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Disaster And Dishonesty

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The recent earthquake in Japan caused one of the worst nuclear accidents in history.  At the aptly-named Fukushima nuclear facility, two reactors (#1 and #3) reportedly experienced “partial meltdowns” and hydrogen blasts while a third (#2) experienced “cooling problems”.  Since the Fukushima nuclear crisis began, we were given spotty, uninformative reports about the extent of the damage to the critical equipment, despite assurances that the “reactor vessels remain intact”.  The video depicting the explosion of the containment building for reactor #1 immediately raised questions about the risk of radiation leakage.

Within minutes after the earthquake struck, we were informed about “an incident” at Fukushima reactor #1, involving “overheating”.  We later learned that people within a 6-mile radius of the plant had been evacuated.  Shortly thereafter, the evacuation zone was expanded to 12 miles, resulting in the evacuation of 180,000 people.  Because the cooling systems for reactors #1 and #3 were not operating properly, it became necessary to pump in sea water to cool the fuel rods.  Despite government assurances that there had been no radiation leakage hazard, we later learned that there had been deliberate releases of reactor steam containing radioactive cesium.  The Union of Concerned Scientists provided this bit of information about cesium:

Cesium-137 is another radioactive isotope that has been released.  It has a half-life of about 30 years, so will take more than a century to decay by a significant amount.  Living organisms treat cesium-137 as if it was potassium, and it becomes part of the fluid electrolytes and is eventually excreted.  Cesium-137 is passed up the food chain.  It can cause many different types of cancer.

The news reports concerning the nuclear facility often seemed idiotic.  One article began with an explanation that the explosion at reactor #1 damaged the containment building only, causing the roof to blow off.  Later in the story, we were assured that although a “partial meltdown” may have been taking place within the reactor core, the reactor vessel remained intact.  Then came the remark that even if the reactor vessel began to leak radioactivity, the containment building would prevent the dissipation of those contaminants into the atmosphere.  The reporter apparently forgot about the statement a few paragraphs earlier that the containment building no longer had a roof.  Whoever wrote that story did an obvious, “cut and paste job” without realizing that the reassuring remarks about the containment building were no longer valid.  This was typical of the sloppy reportage of the Fukushima predicament.   .  .  . But hey – it was a weekend! Another tactic frequently employed in the lame coverage of the radiological situation would involve beginning a report with a stale factoid about reactor cooling problems and shifting the focus of the story over to the earthquake itself or to the tsunami.

A good deal of the frustration experienced by those attempting to ascertain the status of the potential nuclear hazards at Fukushima, was obviously due to the control over information flow exercised by the Japanese government.  I began to suspect that President Obama might have dispatched a team of Truth Suppressors from the Gulf of Corexit to assist the Japanese government with spin control.  An article by Norimitsu Onishi, Henry Fountain and Tom Zeller Jr. of The New York Times provided this history of how nuclear power hazards have been handled in Japan:

Over the years, Japanese plant operators, along with friendly government officials, have sometimes hidden episodes at plants from a public increasingly uneasy with nuclear power.

In 2007, an earthquake in northwestern Japan caused a fire and minor radiation leaks at the world’s largest nuclear plant, in Kashiwazaki City. An ensuing investigation found that the operator — Tokyo Electric — had unknowingly built the facility directly on top of an active seismic fault.  A series of fires inside the plant after the earthquake deepened the public’s fear.  But Tokyo Electric said it upgraded the facility to withstand stronger tremors and reopened in 2009.

Last year, another reactor with a troubled history was allowed to reopen, 14 years after a fire shut it down.  The operator of that plant, the Monju Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor, located along the coast about 220 miles west of Tokyo, tried to cover up the extent of the fire by releasing altered video after the accident in 1995.

Such a track record suggests that the lack of information concerning the Fukushima episode is the result of a lack of probity.

Nevertheless, after an entire weekend of attempting to find out what was transpiring in Fukushima, I finally came across an informative article by Thomas Maugh of the Los Angeles Times.  Here is the answer to the question no other media outlets were willing or able to address:

The worst that could happen if all cooling stopped is that the fuel would melt and fall to the floor of the containment vessel.  The containment vessel is designed to hold the hot fuel in, but the type of nuclear reactor in danger at the Fukushima plant —General Electric Mark One boiling water reactors — has been widely reported to have a vulnerability in its design that would let the fuel burn through the floor of the vessel.  If that happened, radiation could spread through the environment, but on a much more limited basis than happened at Chernobyl, where there was no containment vessel and the core contained graphite that burned, dispersing radioactivity widely. A massive plume of radioactive smoke and ash could spread from the site, exposing people for miles away, depending on the wind and weather.

Most news outlets provided us with “answers” from know-nothing politicians such as Chuck Schumer who — when asked about the future of nuclear power in America — seized the opportunity to trumpet the bogus narrative about “foreign oil”, despite the fact that oil is not used to produce electricity.

We are witnessing the hazardous consequences of entrusting unreliable individuals with authority over the use of nuclear reactors.  It’s not looking good.

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