones.
On March 11, New York Times writer Martin Fackler headlined, "Powerful Quake and Tsunami Devastate Northern Japan," saying:
"The 8.9-magnitude earthquake (Japan's strongest ever) set off a devastating tsunami that sent walls of water (six meters high) washing over coastal cities in the north." According to Japan's Meteorological Survey, it was 9.0.
The Sendai port city and other areas experienced heavy damage. "Thousands of homes were destroyed, many roads were impassable, trains and buses (stopped) running, and power and cellphones remained down. On Saturday morning, the JR rail company" reported three trains missing. Many passengers are unaccounted for.
Striking at 2:46PM Tokyo time, it caused vast destruction, shook city skyscrapers, buckled highways, ignited fires, terrified millions, annihilated areas near Sendai, possibly killed thousands, and caused a nuclear meltdown, its potential catastrophic effects far exceeding quake and tsunami devastation, almost minor by comparison under a worst case scenario.
On March 12, Times writer Matthew Wald headlined, "Explosion Seen at Damaged Japan Nuclear Plant," saying:
"Japanese officials (ordered evacuations) for people living near two nuclear power plants whose cooling systems broke down," releasing radioactive material, perhaps in far greater amounts than reported.
NHK television and Jiji said the 40-year old Fukushima plant's outer structure housing the reactor "appeared to have blown off, which could suggest the containment building had already been breached." Japan's nuclear regulating agency said radioactive levels inside were 1,000 times above normal.
Reuters said the 1995 Kobe quake caused $100 billion in damage, up to then the most costly ever natural disaster. This time, from quake and tsunami damage alone, that figure will be dwarfed. Moreover, under a worst case core meltdown, all bets are off as the entire region and beyond will be threatened with permanent contamination, making the most affected areas unsafe to live in.
On March 12, Stratfor Global Intelligence issued a "Red Alert: Nuclear Meltdown at Quake-Damaged Japanese Plant," saying:
Fukushima Daiichi "nuclear power plant in Okuma, Japan, appears to have caused a reactor meltdown." Stratfor downplayed its seriousness, adding that such an event "does not necessarily mean a nuclear disaster," that already may have happened - the ultimate nightmare short of nuclear winter.
According to Stratfor, "(A)s long as the reactor core, which is specifically designed to contain high levels of heat, pressure and radiation, remains intact, the melted fuel can be dealt with. If the (core's) breached but the containment facility built around (it) remains intact, the melted fuel can be....entombed within specialized concrete" as at Chernobyl in 1986.
In fact, that disaster killed nearly one million people worldwide from nuclear radiation exposure. In their book titled, "Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment," Alexey Yablokov, Vassily Nesterenko and Alexey Nesterenko said:
"For the past 23 years, it has been clear that there is a danger greater than nuclear weapons concealed within nuclear power. Emissions from this one reactor exceeded a hundred-fold the radioactive contamination of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki."
"No citizen of any country can be assured that he or she can be protected from radioactive contamination. One nuclear reactor can pollute half the globe. Chernobyl fallout covers the entire Northern Hemisphere."
Stratfor explained that if Fukushima's floor cracked, "it is highly likely that the melting fuel will burn through (its) containment system and enter the ground. This has never happened before," at least not reported. If now occurring, "containment goes from being merely dangerous, time consuming and expensive to nearly impossible," making the quake, aftershocks, and tsunamis seem mild by comparison. Potentially, millions of lives will be jeopardized.
Japanese officials said Fukushima's reactor container wasn't breached. Stratfor and others said it was, making the potential calamity far worse than reported. Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) said the explosion at Fukushima's Saiichi No. 1 facility could only have been caused by a core meltdown. In fact, 3 or more reactors are affected or at risk. Events are fluid and developing, but remain very serious. The possibility of an extreme catastrophe can't be discounted.
Moreover, independent nuclear safety analyst John Large told Al Jazeera that by venting radioactive steam from the inner reactor to the outer dome, a reaction may have occurred, causing the explosion.
"When I look at the size of the explosion," he said, "it is my opinion that there could be a very large leak (because) fuel continues to generate heat."
Already, Fukushima way exceeds Three Mile Island that experienced a partial core meltdown in Unit 2. Finally it was brought under control, but coverup and denial concealed full details until much later.
According to anti-nuclear activist Harvey Wasserman, Japan's quake fallout may cause nuclear disaster, saying:
"This is a very serious situation. If the cooling system fails (apparently it has at two or more plants), the super-heated radioactive fuel rods will melt, and (if so) you could conceivably have an explosion," that, in fact, occurred.
As a result, massive radiation releases may follow, impacting the entire region. "It could be, literally, an apocalyptic event. The reactor could blow." If so, Russia, China, Korea and most parts of Western Asia will be affected. Many thousands will die, potentially millions under a worse case scenario, including far outside East Asia.
Moreover, at least five reactors are at risk. Already, a 20-mile wide radius was evacuated. What happened in Japan can occur anywhere. Yet Obama's proposed budget includes $36 billion for new reactors, a shocking disregard for global safety.
Calling Fukushima an "apocalyptic event," Wasserman said "(t)hese nuclear plants have to be shut," let alone budget billions for new ones. It's unthinkable, he said. If a similar disaster struck California, nuclear fallout would affect all America, Canada, Mexico, Central America, and parts of South America.
Nuclear Power: A Technology from Hell
Nuclear expert Helen Caldicott agrees, telling this writer by phone that a potential regional catastrophe is unfolding. Over 30 years ago, she warned of its inevitability. Her 2006 book titled, "Nuclear Power is Not the Answer" explained that contrary to government and industry propaganda, even during normal operations, nuclear power generation causes significant discharges of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as hundreds of thousands of curies of deadly radioactive gases and other radioactive elements into the environment every year.
Moreover, nuclear plants are atom bomb factories. A 1000 megawatt reactor produces 500 pounds of plutonium annually. Only 10 are needed for a bomb able to devastate a large city, besides causing permanent radiation contamination.
Nuclear Power not Cleaner and Greener
Just the opposite, in fact. Although a nuclear power plant releases no carbon dioxide (CO2), the primary greenhouse gas, a vast infrastructure is required. Called the nuclear fuel cycle, it uses large amounts of fossil fuels.
Each cycle stage exacerbates the problem, starting with the enormous cost of mining and milling uranium, needing fossil fuel to do it. How then to dispose of mill tailings, produced in the extraction process. It requires great amounts of greenhouse emitting fuels to remediate.
Moreover, other nuclear cycle steps also use fossil fuels, including converting uranium to hexafluoride gas prior to enrichment, the enrichment process itself, and conversion of enriched uranium hexafluoride gas to fuel pellets. In addition, nuclear power plant construction, dismantling and cleanup at the end of their useful life require large amounts of energy.
There's more, including contaminated cooling water, nuclear waste, its handling, transportation and disposal/storage, problems so far unresolved. Moreover, nuclear power costs and risks are so enormous that the industry couldn't exist without billions of government subsidized funding annually.
The Unaddressed Human Toll from Normal Operations
Affected are uranium miners, industry workers, and potentially everyone living close to nuclear reactors that routinely emit harmful radioactive releases daily, harming human health over time, causing illness and early death.
The link between radiation exposure and disease is irrefutable, depending only on the amount of cumulative exposure over time, Caldicott saying:
"If a regulatory gene is biochemically altered by radiation exposure, the cell will begin to incubate cancer, during a 'latent period of carcinogenesis,' lasting from two to sixty years."
In fact, a single gene mutation can prove fatal. No amount of radiation exposure is safe. Moreover, when combined with about 80,000 commonly used toxic chemicals and contaminated GMO foods and ingredients, it causes 80% of known cancers, putting everyone at risk everywhere.
Further, the combined effects of allowable radiation exposure, uranium mining, milling operations, enrichment, and fuel fabrication can be devastating to those exposed. Besides the insoluble waste storage/disposal problem, nuclear accidents happen and catastrophic ones are inevitable.
Caldicott and other experts agree they're certain in one or more of the hundreds of reactors operating globally, many years after their scheduled shutdown dates unsafely. Combined with human error, imprudently minimizing operating costs, internal sabotage, or the effects of a high-magnitude quake and/or tsunami, an eventual catastrophe is certain.
Aging plants alone, like Japan's Fukushima facility, pose unacceptable risks based on their record of near-misses and meltdowns, resulting from human error, old equipment, shoddy maintenance, and poor regulatory oversight. However, under optimum operating conditions, all nuclear plants are unsafe. Like any machine or facility, they're vulnerable to breakdowns, that if serious enough can cause enormous, possibly catastrophic, harm.
Add nuclear war to the mix, also potentially inevitable according to some experts, by accident or intent, including Steven Starr saying:
"Only a single failure of nuclear deterrence is required to start a nuclear war," the consequences of which "would be profound, potentially killing "tens of millions of people, and caus(ing) long-term, catastrophic disruptions of the global climate and massive destruction of Earth's protective ozone layer. The result would be a global nuclear famine that could kill up to one billion people."
Worse still is nuclear winter, the ultimate nightmare, able to end all life if it happens. It's nuclear proliferation's unacceptable risk, a clear and present danger as long as nuclear weapons and commercial dependency exist.
In 1946, Enstein knew it, saying:
"Our world faces a crisis as yet unperceived by those possessing the power to make great decisions for good and evil. The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe."
He envisioned two choices - abolish all forms of nuclear power or face extinction. No one listened. The Doomsday Clock keeps ticking.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen (at) sbcglobal.net. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.
This work is in the public domain