They said this wasn’t like Chernobyl and they were wrong

By Michael Collins
According to an international scientific group monitoring radiation around the world, the Fukushima reactors are emitting nuclear toxins at levels approaching those seen in the “aftermath” of Chernobyl. The Chernobyl disaster began with an explosion, Fukushima is a smoldering cauldron of toxins. Chernobyl had 180 tonnes of nuclear fuel on site. Fukushima has 1700 tonnes of nuclear fuel on site. (Image)

This isn’t the beginning of the end as hoped. It’s looking like the end of the beginning.

CounterPunch ran an interview with Japanese nuclear industry author Hiroshe Takashi just yesterday in which the author lamented the poor reporting of the tragedy in the Japanese press:

“Really, they talk this nonsense, trying to reassure everyone, trying to avoid panic. What we need now is a proper panic. Because the situation has come to the point where the danger is real.” Hiroshe Takashi, March 22

Just two days later, the “proper panic” is on its way.

The Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics of Vienna, Austria has a world wide monitoring system set up to monitor the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. They are well positioned to monitor the effects of the Fukishima disaster.

The group told New Scientist that:

Japan’s damaged nuclear plant in Fukushima has been emitting radioactive iodine and caesium at levels approaching those seen in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident in 1986. Austrian researchers have used a worldwide network of radiation detectors – designed to spot clandestine nuclear bomb tests – to show that iodine-131 is being released at daily levels 73 per cent of those seen after the 1986 disaster. The daily amount of caesium-137 released from Fukushima Daiichi is around 60 per cent of the amount released from Chernobyl. New Scientist, March 24

The concerns about spent fuel rods and cooling polls in the reactor have materialized. The Chernobyl event was more discrete and identifiable with a major explosion but damaged reactors at Fukushima are toxic nonetheless. The Austrian scientists point out that Chernobyl had 180 tons of nuclear on hand while Fukushima has nearly ten times that amount at 1700 tons.

“When the fuel is damaged there is no reason for the volatile elements not to escape,” and the measured caesium and iodine are in the right ratios for the fuel used by the Fukushima Daiichi reactors. Also, the Fukushima plant has around 1760 tonnes of fresh and used nuclear fuel on site, and an unknown amount has been damaged. The Chernobyl reactor had only 180 tonnes. New Scientist, March 24

In his interview on the 22nd, Takashi was blunt about the health risks. He distinguished between radiation in the atmosphere and radioactive particles carried in the atmosphere, then ingested into the body.

Yoh: So making comparisons with X-rays and CT scans has no meaning. Because you can breathe in radioactive material.
Hirose: That’s right. When it enters your body, there’s no telling where it will go. The biggest danger is women, especially pregnant women, and little children. Now they’re talking about iodine and cesium, but that’s only part of it, they’re not using the proper detection instruments. What they call monitoring means only measuring the amount of radiation in the air. Their instruments don’t eat. What they measure has no connection with the amount of radioactive material.
Yoh: So damage from radioactive rays and damage from radioactive material are not the same.
Hirose: If you ask, are any radioactive rays from the Fukushima Nuclear Station here in this studio, the answer will be no. But radioactive particles are carried here by the air. When the core begins to melt down, elements inside like iodine turn to gas. It rises to the top, so if there is any crevice it escapes outside. Hiroshe Takashi, CounterPunch, March 22

The Austrian Institute scientists also pointed out that the spread of radioactive isotopes from Chernobyl are still causing thyroid cancer today:

While in the body the isotopes’ radioactive emissions can do significant damage, mainly to DNA. Children who ingest iodine-131 can develop thyroid cancer 10 or more years later; adults seem relatively resistant. A study published in the US last week found that iodine-131 from Chernobyl is still causing new cases of thyroid cancer to appear at an undiminished rate in the most heavily affected regions of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. New Scientist, March 24

National Public Ratio (NPR) ran an interview with Japanese Green anti nuclear activist Aileen Mioko Smith yesterday. She brought home the rapidly spreading awareness the nuclear disaster in Japan.

She noted that a prominent Japanese scientist reworked the Tokyo Power data on soil contamination within 40 kilometers of Fukushima and found that the levels of contamination could be twice that of similar areas near Chernobyl:

And the soil contamination is really high. Soil found 40 kilometers away—now, remember, it’s still 30 kilometers indoors, stay indoors; 20 kilometers, evacuation. So, beyond that area, for example, north-northwest in Imatate, the levels on the soil were very high—in fact, a thousand times iodine, 4,000 times the cesium standard. And we just got a report from the Kyoto Research Reactor Institute, Dr. Tetsuji Imanaka, that said that—he had to look a little bit more into the sampling of the Japanese government, but depending on how the sampling was done, this level of contamination in the soil could be twice the amount that was compulsory evacuation for Chernobyl. Aileen Mioko Smith, March 24

Smith commented on the “travesty” of Japanese earthquake guidelines for reactors. She said:

And I just want to address that the Japanese government’s earthquake reinforcement requirements, the standards that are in place, even today, at all the nuclear power plants in Japan, is really a travesty. And actually, the Fukushima plant was operating under 1978 guidelines. The new guidelines had been established in 2006, but even those guidelines underestimated this earthquake. The earthquake that happened in Fukushima this time was 140 times or so more than the maximum that was estimated under these new guidelines. And the new guidelines didn’t even take into consideration anything beyond the outer containment, and it didn’t even take into consideration the spent nuclear fuel pools. Aileen Mioko Smith, March 24

The Japanese public has awakened to a new world where tap water is a danger to children and pregnant women, where food from one of the nation’s key agricultural regions may be toxic, and in which there is little safety offered by the guidelines that put in place ticking time bombs that are subject to inevitable natural catastrophes.

The story will continue to unfold and the people of the world will then have to decide on the wisdom of a laissez-faire energy policy that puts entire regions and nations at risk for health and safety.


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Also see Chernobyl: A Million Casualties, taped before Fukushima, now on BlipTV.

7 responses to “They said this wasn’t like Chernobyl and they were wrong

  1. kaboom

    • As they said about ConEd after one of the NYC blackouts in the 1970’s: They don’t care, they don’t have to.

      This story will work around to GE soon, if for no other reason than the Japanese people will make it so. Tokyo Power is finished in its current form. GE will take a terrible hit, maybe hard enough to end it.

  2. Pingback: The Progressive Mind » COTO Report | Full Spectrum Defiance

  3. Plans call for nuclear to be 13% of total US energy by 2030 according to the president’s American Power Act. It was going to make up for 75% of the planned coal reductions in coal. Since there hasn’t even a plant approval since Three mile Island, this disaster seals the deal. The nuclear role, bailouts, loan guarantees, etc. are dead on arrival. What a shame. Maybe they can do loan guarantees for solar and wind?

  4. Today is the day everything turned. That video on the front page on the NY Academy of Science publication on Chernobyl is very important. I read some of that and the East block scientists had very good points on methodology. Their way of seeing makes a lot of sense. They calculated one million deaths.

    Here’s another kicker. The government in Japan has been irrationally exuberant. But look at this.

    Prime Minister Naoto Kan today warned that the situation at the Fukushima nuclear plant was “very grave and serious” as crews halted work to contain the crisis Friday.

    “We are not in a position where we can be optimistic. We must treat every development with the utmost care,” the prime minster said. March 25

    Here’s the translation from an Agonist user who got her family out of Japan just 10 days ago (because she’s very smart):

    This roughly translates as “Get the hell out of here as quickly as possible and as far away as you possibly can.”

  5. Michael: My other half came home from work last night and asked for an update on the news from Japan. I was very sleepy and said “the Japanese PM came on said something or other which was basically code for GET THE HELL OUTTA HERE AS FAST AS YOU CAN”. Thank you for letting me know that I can speak Japanese! The Coto posting with the Helen Caldicott interview from EcoShock is excellent, I suggest everyone listen to it.

  6. Pingback: Is Fukushima About To Blow? | COTO Report

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