Dr Helen Caldicott says that the Fukushima nuclear disaster has the potential to make Japan “uninhabitable”, yet the mainstream media continue to ignore the crisis. Managing editor David Donovan reports.
Yesterday – the same day Germany announced it would close all its nuclear plants because of Fukushima, and dangerous levels of radiation were reported in Japanese clean-up workers – Independent Australia did a straw poll of 50 random people at a metropolitan shopping centre in Queensland. Each of them was asked: “were you aware that there had been a nuclear meltdown at Fukushima in Japan”. Almost all of these respondents recognised the name Fukushima but only 4 of the 50 – a mere 8 per cent – said they had heard of any meltdown.
This rough poll points to deficiencies in popular media reporting in Australia of what some say has the potential to become the most devastating man-made disaster the world has ever known.
That may sound like an alarming claim, so let’s look at the facts.
In the wake of the March earthquake and tsunami, on March 15, Independent Australia reported:
“Yesterday, Japan’s nuclear agency attempted to calm fears by ranking the incident as a Category 4 nuclear accident, below the 1979 Three Mile Island partial meltdown in the US and well below the Chernobyl meltdown and explosion 25 years ago which rated top of the scale at seven.”
As also reported then, experts in Australia, including Dr Ziggy Switkowski, along with the Japanese nuclear power plant operator Tepco, tried hard then to dispel public fears about the severity of the disaster. By March 25, however, the category had been upgraded above Three Mile Island to a level 6. Then on April 13, as Tepco struggled to contain the fires burning at the reactor, it was reluctantly given the top rating of 7 by the Japanese authorities, which classed it as a “major accident”, equal to Chernobyl though officials still maintained the disaster was not as severe since there had not, apparently, been a melt-down.
Fast forward a month to May 13, and people’s suspicions and fears were realised when Tepco admitted there had, in fact, been a meltdown in Reactor One. Not only that, but reports began circulating that Tepco had been aware of the meltdown since the very earliest days of the accident.
On May 18, the Financial Times reported the following about the escalating situation:
“In the first days after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station began spewing radiation in mid-March, the plant’s operator and Japanese safety regulators studiously avoided the word “meltdown”.
Yes, they said, uranium fuel rods in the tsunami-hit facility’s reactors might have been damaged after cooling systems failed. But the official view was that the rods were still mostly intact – and radioactive material was safely contained inside their zirconium sheaths.
Now, a little over two months later, new information on the state of Fukushima Daiichi’s three overheated reactors is making the m-word impossible to avoid. Fuel inside the cores, it is now understood, melted far more quickly and extensively than was initially believed – disintegrating just a few hours after the tsunami knocked out the plants electricity and cooling systems.”
And, not only had there been a meltdown in reactor 1 but, in fact, there had been meltdowns in two other reactors as well:
Tokyo Electric Power, Fukushima’s operator, says there may be little left of the rods at all – just clumps of uranium at the bottom of the reactors’ innermost steel containers. Some of the melted fuel may have leaked into the concrete vessels that form the next layer of protective containment, making for a meltdown by even the narrowest industry standards.
On Wednesday Naoto Kan, prime minister, said Tepco was working on the assumption that some fuel from Fukushima Daiichi’s No 1 reactor core had leaked out. On Monday Haruki Madarame, chairman of the Nuclear Safety Commission, said: “Our understanding is that the No 2 reactor melted down. We surmise that the No 3 reactor is in the same situation.” The darkening picture of conditions inside the cores – which has emerged since Tepco began sending workers into the reactor buildings for the first time last week – has added to doubts about whether Tepco and the government disclosed all they knew in the early days of the crisis.
The Financial Times went on to say that the Japanese Government was maintaining its line that Fukushima had only leaked 10 per cent of the radiation of Chernobyl.
This claim must now be held in grave doubt. Former nuclear industry engineer and executive Arnie Gunderson described the ground water contamination at Fukushima as “the worst in human history”. Dr Vivian Norris, writing in the Huffington Post, described his findings:
Gundersen is in touch with senior members of the Japanese nuclear establishment.…I will summarize some of Gunderson’s very disturbing and important information here:
1. There was a hydrogen explosion and it was a detonation not a deflagration, in other words the fire burned up not burned down.
2. A frame by frame analysis shows a flame which confirms that the fuel pool is burning as a result of an explosion which started as a hydrogen explosion but that could not have lifted the fuel into the air so there must have been a violent explosion at the bottom of the fuel pool. But more data is needed.
3. Gunderson speaks about past criticalities in other nuclear reactors around the world, and I fin d it odd we are not hearing about these and how they can teach us about what is going on now at Fukushima.
4. Radioactive water is being pumped out and ground water is contaminated so there must be a leak or leaks and this disaster is in no way contained. There will be contamination for a long time to come and this ground water contamination is moving inland. One town is reporting radioactive sewage sludge from ground water or rainwater.
THE HORRIFYING CONSEQUENCES OF THE FUKUSHIMA MELTDOWN
EXCLUSIVE interview with Dr Helen Caldicott, who talks about the potential ramifications of the Fukushima meltdown, including the horrifying possibility of a hydrogen explosion, which is something the authorities aren’t discussing.
By Sandi Keane| Environment Editor
If you’re a news junkie like me chasing stories outside Australia’s mainstream, you would have heard the news today about the meltdown in Reactor No. 1 at Fukushima. It should have sent a chill down your spine. It probably won’t. We get “meltdown” but unless we live in the immediate fallout area, we’ll probably just carry on in blissful ignorance. Here’s what I mean. I just tuned in to the 1pm ABC Radio National news. The lead story was Julie Gillard berating Tony Abbott for his negativity. That’s news? Or should I say new? That’s how most of us deal with disasters if they don’t affect us! Fukushima wasn’t news once we were sure no telltale glowing clouds were headed our way. Give us a disaster movie any day, especially horrors happening in other places. Who didn’t thrill to the 1979 adrenalin fix, The China Syndrome? What a rush that was — major meltdown right through the container into the earth – all the way to China! Whoooeeehhh!
The news coming from Japan today is no horror movie. It is very real and we may be in for a sequel – The Japan Syndrome. My reality check came after a very sobering interview today with Dr. Helen Caldicott who has given Independent Australia the inside story. To her, the real accident at Fukushima is just beginning.
Last week, engineers from Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) finally got into the No. 1 reactor with their water monitoring equipment. This is the first time they’ve seen the molten mass at the bottom of the reactor which, according to Dr. Caldicott, “could melt through the bottom of the containment vessel and onto the concrete floor if hasn’t already done so”. Up to now, TEPCO believed that there was enough water left in the core of the reactor to keep the fuel rods stable. The company isn’t denying the possibility of a molten pool of radioactive fuel burning a hole in the steel containment pressure vessel. What they aren’t saying, according to Dr. Caldicott, is that it could initiate a hydrogen explosion which would release massive amounts of radiation into the atmosphere.
Dr Caldicott says the same goes for No. 2 Reactor. Total meltdown. Radioactive lava has hit the concrete floor. And another leak. Workers have been pumping water into Reactors 1-3 but as fast as they do, the water is pouring out through the holes caused by the exposed, burning fuel rods. No-one seems to have a clue where it is going. Like the rest of the statistics, we’re talking “guestimates”.
“They think No. 3 is also a meltdown but we don’t know how much,” said Dr. Caldicott.
TEPCO’s engineers haven’t gone in as yet so there’s no water monitoring. Interestingly, cooling pool No. 3 has no fuel in it.
Dr Caldicott mentions a massive explosion, which has almost certainly spread radiation widely into the surrounding areas:
“There was a massive explosion – maybe a nuclear critical mass explosion – which would explain how fuel rods containing plutonium were found one-and-a-half miles from the reactor. Witnesses reported a big explosion and dark smoke. The fallout testing in the USA is totally inadequate. The smoke from this explosion probably contained aerosolite plutonium, which could be blowing with the help of the westerly winds to the USA. In fact, plutonium has been found in areas in the west.”
Fuel pool No. 4 also underwent a massive explosion. The building which is leaning could collapse. There is lot of fuel in fuel pool 4. They emptied the reactor and put all the spent fuel in the pool just before the earthquake occurred. It’s yet another complication. U.S. nuclear experts are urging the building of a concrete wall around the entire site. This would take years. But, in the meantime?
According to Dr Caldicott, the radiation recorded at Fukushima is many orders of magnitude higher than that recorded at Chernobyl.
Dr. Caldicott despairs of getting the message across about the medical catastrophe:
“Genetic mutations damage the very building blocks of life. There will be millions of cases of cancer.”
She also reminds us that the winds in Japan, currently blowing from west to east, are about to change to south blowing radioactive fallout towards Tokyo and south of Japan. And this is the season for rain, which will bring the fall out down in quite concentrated amounts.
We thought Chernobyl was the hard lesson of the nuclear experiment. The lesson from Fukushima is yet to be played out. Helen Caldicott is right. The real accident is just beginning. TEPCO is in unchartered territory. Nuclear experts are predicting the scale of this catastrophe to skyrocket off the known emergency procedures charts. TEPCO has been telling us for months that the disaster has been contained. If you were living in Japan, who would you believe?
Helen Caldicott describes herself a pantheist – a worshipper of life rather than gods — something she shares with William Wordsworth and Frank Lloyd Wright whose artistic expression speaks to us of their love of the natural world. If you would like to find out more about Dr Caldicott, visit her website: http://www.helencaldicott.com, or read one of her books, Nuclear Power is Not the Answer (Publisher: The New Press (2006); ISBN: 978-1-59558-067-2,