Return to Fukushima: Is nuclear power worth all of this head & heartache?

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Much in the way of internet propaganda is circulating the web on both sides of the Fukushima Radiation debate.

“It has been almost three years since a major earthquake and tsunami led to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, killing nearly 20,000 people and devastating the coastal and inland areas of Fukushima, Japan. Since then, questions remain unanswered about the health of thousands of people exposed to the radiation, the risks associated with the radiation leak and what’s being done to stop radioactive water from reaching the Pacific Ocean.”

America Tonight presented an exclusive four-part investigative series about the real-world impacts of the disaster, efforts to return to normalcy in Fukushima and how the ongoing fallout could affect Americans’ safety. –Aljazeera

  1. Inside Fukushima’s Ghost Towns,
  2. Gangsters and slugs: The people cleaning up Fukushima,
  3. Is Fukushima at risk for another nuclear disaster?,
  4. Japan’s nuclear crossroads: Restart the reactors?,

These Are the Facts as of January 2014:

CNN fukushima

  • The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster happened on March 11, 2011.
  • The failure occurred when the plant was hit by a tsunami triggered by the Tōhoku earthquake
  • The plant began releasing substantial amounts of radioactive materials beginning on 12 March 2011, becoming the largest nuclear incident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and the second (with Chernobyl) to measure Level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale.
  • Although no short term radiation exposure fatalities were reported, some 300,000 people evacuated the area, approximately 18,500 people died due to the earthquake and tsunami, and as of August 2013 approximately 1,600 deaths were related to the evacuation conditions, such as living in temporary housing and hospital closures.
  • Future cancer deaths from accumulated radiation exposures in the population living near Fukushima are predicted to be elevated for certain types of cancers such as leukemia, solid cancers, thyroid cancer and breast cancer.
  • a 2013 WHO report predicts that for populations living in the most affected areas there is a 70% higher risk of developing thyroid cancer for girls exposed as infants, a 7% higher risk of leukemia in males exposed as infants, a 6% higher risk of breast cancer in females exposed as infants and a 4% higher risk, overall, of developing solid cancers for females.

Image: Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan bows during a press conference after announcing he would resign

  • With few natural resources of its own, Japan had been one of the most enthusiastic adopters of nuclear energy. At that moment, it was the world’s third largest producer of nuclear power, with its reactors generating around 30 percent of the country’s electricity. And Japan has made ambitious targets for its carbon dioxide emissions over the coming decades, based largely on a big expansion in its nuclear program. But that close call prompted the prime minister to suddenly reassess everything he believed about nuclear energy.
  • Former Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, said “I came to believe that we should halt further operation of nuclear energy that entailed such huge risks.”
  • After leaving office later in 2011, Kan made it his mission to rid Japan of nuclear energy. Four other former prime ministers – including the influential Junichiro Koizumi – have since joined him. The political movement he helped build has forced all of Japan’s 50 reactors offline.
  • Their success, however, has come at a price.
  • “They went scrambling to replace [nuclear power] in order to avoid blackouts, and brownouts, by firing up coal, [liquid natural gas] and, to a lesser extent, oil-fired thermal plants,” said Paul Scalise, a Japanese energy policy expert at the University of Tokyo.
  • The sudden shock of losing nuclear has driven up Japan’s electricity prices. Greenhouse gas emissions have spiked and the country has a trade deficit for the first time in decades, due to massive imports of fossil fuels. “Consequently, the industry would like to see these reactors get online sooner rather than later.” But Japan’s nuclear industry has mounted a drive to revive its reactors.
  • Current Prime Minister Shinzō Abe has joined forces with industry leaders in reversing the Kan administration’s efforts to phase out nuclear power by 2030.
  • “Based upon the lessons of the nuclear accident, we must create a new culture to improve safety,” Abe said in a speech last year to Japan’s Parliament. “And in addition, after making sure that it is safe, we must restart nuclear energy.”
  • (ARGGGHHH! Why not use renewable energy like wind, and solar!!?)
  • Massive protests by an overwhelming anti-nuclear public have failed to sway Abe’s administration. So local politicians have taken up the fight.
  • Hirohiko Izumida, the governor of Niigata, has stymied TEPCO’s efforts to restart the plant’s seven idled reactors, saying the company has engaged in “institutional lying” about what it knew when during the Fukushima disaster.
  • “TEPCO knew on March 12 (2011) that fuel had melted down, but they continued to lie for almost two months,” he told America Tonight through a translator. “They haven’t made an accounting of the past. We first need to determine why they lied, and how to rectify the situation. If we don’t do that, I worry that another accident could happen again.”
  • In spite of resistance from local leaders like Izumida, the size and power of anti-nuclear protests have dwindled in Japan.
  • While nuclear power is on pause in Japan, vested interests have set their sights globally. Abe recently signed agreements to sell nuclear reactors to Turkeythe United Arab Emirates and India. And major manufacturers like Hitachi are vying for a share of the $1 trillion international market, as 370 new reactors are slated to be built by 2030.
  • For Kan, his successor’s administration is learning the wrong lesson from the tragedy of Fukushima.“Until 3/11, I felt the same way about nuclear energy that Prime Minister Abe does,” he said. “But since realizing that my way of thinking had been wrong, I no longer feel we should be selling nuclear energy either domestically or internationally.” He is confident that now is the time to transition to renewables.
  • “Japan can supply sufficient energy without nuclear power,” he said. “Over half of Japanese citizens are demanding that, but whether or not that voice will be crushed will be decided in the next one or two years.”

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  • Affected areas are separated into zones of higher and lower radiation risk. In the hardest-hit area, known as the “exclusion zone,” the streets remain virtually empty, eerily silent and frozen in time at the moment residents fled the quaking earth and incoming sea.
  • Residents can visit parts of the exclusion zone, like the city of Namie, but only for brief durations during the day to pick up important belongings, (and only if the radiation levels of the items are in “safe” amounts.)
  • Estimates about how many “nuclear refugees” are scattered across the country range from 40,000 to more than 80,000. Many live in cramped temporary shelters and collect modest monthly compensation from the government as they wait for news about their towns.
  • Despite decontamination efforts, radiation remains high in many parts, and a third of the population has yet to return.
  • Decontamination is not a simple process.
  • To reduce the radiation, all of the topsoil must be scraped away and eventually replaced, with the collected soil then dumped at hundreds of sites around Fukushima. Contaminated shrubs must be pruned. Trees are cut down. Roofs are washed. The process is repeated until radiation levels decrease. The cost is about $10,000 per house.
  • Rain can bring contaminants down from mountains into areas where soil has already been removed, decontaminated areas can easily become re-contaminated.
  • I suggest the good-old “start at the top and work down” technique!
  • There is a social stigma some in Japanese society harbor against people from Fukushima.
  • People are being rejected from giving blood, being asked to provide radiation level reports when applying for jobs and women are being perceived as “damaged goods” when it comes to childbirth.

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  • Since the several meltdowns, a small group of workers at the Fukushima power plant stayed behind, stomaching daily doses of deadly radiation to bring the plant under control. They became known as the Fukushima 50, and are showcased as symbols of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the operator of the stricken power plant.
  • But there is another group of workers that TEPCO rarely mentions, workers who continue to undertake the largest radiation cleanup in history, but are subcontracted into a system that leaves them vulnerable to exploitation.
  • These workers put themselves at great risk every day, for minimum wage, only to be fired when their radiation levels get too high.
  • These guys are known as “nuclear gypsies,” an army of about 50,000 itinerant laborers recruited at low pay to clean up the radioactive debris and build tanks to store the unending flood of contaminated water that’s generated to keep the reactor cores cool.
  • Some of these Nuclear Gypsies only earn as little as $60-$100 a day.
  • The subcontracting system and high demand for labor that gave rise to nuclear gypsies have been a boon for one group: organized crime, The Yakuza, or Japanese Mafia.
  • “The government says it will pay $100 a day, but I initially got $20,” said Sato, a worker who was lured to Fukushima by the government’s promise of extra cash. “The contractors and subcontractors took the remaining $80.”
  • In January, October and November of last year, Japanese gangsters were arrested on charges of illegally recruiting workers for the government-funded cleanup, reported Reuters.
  • Critics say the subcontracting system allows TEPCO to turn a blind eye to these abuses and wash its hands of worker safety.

fukushima2

  • Fukushima was an important nuclear power plant for Japan, but the torrent of the tsunami broke the concrete buildings that housed the reactor and caused radiation to leak into the atmosphere.
  • The situation became worse when the radioactive contents of the reactor began to mix and spill into the sea water on the Japanese coast.
  • A radioactive isotope of Caesium called 137Cs has been slipping into the Pacific Ocean from Fukushima and has been spreading freely across the ocean along with the currents. This particular isotope is a product of the radioactivity of the Fukushima reactor itself.
  • Over the next year or so nearly all of the Pacific Ocean will have some measurable amount of 137Cs related to the Fukushima leak. While the concentrations of this radiation will be much less toxic than closer to the site of the spill, they still will have a long term impact on life around the world.
  • A mathematical model developed by Changsheng Chen of the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth and Robert Beardsley of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute found that radioactive particles disperse through the ocean differently at different depths. The scientists estimated that in some cases, contaminated seawater could reach the western coast of the United States in as little as five years. Buesseler thinks the process occurs a bit more rapidly, and estimates it might take three years for contamination to reach the U.S. coastline.
  • This one accident in Japan could end up being one of the worst ecological disasters in human history, and it has potential to get worse.
  • As we continue to build more and more nuclear power plants, we need to be asking ourselves “When will this reactor cause a major disaster?” It seems to be more a question of WHEN rather than IF.
  • How many more disasters like Fukushima will we need before we learn that there needs to be a more responsible alternative created for meeting our energy demands?
  • The below graphic is a representation of the estimated concentrations of 137Cs spread across the Pacific in the coming years. While this is much less intense than the small graphic above (which depicts the 137Cs concentrations near the reactor site), you can see how widespread of an ecological disaster this has already become.
  • The leaking is still not under control in Japan, and more 137Cs will continue to leak out causing higher than predicted concentrations.
  • Given that radioactive isotopes like this have a very long half-life, you can expect the impact on sea life to last for many generation. Every 30 or so years the radioactivity of the Caesium will be cut in half, but that means the radioactivity will be traceable long into our future, and beyond our lifetimes.

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  • TEPCO, is struggling to contain the ongoing nuclear disaster. Since the catastrophe almost three years ago, there has been disagreement about whether the plant is safe.
  • The official line from the Japanese government is that the situation is under control.
  • But others, such as then–Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose, have said the situation is “not necessarily under control.”
  • Nearly three years later, the most pressing worry is the spent nuclear fuel rods, which are still precariously stored in a pool above the damaged and unstable Reactor 4. (There are 7 Reactors total).
  • In December, TEPCO began the delicate, and dangerous, yearlong task of transferring those fuel rods — more than 1,300 in all, amounting to some 400 tons of uranium — to a safer location.
  • If there was another earthquake, another major earthquake, it could trigger another radioactive disaster.
  • The real headache comes from the hundreds of tons of melted radioactive fuel in Reactors 1, 2 and 3.
  • TEPCO only has “the vaguest idea” of where the molten fuel sits, and a constant flow of water is necessary to keep the molten uranium from heating up.
  • TEPCO has built thousands of tanks to store the daily flood of contaminated water, but it is running out of space.
  • If the melted radioactive fuel weren’t enough, there’s also the issue of the groundwater.
  • After years of denial, TEPCO admitted in the fall that contaminated groundwater is flowing into the Pacific at the volume of an Olympic-size swimming pool every week. It’s this deluge of radioactive water that worries many Americans.
  • In March 2012, about a year after the incident, the groundwater reached the international date line, according to Michio Aoyama, a scientist at the Meteorological Institute of Japan.
  • Aoyama calculates that the radiation will slowly sink, before harmlessly decaying over decades as Pacific currents turn most of the groundwater toward Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean.
  • Aoyama’s take is very different from a map that’s making the rounds on social media, which claims to show radiation from Fukushima spreading throughout the Pacific. But it’s actually an altered map from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, tracing the tsunami’s path in 2011.
  • American officials say there is no evidence of unsafe fish in the American food supply.
  • BUT, all bets are off if TEPCO doesn’t come up with a long-term strategy to plug the leaking plant.
  • About 700 tons of contaminated water are generated on a daily basis at Fukushima Daiichi.
  • TEPCO plans to build a massive $470 million ice wall around the plant and install a new system to deal with the contaminated water.
  • TEPCO’s “policy is to physically decontaminate the water to a sufficiently safe and harmless level in order to reduce the risk it poses,” Ono said.
  • However, TEPCO will inevitably dump the water into the ocean, according to McNeill. “Once they get the water decontaminated to a level where people will accept it can be dumped into the ocean, they will do it,” he said. “They have to do it, because there’s no way that they cannot do it.”
  • (This scares me because I worry about what the acceptable levels will be and whether or not those levels will be safe for marine life.)
  • If TEPCO’s latest strategy fails, it’s possible that the more dangerous forms of radiation won’t get filtered out.
  • “If TEPCO releases of all of the contaminated water without removing the strontium-90, it’s a big problem for the whole Pacific, especially the whole western part.”
  • And even if all goes well, Fukushima Daiichi itself will remain on the edge of disaster — an undefused bomb for decades to come.
  • “The government said it will take 30 to 40 years to decommission the plant, so there’s always the potential for another problem to come up,” McNeill said. “And that’s what keeps some people awake at night.”

germany nuclear

Research & Decide For Yourself

The following articles were the best ones out there that I felt had solid research. There are many different Activist Posts, which seem to only like scaring people. Arm yourself with reputable and unbiased reports and figure out what you believe to be the truest truth.

However, the point of the matter is this: Is nuclear power worth all of this head & heartache?

Every year I do a Nuclear Free World Peace Walk with many others led by Jun-san in Grafton Lake ending at the Grafton Peace Pagoda. 

Jun-san has walked to challenge the root causes of nuclear weapons, the African slave trade, and many injustices to Native people.She has organized many walks including: four months across the US carrying a live flame from Hiroshima; two weeks from Albany into New York City linking Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, and Native American prayers for September 11; and three weeks from Hiroshima to Nara, site of Guruji’s “vision quest.” Her most recent walks include: the 2011 Nuclear Free World Peace Walk from Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant (Buchanan, NY) to Vermont Yankee Power Plant (Vernon, VT);  and the 2012 No More Fukushimas Peace Walk from Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Plant (Forked River, NJ) to Vermont Yankee Power Plant (Vernon, VT).

References

Phillip Lipscy, Kenji Kushida, and Trevor Incerti. 2013. “The Fukushima Disaster and Japan’s Nuclear Plant Vulnerability in Comparative Perspective.”Environmental Science and Technology 47 (May), 6082-6088.

“Explainer: What went wrong in Japan’s nuclear reactors”IEEE Spectrum. 4 April 2011.

Nebehay, Stephanie (28 February 2013). “Higher cancer risk after Fukushima nuclear disaster: WHO”.Reuters.

http://science.time.com/2013/03/01/meltdown-despite-the-fear-the-health-risks-from-the-fukushima-accident-are-minimal/#ixzz2MnbjhPmv Meltdown: Despite the Fear, the Health Risks from the Fukushima Accident Are Minimal Time magazine article which includes a link to the WHO report, and explains the report in laymans terms.

http://americanlivewire.com/fukushima-radiation-leak-poisoning-pacific-ocean-137cs/

Photos courtesy of: mhrs.jp, Leganerd.com, and MSNBC.

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5 thoughts on “Return to Fukushima: Is nuclear power worth all of this head & heartache?

  1. Yet other countries are still pushing to build more nuclear power stations. The craziness of todays governments is beyond me. We can only try to bring peace through practice and hope they seen sense. Thank you

  2. The 2nd photo graph located below headline,
    These Are the Facts as of January 2014:,
    is Not one from Fukushima Nuclear plant, but it is of petrochemical complex in Kawasaki at Kanagawa prefecture, which is not related to Fukushima at all…

    As I was interested in your article, deeply disappointed by misuse of this photo, and in accuracy.

    1. I am sorry for taking so long to respond to your comment. Your words have been sitting with me for some time, and I apologize for deeply disappointing you.
      The image in which I think you are referring to is the first image after the headline, which I found from an Italian blogger. The second image is a picture of the former Prime Minister Naoto Kan. This only goes to show, given your source is correct, that not all news online is correct. I don’t claim to have all the answers, and I feel it would be both very pious and egotistical of me to think I am. I will look into replacing the image with a solid source. Thank-you again, and go in peace.

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