Fukushima disaster, cover-up and fears of nuclear explosion

Sandi Keane 20 June 2011, 12:58am
by Sandi Keane

Environment correspondent Sandi Keane provides detailed up-to-date analysis on the Fukushima nuclear disaster, including an exclusive interview with Dr Helen Caldicott. Experts raise the grim possibility of nuclear explosion at the disintegrating plant.

As the true horror of the Fukushima disaster continues to generate a sense of ill-boding, more and more of our friends in Japan, desperate for the truth, are turning to Independent Australia. At Independent Australia, we believe we are short-changed by the mass media. Our credo is to seek out the truth with old-fashioned, dogged, investigative journalism. Starting with David Donovan’s first interview with Dr Helen Caldicott on 15 March, just days after the earthquake and tsunami, we have continued to drill down beyond the soothing words of the Japanese government and the nuclear industry to expose the truth.

One of the reasons Independent Australia has been ahead of the pack on the Fukushima disaster is its regular interviews with Dr Helen Caldicott, whose astute observations from her own sources are often echoed weeks later by the mainstream media (mostly outside Australia). In the interests of those searching for responsible reporting on Fukushima, especially our friends in Japan, we bring you another exclusive interview with Dr Caldicott, who has devoted most of her life to exposing the dangers of the failed nuclear experiment.

THE REASSURING OFFICIAL NUCLEAR LINE ON FUKUSHIMA


In our search for credible sources of news, we start with the Japanese government. Trust them, they’re from the government! Dr Ziggy Switkowskiurges us.In his latest article in The Australian last week, he reassures us that the government is in control of the disaster:

“…the nuclear network performed with amazing resilience, reaffirming confidence in the technology when it''s deployed in more benign geologies”.

And if that doesn’t allay your fears, the advice from the World Nuclear Association is the equivalent of a valium overdose. On the same day that David Donovan posted an update in Independent Australia with Dr Caldicott entitled: ‘Fukushima Meltdown – Caldicott says Japan may become uninhabitable - Media Silent’, John Ritch, Director General of the World Nuclear Association was calling responses to the disaster such as that from Germany as “irrational”.

In his opinion, unbelievably, the extent of the nuclear disaster was just a bit of flooding of a few diesel generators on the east coast of Japan! Here’s the excerpt from an interview in Petroleum Economics, entitled Germany’s Lonely Exit, by Kwok W Wan, 31 May, 2011:

“This irrational action (Germany’s exit from nuclear power) can only be explained by the quirks of German parliamentary politics. It makes no sense for the flooding of a few diesel generators on the east coast of Japan to result in the restructuring of the entire German industrial system.”

Are we all on the same planet? This is not Chicken Little vs. brain dead spin, as I believe some of our readers have accused us of. Where does the truth lie? And do we even have a right to know? Working closely with both the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and the nation''s mainstream media outlets, the Kan administration in Japan maintains the nuclear meltdown situation is largely mitigated and under control. But the independent media is now seeking its own answers from independent scientists, who are in turn picked up by the general media in Japan — sparking a crackdown on those who dare stray from the official line.

JAPANESE POLITICIAN BLOWS WHISTLE ON GOVERNMENT COVER-UP

The Wall Street Journal has come up trumps in shattering any illusion that veteran anti-nuclear campaigners like Dr Caldicott are over-egging the disaster. The WSJ is high profile, just like Ichiro Osawa. Known as Japan’s “Shadow Shogun”, Osawa is no Chicken Little. He was a major reforming force in Japanese politics as president of Japan''s main opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan, from 2006 until May 2009. In an interview with Osawa on May 26, 2011, Osawa echoes Dr Caldicott’s fears that Japan may indeed become uninhabitable.
Ichiro Osawa

“Some day we may not be able to live in Japan. There is the possibility that the power plant can reach the state of criticality again. If it explodes, it’s a huge matter. Radiation is being leaked in order to keep the reactors from exploding. So, in this sense, it’s even worse than letting the power plant explode. Radiation is going to be flowing out for a long period of time.

"This is not a matter of money, but of life and death for the Japanese. If Japan cannot be saved, then the people of Japan are done for. We can always print money. Ultimately the people will have to bear the burden."

Osawa calls on the Japanese Government to do more:

 “It''s been two months, actually 70 days, but the situation at the nuclear reactors is still out of control.

"Government must be determined to put a stop to radioactive pollution no matter what it takes, money or otherwise.” 

Osawa slams the Kan administration for putting together a team made up exclusively of people who depend on nuclear power to make a living, referred to as “members of the nuclear mafia”.

“Did you see all those scholars saying "the crisis is not so terrible," "won''t harm the health at all" on TV? What they say is meaningless because they depend on nuclear power for their livelihood.”

"..the government doesn’t tell the truth…”

[Click here to see Ochiro Ozawa speak about the challenges facing Japan on the Wall Street Journal]


The Japanese politician makes plain what IA has been saying now for two months — there is an official cover-up going on about the full extent of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

 

Reading this chilling account of the deception being played out in Japan, I kept thinking of Ziggy Switkowski’s comment in his aforementioned article in The Australian:

“…no technology ticks as many mandatory boxes as nuclear power.”

What kind of boxes, I wonder, Dr Switkowski? Coffins?

 

Dr Caldicott agrees with Ichiro Osawa about there being a cover-up in Japan and explains the reasons why — big business and big money.

“It is exactly what I’ve been saying for over a month. Very few people are speaking the truth. There is a huge cover-up going in Japan.

“Japan has heavily invested in producing nuclear reactors all over the world. Mitsubishi, Toshiba, TEPCO. That puts their cover up into context. These massive firms obviously don’t want to lose their investment and export trade. That’s why they’ve been obfuscating the data about the accident and lying to the people and the world and inadequately measuring radiation all over Japan.

Dr Caldicott says the Japanese actively hindered international assistance:

“Also they prevented and delayed foreign experts and organisations coming in to help and to monitor the situation. The IAEA and the World Health Organisation should have been there from the start. Not that there is much anyone can do.

“It’s like a surgeon accidently cutting the aorta and there’s nothing you can do except watch the patient bleed to death before your very eyes.

The Japanese Government has been negligent in not informing the Japanese people about the true state of affairs, continues Dr Caldicott:

“Then I read that government officials don’t want to tell people the truth because that’ll create panic. From a medical perspective, we are obliged to get informed consent from our patient; in other words, we must tell them the truth. If that makes them frightened, they have to deal with that — the truth. So, the Government is morally obliged to tell the people of Japan and the world the truth.”

THE FRIGHTENING REALITY OF FUKUSHIMA


Every day, new facts emerge — each more sobering and scary than the last. In early April, the International Atomic Energy Agency had told us that 370,000 terabecquerels escaped from the facility. We are now told to double that figure to 770,000 terabecquerels. One terabecquerel is a trillion becquerels, the standard measure of radiation. The permissible level of iodine-131 for vegetables and fish is 2,000 becquerels per kilogram. What will they tell us tomorrow? I’m not sure, but maybe we are getting the lobster slow boil treatment. Perhaps they think it’s better if we don’t know or don’t notice.

 

The indigestible chunks of information we do get are confusing for non-scientists. How do we make sense of them and their implications for Japan or the rest of the world? Dr Caldicott advised me to subscribe to Arnie Gundersen’s regular reports, which are short and relatively simple. Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Associates has over thirty-nine years of nuclear industry experience and oversight and is a frequent expert witness on nuclear safety matters to the US Federal Government and private industry. He also co-wrote the government’s nuclear reactor de-commissioning handbook.

Like Dr Caldicott, Gundersen believes Fukushima is worse than Chernobyl and is staunchly standing by this claim.

Arnie Gundersen was recently interviewed by Chris Martenson. Gundersen confirmed Caldicott’s earlier interview with me that radioactive water is running out the bottom of the reactors and through cracks in the containment, directly touching uranium, plutonium, cesium and strontium, and then carrying all those radioactive isotopes as liquids and gases out into the environment.

Dr. Caldicott agrees:

“Massive releases of radiation are ongoing every single day into the air and the water from the Fukushima site. And there is no evidence when or if it will ever be stopped. Also, they are now finding curium 244 around the reactors, which is many times more dangerous than plutonium by orders of magnitude as well as the deadly plutonium. Many such dangerous isotopes are being released with impunity.

"As Arnie Gunderson said yesterday, this accident is equivalent to 20 radioactive cores melting. And the three cores in units 1, 2 and 3 have actually melted through their containment vessels, not just melted down. This is called a melt-through by the industry."

“Unprecedented! An absolute total disaster of biblical proportions,” Caldicott concludes.

I asked her about Gundersen’s concern about the impact of the saltwater on Unit 3 because of its effect on iron. He has said that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is afraid that the reactor bottom will literally just break right out and dump everything because of corrosion. Then, the entire core could fall out suddenly and a “steam explosion” could occur – or in other words, a violent hydrogen explosion – although he concedes that this may be only a one in a hundred chance.

Dr. Caldicott is, likewise, concerned about the possibility of another explosion – either steam or hydrogen – and/or another major earthquake, which would release huge amounts of radiation, much more than has already occurred.

“Building No. 4 [which is leaning at an angle about to topple], containing a damaged fuel pool with highly radioactive material, could collapse or the melted larval radioactive cores of units 1, 2 or 3 could hit the concrete floor of the containment building having melted though the reactor vessel, where the molten core would react with the concrete floor to produce a hydrogen explosion, or hit huge amounts of water causing a massive steam explosion. These three events separately would release huge amounts of radiation, like Chernobyl.”

POSSIBILITY OF NUCLEAR EXPLOSION

Dr Caldicott then discussed the possibility of a full nuclear explosion:

 

Nobel Prize nominee Dr Helen Caldicott

“Talking recently to Dr Ian Fairlie a radio-biologist in London, on top of all this, he made the point that it is not out of the realm of possibility there could be an actual nuclear explosion. In that context, he said that unit 1 is still experiencing intermittent periods of criticality. That means there are pockets within the molten core where fissioning is happening.

“We can assess this situation because of the release of certain isotopes with very short half-lives that indicate active fissioning. Fissioning of uranium atoms takes place within a nuclear reactor — a large flux of neutrons induces the splitting of heavy uranium atoms which then release the most massive amounts of energy, e=mc2. The resultant heat then boils the water, which creates steam, which drives a turbine generating electricity.

“It is virtually the same process as blowing up a bomb, but it is a controlled criticality. It is this fissioning process that produces heat in a reactor and the explosion in an atomic bomb"

So we now have a nuclear engineer, a high profile politician, a radio-biologist and a nuclear-savvy physician warning of a possible nuclear explosion from unit 1. Ichiro Osawa is right. The Japanese government needs to do whatever it takes to stop the plant from exploding. You can always print more money but we each have only one life.

 

It is clear we are in unchartered territory, as has been the case with all previous nuclear disasters since we discovered how to split the atom. Who can forget Einstein’s grim prediction:

“The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe…”

We are all complicit through our own ignorance and laissez faire attitude in allowing the nuclear industry and governments around the world to build nuclear reactors that:

  • cannot be guaranteed to withstand the forces of nature;
  • cannot be decommissioned because no government is willing to spend their budget; and
  • whose nuclear waste cannot safely be disposed of.

THE HEALTH DANGERS

In my interview with Dr. Caldicott on May 13, she made the point that, so far, the rest of Japan had been lucky as the wind was blowing from the west. The plume of radiated cloud was blowing out to sea (to the not so lucky residents of the west coast of USA). Caldicott predicted that the wind would change and seasonal rains would come. This would prove disastrous for cities like Tokyo, south of Fukushima.

The wind change was confirmed by Arnie Gundersen. The plume was heading south toward Tokyo. Remember, the plants are still omitting a lot of radiation mainly cesium and strontium. The issue, according to Gundersen, is not the total radiation you might measure with a Geiger counter in your hand, but hot particles.

Hot particles are being picked up in air filters in Tokyo, showing strontium, cesium and americium.

Gundersen is advising people in Tokyo to take their shoes off at the door and use wet dusters to dust the house. Contamination inside houses is higher now than outside because it has been tracked in over the past couple of months. He is also urging friends there to buy HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters and change the filters in their air-conditioning frequently. Likewise the filters in the car.

I asked Dr. Caldicott about Gundersen’s advice for residents living in Tokyo.

“If I lived in Tokyo, I would leave if I had children or was a young woman who wanted to become pregnant. It is medically contra-indicated for people to live there. Fetuses and children are extraordinarily sensitive to the carcinogenic effects of radiation."

The Wall Street Journal also reported this week on the highly toxic levels of strontium detected in seawater and groundwater at Japan''s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex. The Strontium-89 and Strontium-90 isotopes are believed to have been released from the damaged reactors. Environmental experts fear the risk of contamination entering the food chain, a risk increased by the arrival of the wet season (again, as predicted by Dr. Caldicott in her interview with me of May 13).

According to Gundersen, the contamination to worry about in cow’s milk is iodine. This has an 8 day half-life. But he’s worried that iodine is still being found 3 months out which could be the “re-criticality” that he, Caldicott, Osawa and Fairlie mentioned earlier. So, he is advising friends to avoid milk and dairy products for the time being. Washing vegetables is a no-brainer, says Gundersen. Caldicott disagrees, as it only gets rid of external radiation. Best to avoid fish caught in the Pacific as well.

One of the high profile casualties from the hotspot phenomenon has been the green tea crop in Kanagawa and neighboring Shizuoka where cesium was found at a level that exceeded the government’s legal limit by as much as 35%. Shizuoka represents 40% of Japanese green tea exports.

Gundersen has concerns about radiation in the US. The US Food and Drug Administration is not monitoring fish entering the US. One day, a tuna might set off a radiation alarm. People could think it was a dirty bomb. It hasn’t happened yet because the tuna haven’t migrated across the Pacific. But he thinks that by 2013 you might see contamination of the water and in those fish at the top of the food chain.

Air contamination has now also reached Europe. CRIIRAD (the Commission for Independent Research and Information on Radioactivity in English) is the French research authority on radioactivity; whilst it declares that radioactive air contamination is 10 times worse in the USA, it is warning Europeans – particularly pregnant or nursing mothers and children – to:

“avoid the regular consumption of rain water and excessive consumption of vulnerable foods such as leaf vegetables, fresh milk and ricotta /cream cheese)”

And in our direction? Hawaiian farmers have started feeding goats and cows with sodium boron to reduce radiation in milk. It seems we are all at the whim of the winds.

AUSTRALIA’S ROLE IN THE FUKUSHIMA DISASTER

And what of Australia’s role in this global catastrophe? No meaningful dialogue about the morality of the nuclear experiment can occur without questioning our export of uranium, which, no doubt, ended up at Fukushima.

We may be one of the world’s biggest exporters, but did you know that we earned more selling cheese in 2010 than uranium? Check it out with the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Perhaps uranium will catch up with cheese, but why would we take the risk on another disaster like we''ve seen in Japan, just to improve the profit margins of multinational mining companies?

Generations to come will wonder at the greed and stupidity of their forebears. Mine it, build it, make the money and run is the credo of our generation. Leave the problems to future generations who will foot the bill — if they and the planet survive.

Here’s the uranium industry’s plan:

Mine the uranium, sell the uranium, repeat until rich

(Apologies to Dr. Guy Pearse.)

Huge pressure is currently being brought to bear on Australia to become the world’s nuclear waste dump. The view of some is that those at the front end of the cycle – like Australia and Canada, who mine much of the world’s uranium – should take responsibility also for the back end — the non-disposable toxic nuclear waste. Our friend, John Ritch – who we met earlier and who believes that the Fukushima disaster is simply a lot of fuss over the flooding of a few diesel generators – is one who is pushing for Australia to take the world’s waste.

Dr Caldicott clearly despairs of our straying off the moral path:

“We are so morally bereft, it’s beyond my imagination. My country is not discussing the fact that much of the uranium in those reactors is probably Australian uranium which is now polluting much of Japan and indeed a large swath of the northern hemisphere — inevitably over time inducing millions of cancers and genetic disease.

“Martin Ferguson is running around saying we must sell uranium like there’s no tomorrow – and there may not be a tomorrow. What has happened to the moral base of Australia? We used to be so adamant about moral issues. Have we totally lost our moral compass"

Caldicott fears Muckaty Station in the NT, currently proposed by the government for a nuclear waste dump, will become the

“…dark underbelly of the nuclear industry…out of sight, out of mind. After all it is only Aboriginal land! It probably sits over a tributary of the Great Artesian Basin, but who cares?”

Halliburton built the railway link between Alice Springs and Darwin and the railway line is managed by Serco, a UK nuclear waste disposal and transport expert. There is little traffic on the line so, according to Caldicott:

“…it is sitting there for future nefarious use!”

For the full expose on the nuclear waste fantasy proposed by Coalition government (and possibly the current Gillard government), follow the link here.

[You can follow IA on Facebook and Twitter.]

Caldicott reminds us we were once better served by our world leaders:

“President Jefferson once said: “an informed democracy will behave in a responsible fashion”.

“This Australian democracy is totally uninformed about all things nuclear – a situation, which is the antithesis of the past when Australia led the movement against French nuclear testing, when the unions banned uranium mining for 5 years and when we were at the forefront of pushing nuclear disarmament in the 80s.

“Australia is morally reprehensible and it’s time we got on the right track. It’s time we invested in renewable energy – bathed as we are by sun and blown by wind – and led the world to become the energy superpower of the planet.”

Meanwhile, the units at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant are still leaking and emitting radioactive gasses. According to Gundersen, you can see the steam on a cold day. He believes it will take a year or so before this radioactive material cools down and stops boiling. Until then, he says, the units will continue to crank out their deadly steam and radioactive liquids.

This month, the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant will begin to cover the No.1 reactor building with polyester sheets to try to prevent the dispersal of radioactive substances.

No-one has any idea whether this might be the beginning of the end — or just the beginning…

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