Fukushima Core Failure a Level 7 (the Worst)

It’s official. The Fukushima nuclear core failure is now more like what happened in Chernobyl than what happened a Three Mile Island, and is being declared a Level 7 nuclear emergency– one that has wide effects on human health.

I was in London during Chernobyl, and I remember them telling us that children or pregnant women or women trying to get pregnant couldn’t drink milk or eat lettuce, and now the same warnings are being given out by an NGO in France, with an announcement that the radiation risk for Europeans from Fukushima is “no longer negligible.”

Here is a news report on the situation:

Another big aftershock hit Japan on Monday, further delaying work at the plant.

German t.v. reports that a leaked memo from TEPCO partner AREVA suggests very substantial release of plutonium from the plant.

Switzerland is now considering abandoning nuclear power.

I really like Japan, and am devastated by what they are living through; why should one people have to suffer so much from atomics?

I hope that the tragedy at least impels a big new push for green energy and billions in research and development money toward that end. Only if we have new breakthroughs in solar, wind, wave, batteries, etc., will all this suffering have been redeemed a bit.

13 Responses

  1. yes
    we have one here in vermont
    after forty years
    they want to re-license
    it for twenty more years

    vermont is unique in that
    it is the only state that can
    nix their plans through
    the legislature [and they have]

    it is of the same design
    and manufacturer as Fukushima

    ’nuff said
    don’t ya think ?

    and of course
    they will skirt
    full [and prompt]
    de-commissioning

    [entergy]

  2. Jeeeeez…..

    We have a six-reactor complex in which four of the reactor complexes suffered explosions (two simply “blew up,” on live television no less). Three suffered some measure of meltdown. Two are suffering leakages from locations yet to be determined. Few of the close radiation monitors still operate. The complete picture of the extent of the damage is yet to be determined. The environment has been heavily contaminated.

    Throughout the entire sorry episode the various layers of government (not to mention the operator itself) have worked to obscure the extent of this catastrophic event from all of us.

    First, last and always prevent fear. If citizens know the truth they might just act in ways that cause the GDP to fall.

    The God concept in this sorry period of human history is “growth” at any cost.

  3. Dear Dr. Cole, thanks so much for your warm words. Life in Tokyo is very much different from that of Chernobyl, as Fukushima is far from Tokyo; we have the ordinary life here. What we are suffering from are the repeated after-shock quakes, which is relatively weak, but enough to make us feel uneasy, and the ambiguous announcements of our government. Of course we can’t help feeling anxious about the radiation release, and so sad to see more people told to leave their house. Some farmers do not allow themselves to evacuate, saying that they can’t leave their cows. Rehabilitation seems to be a great challenge, and take more than a decade.

  4. Juan,

    let me point out that, right now, the japanese are suffering from an earthquake and a tsunami; the nuclear disaster has not killed anyone, as far as I know, and to stop drinking milk or eat lettuce is not the worst thing on earth.

    Coal and oil are killing many people each year, so things are hardly black and white.

    Developing renewable energies would be a good thing, but they will come with their own problems.

    Actually, energy is dirty and dangerous, and the only good energy is the one that is not used.

    Reducing consumption is the most important path to survival, the one that should be stressed again and again.

  5. Thanks for the link to the German TV spot. Chilling report. The German MSM coverage on Fukushima has been franker than the US reports.

  6. Er, if the radiation level for Europe from Fukushima is “no longer negligible” what does that say about the risk in America? As far as I know, the bulk of the stuff has been heading for the Pacific, where currents will eventually bring it our way…should we be avoiding milk and leafy green vegetables?

    And for Americans who don’t know one radioactive material from another: plutonium is Very Bad News. I once read that a couple pounds of the stuff (I think it was one pound, but it might have been as many as five), distributed properly, could kill every man, woman and child on the planet. If the Germans are correct about a major plutonium release, well, this could be precisely the sort of distribution mechanism that could end a whole lot of life, human and otherwise.

    My heart goes out to the people of Japan. I hope at a minimum that this leads The Powers That Be to give more serious consideration to where they are building or currently operating nuclear power plants.

    I’m originally from California, and always found it mind-boggling that they insisted on building them in earthquake country. Until recently, I never knew that Japan had nuclear power plants, but it raises precisely the same concerns: Japan has a long history of both major earthquakes and tsunamis (hell, the latter term is their word). But they also have probably the best earthquake-related building codes on the planet (and again, I say that as a former Californian). So I really have to wonder what the local authorities were thinking locating a plant in an area vulnerable to both natural disasters — especially considering that one (tsunamis) is usually triggered by the other (earthquakes).

  7. We do not need breakthroughs in clean energy. Study after study has proven we have the technology now, and there is no reason not to proceed. It is the power of political lobbies, and the lack of strong political leadership that is holding us back.

  8. A reminder that you got exactly what you voted for:

    “WASHINGTON—

    Obama administration officials Monday brushed aside calls for a freeze on new U.S. nuclear power development, and sought to reassure the public the nation’s nuclear facilities are safe and the threat of harmful radiation reaching U.S. soil from Japan is minimal.”

    link to online.wsj.com

    Obama Took More Money From Nuclear Energy Execs Than Any Other ’08 Candidate

    link to perdidostreetschool.blogspot.com

    “Mr Chu said that the administration will not withdraw the plan it has put forward in next year’s Budget for another $36bn (£22bn) in government-guaranteed loans for companies trying to build new reactors. ”

    link to telegraph.co.uk

  9. Expat in Toyko here. A major concern is that little to no definite info is being released by the government, by TEPCO, by anyone. Every other day the reports are different; it’s under control, now it’s leaking, now it’s manageable, now we have to dump 10,000 tons(!) of radioactive water into the ocean. The uncertainty of it all is affecting everyone – nobody really knows exactly what is going on in Fukushima.

    There have been increased calls for a turn away from nuclear energy. The ocean current and sheer power of the waves along several parts of Japan’s coast could provide quite a lot of power. Currently, though, a huge portion of Japan’s power is reliant on the nuclear plants. It will be a long time before alternative resources are constructed and available, not to mention the lengthy transitional period.

    For a final note, there have been several aftershocks since March 11. Smaller ones occur practically every day, and larger ones such as yesterday’s and last weekend’s are unfortunately not uncommon. The last two mentioned were both 6.0+ in Fukushima; in California they would be considered earthquakes in their own right, not aftershocks.

  10. I don’t understand how such a diversity of such highly educated and intelligent persons can not grasp the concept of risk assessment. I am confident that those in charge of the building of the Fukushima plant engaged in a thorough risk assessment and didn’t just slap it up with a “what the hell, why not build here?” I’ve not been there but it seems a reasonable assumption that Japan takes nuclear power seriously as well as earthquakes and that they built to withstand what was reasonable and expected according to their analyses. Yes, mother nature can always defeat whatever man attempts to achieve. There will always be a bigger earthquake, hurricane, volcano; the human response is never going to be that there is no point in going forward or in trying to improve upon the technology. Experts used to agree the human body could not sustain speeds in excess of 20 mph. It can be reasonably assumed that those first few cavemen that harnessed fire burned up their villages not realizing that straw bedding and fire don’t mix, so eventually they dug a pit and put stones around it to keep the heat source from destroying everything around it. We are part of mother nature and our evolution has been to keep adapting to protect ourselves from her.

    If we convert all our energy resources to wind and solar eventually there will be “big wind” and “big solar” that will have used unfair political advantages in order to execute their diabolical plan to kill all the migrating birds. Naysayers will never be happy. Like fundamentalists their only goal is to tell others how they should be living their lives and it is always about the same things fundamentalists go on about, the evils of materialism and consumption and provocatively dressed women.

    Tell all the people with cancer we need to get rid of nuclear power. Their responses might be “Ummmm but that’s how I got rid of my cancer.” Japan is not the USSR they are monitoring doses for the workers and making every effort to prevent anyone exceeding maximum dose requirements, not simply ordering, at the point of a gun or threat of a gulag, workers to martyr themselves.

    Nuclear power is the current best option for bringing much of the third world to the industrial age, 100 yrs ago for us. It’s inexpensive and the overall safety record is quite good. Better than, say, the automobile. We ignore the racism and oppression inherent in the idea of “preserving traditional cultures” when what we’re really doing is preserving their impoverishment using the stereotype of the Noble Savage.

    Ralph Nader tells the story of how Ford and Firestone et al gathered together to make the plan for the nation’s energy and economic future to ensure their pockets were lined and it was all diabolically evil. While they certainly ensured their financial gain, who among us wouldn’t, they also understood that our food production and our energy production should not be in competition with each other. My family of Iowa farmers have leased land for windmills and they are being paid very well for it. They are also reaping the financial benefits of ethanol. The vilification has already begun about corn/food prices and the pollution of ethanol plants. I apologize for all the digressions.

      • I would like to hear more about this. How tall are they because migrating birds fly at a variety of heights? The city that I live in has the dubious distinction of having experienced the largest ever bird kill, 40k birds in a single night, or possibly 2 nights, related to a television tower, which is much higher than a wind turbine. Also a different type of structure with the stabilization wires etc. But still I don’t see how increasing the height of the turbines simply takes care of that complex problem for all species of migrating birds. When I drive from where I live to where I’m from I drive through about 150 miles of nearly contiguous wind farm. Will those thousands of turbines be replaced for the bird-safe higher turbines?

        I’m not an expert on wind energy or any type of energy. But I have a very good friend who has been on the board of directors for a local energy co-op for over 25 years. This co-op has a very divers portfolio of energy sources including a methane fired turbine at our local landfill. What I understand from him is that wind is actually a very expensive source of energy and has very limited application because of the multitude of requirements; landscape, avg wind speeds, the costs of maintaining what is essentially an energy plant that extends for 10s of thousands of acres, etc. They are also not controllable in terms of use vs energy production ratios. Traditional power plants can be ramped up and down according to energy use thus extending the life of the plant. With wind turbines they produce when the wind is blowing according to how much the wind is blowing. The last time I drove home the entire 150 miles was shut down because the turbines were producing much more energy than could be accommodated on the grid and there is no means of storing the energy. So by my friend’s estimates wind energy costs as much as 30% more than traditional energy sources.

        Most of us that support greening do so with a pocket book to match and little regard for real life actualities until we can attach a corporate villainy to it.
        The electric car is a great example. In 120 yrs we went from zero automobiles to 130 million. Right now the publicity for electric cars is that we will plug them in at night when electric use is low and costs are less, etc. What happens when there is 130 million of them being plugged in at night? There will be no low use discount. The power plants’ life expectancies are calculated with those low energy use times included so now the electric car has decreased the life expectancy of a traditional power plant by half and doubled the same plant’s waste production aka green house gases, thus accelerating the problem of global climate change if at that point in time we still accept the current theory. The narrative will again be that corporate interests superseded the health and safety of the public and the environment.

    • I don’t think anyone here is advocating for entirely abolishing nuclear energy sources but instead to control their proliferation and our reliance upon them. There obviously is a significant risk factor involved; who knows what the long term effects of this latest disaster will be. Keep in mind that Japan and most of coastal Eastern Asia have diets that are largely seafood-based, how will dumping large amounts of radioactive water into their food supply not have negative effects?
      Wind and solar are renewable and essentially infinite resources, unlike coal, gas, oil, and nuclear energy. Sure there will always be those who make money but the benefits of establishing naturally occurring, non-lethal resources are obvious. Focusing on those resources along with very limited uses of nuclear power would be more beneficial in the long run for developing nations and peoples. Wind and solar are cheaper, easier to utilize, and safer than nuclear energy, they are the better option overall.
      With regards to Fukushima, that plant was built near a major fault line in an earthquake-prone region. It doesn’t matter how much testing you do, it was and is a dumb idea, especially considering that this latest quake isn’t even the “big one”. Fukushima wasn’t even the biggest concern for nuclear incidents due to natural disasters, see Hamaoka. Talking about risk assessment and reasonable assumptions is fine when discussing profit/loss scenarios or next year’s budget, it is not enough when hundreds of thousands of lives are at stake.

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