I wish I had some good news to report about the nuclear crisis in Japan; but alas: the last two weeks have been a slowly unfolding nightmare. Every day it’s got a little bit worse, and information from the Japanese authorities has been confused, contradictory and often lacking. From what can be gleaned, though, it does appear that Fukushima is now a lot worse than the disaster at Chernobyl. Perhaps one reason why the world’s media have stopped putting Fukushima at the top of the news agenda is because of the panic it would cause. Here’s what Hirose Takashi had to say about it earlier this week (Takashi is an author and critic of nuclear power)…
“Around Fukushima Daiichi Station they measured 400 millisieverts – that’s per hour. With this measurement (Chief Cabinet Secretary) Edano admitted for the first time that there was a danger to health, but he didn’t explain what this means. All of the information media are at fault here I think. They are saying things like we are exposed to radiation all the time in our daily life, we get radiation from outer space. But that’s one millisievert per year. A year has 365 days, a day has 24 hours; multiply 365 by 24, you get 8760. Multiply the 400 millisieverts by that, you get 3,500,000 the normal dose. You call that safe? And what media have reported this?”
On Wednesday, TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Co.) stated that there had been 13 instances of neutron radiation in and around the plant (see my post from last Wednesday). Neutron radiation only occurs when nuclear fission takes place. This means that either one or more reactors have gone critical, or else one or more cooling ponds have gone critical. Yesterday, Thursday, TEPCO stated that three workers at the plant were exposed to high level radiation, two of them after standing in a puddle of water. The workers were not wearing rubber boots as they stood in water that contained radioactive materials 10,000 times the normal level (see here). What this means – apart from the fact that the three workers are as good as dead – is that such high radiation could only come from a reactor core; ie, one or more reactor pressure vessels has been breached (similarly high radiation has been found in water spillage in the buildings of reactors 1 and 2).
And today, Friday, two Japanese who arrived at an airport in China were found to have very high radiation levels, and were promptly taken to hospital for decontamination (see here). The salient point being that the two Japanese came from cities many hundreds of miles from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear plant. People closer to the plant have been measured as having 13,000 cpm (cpm= geiger Counts Per Minute). Normal background radiation is 10 to 20 cpm (see here).
Also today: “Tokyo Electric Power confirms that zirconium-95 in sea water several hundred meters from the Fukushima plant has been detected since Wednesday when testing began there for additional radioactive elements. A spokesman for the Japanese prime minister’s office tells VOA there is no clear evidence that the cladding has been breached.” (see here) The zirconium-95 in the sea water, and TEPCO’s reporting of it, means that it could have only come from fuel rods in the reactors, which are clad in zirconium. This is further proof that A) fuel rods in the reactors have melted, and B) that they have been pouring sea water directly into the reactors to cool them, and this water has gone back to the ocean.
And talking of sea water, they’ve been using it since the earliest days of this crisis to cool the reactors, all six of them. In otherwords, right from the start things were so bad that they had to resort to last-ditch methods – last-ditch because sea water ruins the reactors (which are incredibly expensive machines) and renders them unworkable. The thing is, as the sea water boils away in the incredible heat of the reactors it leaves behind salt and other residues that clog-up the cooling systems. After nearly two weeks of using sea water, thousands of tons of it, the cooling systems may now be next to useless, and at least three of the reactors are still in a perilous situation.
As if all this is not bad enough, there is also a huge amount of nuclear waste at Fukushima Daiichi, and a lot of it, the most dangerous (about 1000 tons) is stored in those cooling pools right beside the reactors.
I think Godzilla and I need a strong cup of tea…