Japan's Nuclear Armageddon Lesson - End Nuclear Power Before
it Ends Us
1. Japan's Nuclear Armageddon (Mina Hamilton in Dissident
2. End Nuclear Power Before it Ends Us (Harvey Wasserman -
Exclusive for Buzzflash at Truthout)
Japan's Nuclear Armageddon and the Experts
by Mina Hamilton
March 16th, 2011 - posted 8:01am
More grim news from Japan. Yet another fire breaks out at a
Fukushima reactor. Searing flames shoot to the sky.
Radiation levels are too high for workers to get close
enough to put out the inferno. Even so, maybe, this fire
will be doused. What's next?
Coming hard on the heels of a monster earthquake and
devastating tsunami, the nuclear disaster unfolding in Japan
is more than heart-breaking. The magnitude of the tragedy is
Who has not groaned seeing pictures of the tsunami-claimed
bodies? Who has not wept seeing thousands and thousands of
Japanese mourning the loss of family, loved ones and homes?
Who does not wince at the desperate refugees without water
or food packed into freezing shelters?
Now add to the untold miseries multiple reactor core
meltdowns? And a fuel pool meltdown? Plus, a radioactive
plume heading out over the Pacific to deposit its toxic load
in the ocean and its rich fisheries? Not to mention the
threat of the wind shifting and carrying the radioactivity
towards Tokyo? Korea?
It is understandable for those of us watching from a
distance to feel hopeless. What can I do? Who doesn't want
to turn off the TV, climb under the covers - and leave the
unfolding disaster in the hands of the experts?
If there's one lesson this catastrophe should convey: don't
leave it to the experts.
These experts got us here in the first place. One example:
what the industry and most media commentators refer to as
"Spent" fuel? What's that?
"Spent" is an industry-euphemism. It implies something
harmless, wasted or used up. Quite the opposite.
Spent fuel is irradiated fuel: fuel that has been irradiated
inside a nuclear reactor's core. After removal from the
reactor, this fuel is massively contaminated with
radioactive elements and must be stored in giant pools.
On March 15 the New York Times said these fuel pools "could
pose an even greater danger" than the reactors melting down.
An even greater danger? isn't a core meltdown as bad as it
Alas, a fuel pool meltdown could be worse than a reactor
core meltdown. Much worse. This is because fuel pools
contain far more radioactivity than that which is inside a
reactor core. Unfortunately, at Fukushima we may get both
types of meltdowns.
Robert Alvarez, formerly of the US Department of Energy and
now at the Institute of Policy Studies, provided insight
into this potential nuclear Armageddon. In a recent blog
Alvarez states the fuel in each of the pools at the
Fukushima complex has 5 to 10 times the radioactivity of the
fuel inside one reactor core. And much of this radioactive
material is the highly toxic and long-lived radionuclide,
Another problem: Unlike the reactor cores, which have a
hefty, six-inch thick steel containment vessel, the fuel
pools at Fukushima are in unhardened and therefore highly
vulnerable concrete structures. The roof of one of these
structures has been completely demolished in at least one of
the stricken reactors, Unit 4.
Why is irradiated fuel sitting in pools? (They're sort of
like swimming pools, though considerably deeper. About 40
feet long, 40 feet wide and 45 feet deep.)
After removal from the reactor core, the irradiated fuel is
fiendishly hot. The fuel is so hot it will cause the water
it is immersed in to boil - if the water is not cooled. What
if fuel pool's cooling systems fail? Disaster. If the water
is not cooled for a certain number of days or weeks, the
water will boil off. Next, the fuel can catch fire,
releasing its toxic load to the environment.
Given the repeated explosions at the Fukushima reactors and
the latest fire at Unit 4, this count-down to an irradiated
fuel pool meltdown appears to be underway.
Pools of water hanging up in the air? With no back-up water
circulation, no back-up generators? Pools not in hardened or
sealed containments? Pools stuffed to the gills with
extraordinarily toxic materials that are now threatening the
health and safety of thousands of already suffering Japanese
Citizens have, over the last 30 years, repeatedly challenged
the safety of irradiated fuel pools and repeatedly the
nuclear industry and its experts have said, no problem.
Yes, right now, we all need to do whatever we can to assist
the Japanese people.
For the longer term, however, let's remember the nuclear
industry and its "experts" got us to this extremely
dangerous moment. An informed, organized and determined
citizenry is the only way to free us of our dependency upon
this exceedingly dangerous and unforgiving energy source.
[Mina Hamilton is a writer based in New York City. Formerly
she was the Co-founder and Director of the Radioactive Waste
Campaign. She frequently writes about nuclear issues. She
also is a Life Coach and teaches yoga. She is the author of
Serenity To Go: Calming Techniques for Your Hectic Life. ]
End Nuclear Power Before it Ends Us
by Harvey Wasserman
Exclusive for Buzzflash at Truthout
March 16, 2011
The Japanese people are now paying a horrific price for the
impossible dream of the "Peaceful Atom." For a half-
century they have been told that what's happening now at
Fukushima would never occur.
Our hearts and souls must first and foremost go out to them.
As fellow humans, we must do everything in our power to ease
their wounds, their terrible losses and their unimaginable
grief. We are also obliged---for all our sakes---to make
sure this never happens again. In 1980, I reported from
central Pennsylvania on what happened to people there after
the accident at Three Mile Island a year before. I
interviewed scores of conservative middle Americans who
were suffering and dying from a wide range of radiation-
related diseases. Lives and families were destroyed in an
awful plague of unimaginable cruelty. The phrase "no one
died at Three Mile Island" is one of the worst lies human
beings have ever told.
In 1996, ten years after Chernobyl, I attended a conference
in Kiev commemorating the tenth anniversary of that
disaster. Now, another fifteen years later, a definitive
study has been published indicating a death toll as high as
Today we are in the midst of a disaster with no end in
sight. At least four reactors are on fire. The utility has
pulled all workers from the site, but may now be sending
some back in.
The workers who do this are incomparably brave. They remind
us, tragically, of some 800,000 Chernobyl "Liquidators."
These were Soviet draftees who were sent into that seething
ruin for 60 or 90 seconds each to quickly perform some
menial task and then run out.
When I first read that number---800,000---I thought it was a
typographical error. But after attending that 1996
conference in Kiev, I spoke in the Russian city of
Kaliningrad and met with dozens of these Chernobyl veterans.
They tearfully assured me it was accurate. They were angry
beyond all measure. They had been promised they would not
encounter health problems. But now they were dying in
How many will die at Fukushima we will never know. Never
have we faced the prospect of multiple meltdowns, four or
more, each with its own potential for gargantuan emissions
If this were happening at just one reactor, it would be
cause for worldwide alarm.
One of the units has been powered by Mixed Oxide Fuel. This
MOX brew has been heralded as a "swords into ploughshares"
breakthrough. It took radioactive materials from old
nuclear bombs and turned them into "peaceful" fuel.
It seemed like a neat idea. The benefits to the industry's
image were obvious. But they were warned repeatedly that
this would introduce plutonium into the burn chain, with a
wide range of serious repercussions. Among them was the fact
that an accident would spew the deadliest substance ever
known into the atmosphere. If breathed in, the tiniest
unseen, untasted particle of plutonium can cause a lethal
case of lung cancer.
But like so many other warnings, the industry ignored its
grassroots critics. Now we all pay the price.
For 25 years the nuclear industry has told us Chernobyl
wasn't relevant because it was Soviet technology. Such an
accident "could not happen here."
But today it's the Japanese. If anything, they are better
at operating nuclear reactors than the Americans. Japanese
companies own the Westinghouse nuclear division, whose basic
design is in place throughout France. Japanese companies
also own the GE nuclear division. Among others, 23 of their
US reactors are extremely close or virtually identical in
design to Fukushima I, now on fire.
Jeffrey Immelt, head of GE, is one of the many heavy
corporate hitters now advising Barack Obama. Obama says (so
far) that he has no intention of changing course in nuclear
policy. That apparently includes a $36 billion new reactor
loan guarantee giveaway in the 2012 budget. Energy
Secretary Steven Chu has made clear he considers the
situation at US reactors very different from those in Japan.
Essentially, he says, "it can't happen here."
Chu and others keep saying that our choice is between nukes
and coal, that atomic energy somehow mitigates global
warming. This is an important sticking point for millions
of concerned citizens, and an important and righteous legion
of great activists, who see climate chaos as the ultimate
But especially in light of what's happening now, it's based
on a non-choice. Nukes are slow to build, soaring in cost
and clearly have their own emissions, waste and safety
problems. The ancillary costs of coal and oil are soaring
out of reach in terms of environmental, health and other
negative economic impacts. The "bridging fuel" of gas also
faces ever-higher hurdles, especially when it comes to
fracking and other unsustainable extraction technologies.
The real choice we face is between all fossil and nuclear
fuels, which must be done away with, as opposed to a true
green mix of clean alternatives. These safe, sustainable
technologies now, in fact, occupy the mainstream. By all
serious calculation, solar is demonstrably cheaper, cleaner,
quicker to build and infinitely safer than nukes. Wind,
tidal, ocean thermal, geothermal, wave, sustainable bio-
fuels (NOT from corn or soy), increased efficiency, revived
mass transit all have their drawbacks here and there. But
as a carefully engineered whole, they promise the balanced
Solartopian supply we need to move into a future that can be
both prosperous and appropriate to our survival on this
As we see now all too clearly, atomic technology is at war
with our Earth's eco-systems. Its centralized, heavily
capitalized corporate nature puts democracy itself on the
brink. In the long run, it contradicts the human imperative
to survive. Today we have four reactors on the coast of
California that could easily have been ripped apart by a 9.0
Richter earthquake. Had this last seismic hit been taken on
this side of the Pacific, we would be watching nightly
reports about the horrific death toll in San Luis Obispo,
the catastrophic loss of the irreplaceable food supply from
the Central Valley, and learned calculations about the
forced evacuations of Los Angeles and San Diego.
There are nearly 450 atomic reactors worldwide. There are
104 here in the US.
Faced with enormous public demonstrations, the Prime
Minister of Germany has ordered their older reactors shut.
At very least this administration should follow suit.
The Chinese and Indians, the biggest potential buyers of new
reactors, are said to be "rethinking" their energy choices.
As a species, we are crying in agony, to the depths of our
souls, from compassion and from fear.
But above all, the most devastating thing about the
catastrophe at Fukushima is not what's happening there now.
It's that until all the world's reactors are shut, even
worse is virtually certain to happen again. All too soon.
[Harvey Wasserman edits the NukeFree.org website, and is
author of SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH.]
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