It has been well over a year since March 11, 2011 when a 9.0 magnitude earthquake rocked the east coast of Japan, leaving in its wake unfathomable consequences for the Japanese people and many unanswered questions in Japan and the rest of the world regarding the safety of nuclear energy. While the issue has had relatively little coverage as of late, the Fukushima Daiichi accident is considered the worst industrial accident in history and recent reports in the media warn that the situation is far from under control.
The staggering loss of over 15,000 lives and displacement of over 330,000 Japanese people because of the earthquake and tsunami, a series of nuclear meltdowns in reactors 1, 2, and 3, and radioactive re-leases at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, have plunged the country into radical changes, some of which may signify a turning point in embracing renewable energy technology and the phasing out of reliance on nuclear energy.
Originally assessed by Japanese officials as a level 4 incident on the International Nuclear Event Scale, successive assessments of the crisis one month later raised it to a 7, the maximum value, indicating an accident causing serious health and environmental effects and widespread contamination. A nuclear accident of this severity has occurred only once before in history with the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.
Media and scientific reporting on the health effects of radioactive releases from Fukushima since March 2011 have ranged anywhere from negligible to significant. A recent report by the World Health Organization indicates radiation levels in most of Japan are below those causing any increased risk of cancer and exposures in neighboring countries are less effective than an X-ray. But independent nuclear specialists, agencies, and physicians suggest the dangers are being vastly underestimated.
Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds and Associates, an independent nuclear engineer and safety advisor to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Government Agencies in the US, Canada, and internationally, has been studying the situation in Fukushima and considers the two greatest health risks to be the effects of ingesting radioactive hot particles that continuously expose body cells to radiation over time and the massive release of radioactive particles (10x that of what was released in Chernobyl) into the Pacific Ocean where they bio-accumulate in the food chain and show up in seafood and migratory fish. Areas in Japan are now reporting substantial contamination of forests, plants, fresh-water fish, and other food crops. On March 25, 2012 Arnie Gundersen reported that all five of the soil samples he collected and analyzed from Tokyo would be considered toxic waste in the US. A study released by the National Academy of Sciences in the US confirms that radioactive cesium from Fukushima has recently been detected in Pacific Blue-fin tuna off the California coast.
Despite independent monitoring efforts and public concern, the Canadian and US federal governments are not monitoring radiation along the Pacific Coast and Gundersen says that an agreement was signed between the US State Department and the Japanese government to not monitor food imports for radioactivity from Japan. Gundersen suggests that if people are concerned, they should be actively lobbying their local government officials to monitor radiation and test seafood along the Pacific Coast. Numerous alternative health sites recommend eating radiation detoxifying foods such as un-radiated seaweed, miso, chlorella, bee pollen, and foods rich in pectin and supplements such as fulvic acid, vitamin C, and beta carotene to protect the body from Fukushima-related radiation.
Beyond the troubling effects of billions of Becquerel’s of airborne radiation still being released daily from the Fukushima site, which is relatively low compared to peak releases in the initial months following the meltdowns, as well as the continuous run-off of highly radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean from around the damaged reactors, many analysts feel the most pressing and immediate danger to Japan and potentially the entire Northern Hemisphere is the crisis at reactor 4.
In May 2012 CTV news and other international news agencies released reports indicating international concern that an earthquake on the seismically active shelf at Fukushima registering 7 or greater could trigger loss of containment of the fuel pool at reactor 4. This could set off a radiological fire that would surpass anything the world has ever experienced. In the worst case scenario, said Arnie Gundersen, the release of radioactive cesium-137 could be as much as 10 times as that of Chernobyl. It could either volatize into small airborne particles of radioactive cesium and strontium with the potential to contaminate the Northern Hemisphere, or it could fallout as larger particles within Japan and necessitate the evacuation of 35 million in Tokyo.
Fuelled by recommendations by Robert Alvarez on the seriousness of the situation, Akio Matsumura, a former advisor at the U.S. Department of Energy and Japanese diplomat, and Mitsuhei Murata, Japan’s former ambassador to Switzerland, have been lobbying the UN and the international community with an urgent appeal to respond with immediate action to avert a global crisis.
According to Gundersen, there needs to be an immediate mobilization of the international community to assist with humanpower and resources and begin removing Unit 4’s 1535 fuel rods into dry cask storage, a job he says has thus far been handled like a construction project by the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. and has seen no international effort or resources dedicated to date. At present Gundersen says the biggest obstacle to solving the crisis is not technological, but rather in convincing the Japanese government that urgent action beyond their capabilities is required.
In the shadow of the looming crisis, dramatic cultural changes are sweeping Japan as a large anti-nuclear movement predominantly lead by women is gathering force and beginning to challenge the government’s handling of the disaster. In a term coined, “The Fukushima Divorce,” women are deciding to leave Japan with their children even if their husbands are choosing to stay.
Changes to energy policies and support for renewable technologies are also on the rise in Japan. On May 6, 2012, all 54 nuclear power plants representing 35% of Japan’s power generation were shut down for the first time in 50 years. Every 14 months in Japan, nuclear plants are shut down for maintenance and no municipality has given them a license to resume operations since Fukushima.
Not only has Japan mitigated the loss of nuclear energy by reducing its energy consumption by 30%, on July 1, 2012 legislation passed by the Japanese government subsidizing electricity from renewable energy sources will become effective and require utilities to buy electricity from solar, wind, and geothermal sources at above market rates.
Out of necessity, Japan could become a world leader in renewable energy technologies. It saw a 30% increase in solar panel sales in 2011 and plans to build as many as 80 floating wind turbines off the Fukushima coast by 2020.
Naoto Kan, the former Japanese prime minister, stated in a parliamentary inquiry that the risks of nuclear power were too great to the nation and that the only solution was to get rid of them and turn towards renewable energy solutions. However, the pro-nuclear present Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, is already poised for a restart of Japan’s undamaged nuclear reactors despite fierce opposition by Japanese voters. On July 1st, the first nuclear plant was brought back into operation in Ohi, Western Japan amidst the largest public demonstration seen since the Fukushima disaster in March 2011. Another reactor in Ohi is scheduled to restart later this month. It remains to be seen how the nuclear issue unfolds as the summer heats up and a pro-nuclear government facing increasing energy demand collides with public unrest towards nuclear energy and a recent parliamentary panel report finding the disaster was “man-made,” citing governmental, regulator and industry negligence in failing to implement routine reactor safety measures
For comprehensive information and updates on the unfolding Fukushima crisis visit:http://www.fairewinds.com
About the Author
Lisa Bland has lived in wild, beautiful places as long as she can remember and it brings her spirit great joy to give back what she can in return. Lisa synthesizes her passion for writing, photography, and environmental activism with her 20 years of experience in forestry, fisheries, and bird and plant research work, which takes her to spectacular places and on many adventures in British Columbia’s forests, streams, mountains and coastal inlets. Lisa believes that the gratitude and connection felt in wild places sets the mind and spirit right and heals disconnection of the soul. With our last remaining wild ecosystems and creatures on the planet disappearing due to human consumption, she feels it is imperative to bring our focus to them, to protect them and to remember their gift to us. As we learn to know ourselves in the context of belonging to nature, we naturally begin to thrive. As we simplify our needs and connect with the beauty around us, we find it possible to envision more loving and gentle ways to live. For more info about Lisa’s writing and photography, contact her at [email protected]
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