I wish I could write another column about wishes like I did last week. Instead, I find myself straying from positive local visions, even after such a thrilling bicycle and Envisionfest weekend in Hartford.
Instead, I find myself reading up on Helen Caldicott, the medical doctor turned nuclear energy expert. Dr. Caldicott is begging the people of this planet to reach an international consensus on dealing with the radioactive waste at Fukushima Daiichi. And fast. But it seems no one is listening.
The global mass media has basically blacked out the possible consequences of Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) plans for Fukushima. They’re bad for the nuclear industry.
When you stop to consider what happened in Japan, knowing we have the several similar possible reactor problems around 60 miles as the crow flies from here, it makes it tough to think about anything but closing nuclear plants.
Capitalism must soldier on, though. The biggest issue at Fukushima is not the radioactive plume of water traveling across the Pacific Ocean east to California and the fish that swim in it.
I don’t think Helen Caldicott is crazy. She and Arnie Gunderson and a few others are the only ones talking up the problems and reasonable solutions to Fukushima in the United States.
The Republicans seem hell bent on destroying access to health care, or, in a larger framework, the notion of paying for civil society. The Democrats dilly-dally over chemical weapons in Syria at Israel’s beckoning. Fukushima never gets a mention.
The U.N. hasn’t heard much talk of Fukushima. In June of this year, the UN Scientific Community on the Effect of Atomic Radiation concluded that Fukushima’s radioactivity is unlikely to push up cancer rates in Japan.
A nuclear Iran is front and center at this year’s annual U.N. gathering of nations, but not even the Germans are talking Fukushima. The Germans took a global leadership position in 2011 when the Fukushima disaster prompted chancellor Angela Merkel to promise to close German nuclear facilities by 2022.
Merkel was just re-elected for a third term. Yet she seems more intent on increasing austerity than lending legendary German engineering to fix Fukushima at this critical stage.
Random writings on the internet call for a global solution, like a letter to the editor in the Japan Times seeking world aid. Yet the mantle for a sane solutions falls on Caldicott, Gunderson and others. It’s like with Ralph Nader. If society ignores the sounds of reformist voices, the problems will disappear. Wrong.
Caldicott lately is expressing concerns about the nuclear poisoning of the entire Northern Hemisphere. Where did I read about it? Not in the Hartford Courant or the New York Times. The Times last published an AP story on Fukushima on September 19, 2013, wherein Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered TEPCO to scrap all six reactors at Fukushima, instead of just four.
And did I note that the Times just reported a four cent dividend per share on its own stocks. Yet its’ own reporters haven’t written about Fukushima since September 5. It’s just not that big of a deal.
I found Caldicott’s op-ed in RT.com, the online vehicle for Russian Television (whose motto is “Question More.”). Dr. Caldicott, please explain about Fukushima Reactor 4:
“This structure was severely damaged during the initial quake, its walls are bulging, and it sank 31 inches (79cm) into the ground. On the roof sits a cooling pool containing about 250 tons of hot fuel rods, most of which had just been removed from the reactor core days before the earthquake struck.
“This particular core did not melt because TEPCO was able maintain a continuous flow of cooling water, so the rods and their holding racks are still intact, but geometrically deformed due to the force of the hydrogen explosion.
“The cooling pool contains 8,800 pounds of plutonium plus over 100 other highly radioactive isotopes. Instead of this core melting into a larval mass like the other three cores, it sits exposed to the air atop the shaky building.
“A large earthquake could disrupt the integrity of the building, causing it to collapse and taking the hot fuel rods with it. The cooling water would evaporate and the intrinsic heat of the radioactive rods would ignite a fire as the zirconium cladding reacted with air, releasing the radioactive equivalent of 14,000 Hiroshima-sized bombs and 10 times more cesium than Chernobyl.
“Not only would the Northern Hemisphere become badly contaminated, but the Japanese government is seriously contemplating evacuating 35 million people from Tokyo should this happen.”
Still think I’m paranoid? A 7.7 Richter scale quake just rocked Pakistan. That’s closer to Japan than Connecticut. Where did I read about this?
No one has been indicted for this awful failure of nuclear energy. Not anyone at TEPCO. Or General Electric, which designed the really bad Mark IV reactor, putting spent fuel directly above the reactor core, on a fault line. There are 23 sister reactors in the United States, including in Vermont, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.
Although it is important to note that Entergy, the owner Vermont Yankee, the GE Mark reactor outside of Brattleboro, has just declared it will close Vermont Yankee down. This is after Entergy won a lawsuit allowing Yankee to stay open. There’s more problems than the tritium leaking into the mighty Connecticut.
In Japan, TEPCO’s solution to the reactor core meltdowns is to remove the spent fuel in the pools above the melted reactors.
TEPCO has built a steel structure, using robots, because Reactor 4 is too radioactive for humans to approach. TEPCO will soon place a crane on top of the reactor to remove the hot fuel rods. Again, Dr. Caldicott:
“If the rods are deformed, a rod could fracture releasing so much radiation that the workers would have to evacuate or, should they touch each other, a chain reaction could release huge amounts of radiation.”
Caldicott thinks Connecticut’s own Arnie Gundersen has a 100-year-long, albeit temporary, solution to the problems at Fukushima.
Gunderson was a nuclear whistleblower from Warren who found radioactive materials in an accounting safe in a white-collar office building in Danbury in 1990. Arnie was harassed to the point where he considered suicide as a way out. He survived, and is now one of the world’s leading experts on nuclear energy safety.
Gunderson wants to build a 2-meter thick zeolite wall some distance from the reactors on the mountainside. Caldicott says these would “effectively absorb the cesium from the water surrounding the reactor cores so it could not get out and further pollute the pure water descending from the mountain.”
Simultaneously, Gunderson proposes to divert rivers from the mountains into the sea and then encase the three molten reactor cores at Fukushima in concrete, like the Soviets did at Chernyobl. Maybe in a century, we’ll have figured a way out of the mess.
But burial is beyond comprehension, because, as Caldicott reported from a Japanese official: “If we just buried them no one would look at another nuclear plant for years.”
Yeah, we can’t possibly rock the apple cart in the United States, where nuclear power is part of the consumerist portfolio. How would merchants at the Waterford Crystal Mall power their cash registers and light their showroom floors?
If only Godzilla were the monster humanity facing. Godzilla’s destruction has limited geographical range. Radioactivity could doom humanity. But who cares, onto the budget stalemate in Washington, D.C. Onto the Kardashians. Onto Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”, the only solace I find in contemplating this nuclear economy:
“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds. Have no fear for atomic energy, ’cause none of them can stop the time. How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look? Some say its just a part of it, we’ve got to fulfill the book.”