Fukushima, A Global Conspiracy Of Denial

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Above photo: Evacuees in protective suits remember the Fukushima disaster. (photo: Kim Kyung-hoon/Reuters)

Does anyone in authority anywhere tell the truth about Fukushima?

f there is any government or non-government authority in the world that is addressing the disaster at Fukushima openly, directly, honestly, and effectively, it’s not apparent to the outside observer what entity that might be.

There is instead an apparent global conspiracy of authorities of all sorts to deny to the public reliably accurate, comprehensible, independently verifiable (where possible), and comprehensive information about not only the condition of the Fukushima power plant itself and its surrounding communities, but about the unceasing, uncontrolled release of radioactive debris into the air and water, creating a constantly increasing risk of growing harm to the global community.

While the risk may still be miniscule in most places, the range of risk rises to lethal in Fukushima itself. With the radioactive waste of four nuclear reactors (three of them in meltdown) under uncertain control for almost three years now, the risk of lethal exposure is very real for plant workers, and may decrease with distance from the plant, but may be calculable for anyone on the planet. No one seems to know. No one seems to have done the calculation. No one with access to the necessary information (assuming it exists) seems to want to do the calculation.

There is no moral excuse for this international collusion. The excuses are political or economic or social, but none of them excuses any authority for withholding or lying about information that has potentially universal and destructive impact on everyone alive today and everyone to be born for some unknown generations.

Japanese authorities may be the worst current offenders against the truth, as well as the health and safety of their people. Now the Japanese government has passed a harsh state secrets law that threatens to reduce or eliminate reliable information about Fukushima. The U.S. government officially applauded this heightened secrecy, while continuing its own tight control on nuclear information. Japanese authorities are already attacking their own people in defense of nuclear power: not only under-measuring and ignoring varieties of radioactive threat, but even withholding the iodine pills in 2011 that might have mitigated the growing epidemic of thyroid issues today. Failing to confront Fukushima honestly, the Japanese are laying the basis for what could amount to a radiological sneak attack on the rest of the world.

Just because no one seems to know what to do about Fukushima is no excuse to go on lying about and/or denying the dimensions of reality, whatever they might be. There are hundreds, probably thousands of people with little or no authority who have long struggled to create a realistic, rational perspective on nuclear threats. The fundamental barrier to knowing the scale of the Fukushima disaster is just that: the scale of the Fukushima disaster.

Chernobyl 1986 and Fukushima 2011 are not really comparable

Chernobyl is the closest precedent to Fukushima, and it’s not very close. Chernobyl at the time of the 1986 electric failure and explosion had four operating reactors and two more under construction. The Chernobyl accident involved one reactor meltdown. Other reactors kept operating for some time after the accident. The rector meltdown was eventually entombed, containing the meltdown and reducing the risk. Until Fukushima, Chernobyl was considered the worst nuclear power accident in history, and it is still far from over (albeit largely contained for the time being). The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone of roughly 1,000 square miles remains one of the most radioactive areas in the world and the clean-up is not even expected to be complete before 2065.

At the time of the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami, the Fukushima plant had six operating reactors. Three of them went into meltdown and a fourth was left with a heavily laden fuel pool teetering a hundred feet above the ground. Two other reactors were undamaged and have been shut down. Radiation levels remain lethal in each of the melted-down reactors, where the meltdowns appear to be held in check by water that is pumped into the reactors to keep them cool. In the process, the water gets irradiated and that which is not collected on site in leaking tanks flows steadily into the Pacific Ocean. Within the first two weeks, Fukushima radiation was comparable to Chernobyl’s and while the levels have gone down, they remain elevated.

The plant’s corporate owner, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), in turn effectively owned by the Japanese government after a 2012 nationalization, began removing more than 1,500 fuel rod assemblies from the teetering fuel pool in November, a delicate process expected to take a year or more. There are additional fuel pools attached to each of the melted down reactors and a much larger general fuel pool, all of which contain nuclear fuel rod assemblies that are secure only as long as TEPCO continues to cool them. The Fukushima Exclusion Zone, a 12-mile radius around the nuclear plant, is about 500 square miles (much of it ocean); little specific information about the exclusion zone is easily available, but media coverage in the form of disaster tourism is plentiful, including a Google Street View interactive display.

Despite their significant differences as disasters, Chernobyl and Fukushima are both rated at 7 – a “major accident” on the International Nuclear Event Scale designed in 1990 by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). That is the highest rating on the scale, a reflection of the inherent denial that colors most official nuclear thinking. Designed by nuclear “experts” after Chernobyl, the scale can’t imagine a worse accident than Chernobyl which, for all its intensity, was effectively over as an accident in a relatively short period of time. At Fukushima, by contrast, the initial set of events was less acute than Chernobyl, but almost three years later they continue without any resolution likely soon. Additionally Fukushima has three reactor meltdowns and thousands of precarious fuel rod assemblies in uncertain pools, any of which could produce a new crisis that would put Fukushima clearly off the scale.

And then there’s groundwater. Groundwater was not a problem at Chernobyl. Groundwater is a huge problem at the Fukushima plant that was built at the seashore, on a former riverbed, over an active aquifer. In a short video, nuclear engineer Arnie Gunderson makes clear why groundwater makes Fukushima so hard to clean up, and why radiation levels there will likely remain dangerous for another hundred years.

Fukushima Unit #3 activity led to some panic-driven reporting in 2013

The Japanese government and nuclear power industry have a history of not telling the truth about nuclear accidents dating back at least to 1995, as reported by New Scientist and Rachel Maddow, among others. Despite Japan’s history of nuclear dishonesty, Japanese authorities remain in total control of the Fukushima site and most of the information about it, without significant objection from most of the world’s governments, media, and other power brokers, whose reputation for honesty in nuclear matters is almost as bad as Japan’s. In such a context of no context, the public is vulnerable to reports like this from the Turner Radio Network (TRN) on December 28:

** NEWS FLASH – URGENT ** STEAM SUDDENLY EMANATING FROM FUKUSHIMA REACTOR # 3 – WEST COAST OF NORTH AMERICA SHOULD BEGIN PREPARATIONS FOR POSSIBLE RADIATION CLOUD WITHIN 3 TO 5 DAYS

Five days after this story was posted, the “radiation cloud” had not developed despite the story’s assertion that: “Experts say this could be the beginning of a ‘spent fuel pool criticality (meltdown)’ involving up to 89 TONS of nuclear fuel burning up into the atmosphere and heading to North America.” The story named no “experts” and provided links only to TEPCO announcements in Japanese. The bulk of the story reads like an infomercial for “protective” gear of various sorts that TRN makes a point of saying it does NOT sell. Despite such obvious warning signs, others – such as The Ecologist and Gizmodo – reported the threat of “another meltdown” at Fukushima Unit #3 as imminent.

Clarification and reassurance quickly started chasing the “new meltdown” rumor around the Internet. ENENEWS (Energy News) promptly posted the TEPCO reports in English, demonstrating that there was nothing “sudden” about the steam releases, they’ve been happening more or less daily since 2011, but condensation caused by cold weather makes them visible.

At FAIREWINDS (Energy Education), Arnie Gunderson posted on January 1:

“… the Internet has been flooded with conjecture claiming that Fukushima Daiichi Unit 3 is ready to explode…. Our research, and discussions with other scientists, confirms that what we are seeing is a phenomenon that has been occurring at the Daiichi site since the March 2011 accident…. While the plants are shutdown in nuke speak, there is no method of achieving cold shut down in any nuclear reactor. While the reactor can stop generating the actual nuclear chain reaction, the atoms left over from the original nuclear chain reaction continue to give off heat that is called the decay of the radioactive rubble (fission products)…. constantly releasing moisture (steam) and radioactive products into the environment.” [emphasis added]

In other words, Fukushima Unit #3 continues to leak radioactivity into both air and water, as Units #1 and #2 presumably do as well. But as Gunderson explains, the level of radioactivity has declined sharply without becoming benign:

“When Unit 3 was operating, it was producing more than 2,000 megawatts of heat from the nuclear fission process (chain reaction in the reactor). Immediately after the earthquake and tsunami, it shut down and the chain reaction stopped, but Unit 3 was still producing about 160 megawatts of decay heat. Now, 30 months later, it is still producing slightly less than 1 megawatt (one million watts) of decay heat…. 1 megawatt of decay heat is a lot of heat even today, and it is creating radioactive steam, but it is not a new phenomenon.”

Reassurances about Fukushima are as misleading as scare stories

The reassuring aspects of the condition of Unit #3 ­– radioactive releases are not new, they’re less intense than they once were, the nuclear waste is cooling ­– while true enough, provide only a false sense of comfort. Also true: radiation is released almost continuously, the releases are uncontrolled, no one seems to be measuring the releases, no one seems to be tracking the releases, no one is assessing accumulation of the releases. And while it’s true that the waste is cooling and decaying, it’s also true that a loss of coolant could lead to another uncontrolled chain reaction. (“Fukushima Daiichi Unit 3 is not going to explode,” says Gunderson in a headline, but he can’t know that with certainty.)

For the near future, what all that means, in effect, is that the world has to accept chronic radiation releases from Fukushima as the price for avoiding another catastrophic release. And even then, it’s not a sure thing.

But there’s another aspect of Fukushima Unit #3 that’s even less reassuring. Unit #3 is the one Fukushima reactor that was running on Mixed oxide fuel, or MOX fuel, in its fuel rods. MOX fuel typically uses Plutonium mixed with one or more forms of Uranium. Using Plutonium in fuel rods adds to their toxicity in the event of a meltdown. In part because Plutonium-239 has a half-life of 240,000 years and can be used to make nuclear weapons of “dirty bombs,” its use in commercial reactors remains both limited and controversial. Because it contains Plutonium, MOX fuel is more toxic than other nuclear fuel and will burn at lower temperatures. As Natural Resources News reported in 2011:

“The mixed oxide fuel rods used in the compromised number three reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi complex contain enough plutonium to threaten public health with the possibility of inhalation of airborne plutonium particles…. Plutonium is at its most dangerous when it is inhaled and gets into the lungs. The effect on the human body is to vastly increase the chance of developing fatal cancers.”

Reportedly, TEPCO plans don’t call for the removal of the MOX fuel in Unit #3 for another decade or more. Fuel removal from Units #1, #2, and #3 is complicated by lethal radiation levels at all three reactors, as well as TEPCO’s inability so far to locate the three melted cores with any precision.

There is ample reason to hope that Fukushima, despite the complex of uncontrollable and deteriorating factors, will not get worse, because even the Japanese don’t want that. But there is little reason to expect anything but worsening conditions, slowly or suddenly, for years and years to come. And there is even less reason to expect anyone in authority anywhere to be more than minimally and belatedly truthful about an industry they continue to protect, no matter how many people it damages or kills.

The perfect paradigm of that ruthlessly cynical nuclear mentality is the current Japanese practice of recruiting homeless people to work at Fukushima in high level radiation areas where someone with something to lose might not be willing to go for minimum wage.


William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

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  • Albert Stroberg

    Gee, some numbers of actual radiation levels would be useful to substantiate his panic attack. Give us something besides fear to rebut the science based contention that no one has died of radiation and if someone does die in the future the rate will not be different than that before the quake.

    • Margaret Flowers

      The science shows that people do die of radiation. After Chernobyl, it was tens of thousands at least. From Fukushima, one of the managers at the plant has already died, and 71 sailors are suing TEPCO because of the cancers and other illnesses due to radiation that they are suffering from their exposure in Fukushima.

    • http://www.byebyedemocracy.org/ kokanee

      Gee, what is the level of radiation that the US government deems safe?

  • Clarc King

    This article is ridiculous, stop the demonization of all things nuclear, that supports the Elitist’s demand for radical population reduction. Nuclear fueled power is absolutely necessary for the continued survival and perpetuation of humanity, for population growth.

    • Margaret Flowers

      You are incorrect. Nuclear is not necessary, nor is it even cost effective. See: http://www.ieer.org/carbonfree/

    • Shawn Moreton

      Really?

      • Southernfink

        Scary huh ?

    • http://www.jerrygerber.com/ Jerry Gerber

      You don’t have any idea what you are talking about. The human species is not ethically mature enough to handle nuclear power–either for the generation of electricity or for warfare, nuclear power is extremely dangerous and extremely toxic and both industry and governments have long proved they are irresponsible regarding nuclear energy.

      • Clarc King

        You are a victim of your education, its indoctrination basis, that man is bad, has become your personal ideology. All of man’s existence has relied on increasing the energy flux density capacity available to the population in any given area. A new national nuclear fueled energy grid is necessary to replace existing facilities that are scheduled for retirement, reversing the economic depression and undergird future economy platforms that will support and foster population growth.

        • kevinzeese

          You are living in the 1950s when the fantasy of nuclear was still believed. There have been to many experiences with nuclear to now know it is a fantasy. From uranium mining, to dangerous operation, to dealing with the waste of nuclear — none of it is doable with safety. Nuclear is also the costliest energy alternative and it takes years, a decade or more, for a plant to come online.

          We don’t need nuclear. The future is a carbon-free, nuclear-free energy economy. I know you think that is impossible, but you have lived in a nuclear propaganda world that tells you that. Here’s a nuclear engineer who also thought is was necessary, then he took up the challenge of people who said nuclear was not necessary. He found they were right. We can have a carbon-free, nuclear-free energy economy. Here’s his book on the matter. You can download it and read it if you are open to an alternative path. By the way, he is one of many who have put forward a workable plan for a carbon-free,nuclear-free world. http://www.ieer.org/carbonfree/

          And, here is an article we wrote about the issue — not only can we have a carbon-free, nuclear-free energy economy but it is inevitable and progress is being made despite the carbon-nuclear industries doing their best to prevent it. http://www.popularresistance.org/carbon-free-nuclear-free-energy-economy-is-inevitable/

          • Clarc King

            The Carbon issue as a dangerous specter hovering mankind is a phony argument. Plants take in carbon and release oxygen, You know the Oxygen Cycle, it should not be upset, with radical decreases of carbon in the atmosphere. All the irrationlism in the economy policy and environmentalism disguises and supports the demand embedded in ‘Green’ ideology and Elitists’ diktats to radically reduce the population of the planet. It is Absolutely unacceptable.The call for a Carbon-free atmosphere as an attainable, necessary agenda, is a hoax. Man needs carbon for his existence. There are nuclear systems that produce little or no carbon and energy from fusion technology promises no carbon at all. We can’t go back to the good old days. Increases in energy flux density is vital to our immediate goals and waiting endeavors, the colonization of the Oceans, for instance, 70% of the Earth’s surface; in creating the higher order of existence, that fulfills mankind’s destiny, that is distributing humanity throughout the Universe. All of this will take magnitudes of increases in energy flux density that only nuclear energy in fission and fusion technologies can deliver. Do not be afraid, we have a great future ahead of us.

          • kevinzeese

            We definitely have the potential of a great future. I’m not acting in fear of that future, but working toward it.

            But, someone who takes the positions that nuclear is the energy solution and climate change is not a problem is not the person to bring us that great future.

            Who called for a carbon-free atmosphere? There will always be carbon. I was calling for a carbon-free, nuclear-free energy economy. I suspect you did not read the links I provided as you totally misrepresented my views.

            We see the world very differently.

        • http://www.jerrygerber.com/ Jerry Gerber

          Yes, there are many victims of mediocre or poor education. My secular humanist traditions taught me that man is good, in fact, man is far better than he thinks he is, but is equally far worse than he likes to admit. Man isn’t bad, but large corporations are very often greedy and sociopathic and will put profit and self-interest above both the common good and the physical well-being of our planet. We have a responsibility to future generations and the inability to deal with nuclear waste is stupid and unethical if we just leave it to future people to cope with and clean up.

        • sambacomet

          In the Pacific NW in the early 80s it was proved that conservation could more than make up for the projected need for another nuclear power plant- the regional utilities commission was convinced of, and successfully implemented a conservation plan because it was far more cost effective. The amount of waste in the current system includes 30% in line losses alone.

          • sambacomet

            “The quantity of physical, cosmic energy wealth as radiation (sunlight)
            arriving aboard planet Earth each minute is greater than all the energy
            used annually by all humanity” Buckminster Fuller

          • sambacomet

            And the Trojan plant was subsequenty decommissioned. The regional population has since boomed,and there’s no energy shortage

    • Southernfink

      Don’t be ridiculous, what part of nuclear melt down don’t you understand ?

      • Clarc King

        Don’t be so overwrought, when basically, you are just against nuclear energy, and support radical population reduction. The problems of the Fukushima accident are solvable, the ‘waste’ is retrievable and usable. We cannot stop nuclear science discoveries and their technological derivatives as these efforts will help in the clean-up process and the furtherance of man’s necessary increases in energy flux density today and in the future.

        • Southernfink

          Solvable…?… what complete and utter rubbish…you should actually go to the melted down Tepco site and become part of cleaning up process.

          Remember it will take over 40 years to clean up the mess…

          • Clarc King

            ‘what complete and utter rubbish’; who speaks like that in this day and age?

          • Southernfink

            You have not answered my question, so far all you have written remains complete and utter rubbish…

          • Clarc King

            It is my intention to give you a better understanding of nuclear fueled energy, I cannot do it here. You should go to the US Dept of Energy, (DOE) site, however, before you go, you may give my several comments a perusal; I’ve written quite enough for now, you horrible fellow.

          • Southernfink

            ☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢
            So far all you have proven is that you are denialist for the nuclear industry, but nothing else.
            Fukushima is far worse than Chernobyl.
            ☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢☢

          • Clarc King

            A denialist? Ha, you horrible, horrible fellow!

          • kevinzeese

            You deny the dangers of nuclear power and deny climate change, people are correct to label you a denialist.

            You even deny the positive — we can have a carbon-free, nuclear-free energy economy — as the materials you have been provided show.

          • kevinzeese

            The DOE site for reliable information on the dangers of nuclear. You can’t be serious. We’ve had successive appointees who favor nuclear and who have received funds from the industry before coming to government. The US government — from both parties — is polluted with nuclear lobby cash — therefore there has been support from both parties. Nuclear is a classic example of the corruption of government.

          • Clarc King

            You strive and struggle to be intelligent and relevant in this subject. The Planet Earth is going into an Ice Age, and nuclear fueled power generating systems are crucial to humanity’s survival. 600 people have died across Europe this year, as a result of the cold and obviously the lack of heat, the political system that demands reduction in energy facilities. This is the national security crisis in the US; energy facilities that are scheduled to be retired must be replaced, and the policy and construction of such are not forthcoming.

  • karlInSanDiego

    Pandora’s Promise was a Lie

  • Err Amerika

    This is the biggest story of our time, eclipsing climate change. Where is the media, where is Obama? Even Putin just clamped down on reporting this. What the hell is going on?

  • wifather2000

    Plutonium-239 has a half life of 240,000 years, 10 half lives to be safe. Have the nuclear power proponents banked enough money to pay for the caretaking of this waste for 2,400,000 years?? Didn’t think so, this is now the taxpayers burden.

    • Clarc King

      Nuclear waste is easily transformed into nuclear fuel via the Integral Fast Reactor technology. We are blessed with nuclear treasure, if we use the brains God has given us.

      • Margaret Flowers

        Easily? Blessed? Lies will not be tolerated. There is no safe nuclear power. Radioactive metals need to stay in the ground where they won’t cause harm.

        • einsteinsoldman

          Really thank you. These apologists always show up with some nonsense. What they refuse to admit is that when it’s out of control, there is no controlling it.

      • wifather2000

        How was the kool-aid?

  • barada

    I think I can speak for and represent the Nuclear Power Industry on this matter:
    Nuclear radiation is good for you, and if more Fukushimas happen, it will be a good thing, and help flowers grow and little puppies look cuter.

    Stop worryin’!
    Nuclear Meltdowns are a GOOD thing. Totally.

    Now shut-up or you will have to be arrested.

  • Albert Stroberg

    not sure what a troll is, but my motivation is a cleaner planet. Nuc Power is still the safest source of energy available. You will not believe me so do the least thing and Google “safest power source” or something like that.
    I am a physician who does not work for the Nuc Industry

  • Southernfink

    A nuclear troll, it takes all kinds..