What are the Options for a World Losing Its Future Generations?
The computer image below of the Pacific Ocean produced by a team of oceanographers at the GEOMAR Centre in Germany, shows the estimated spread of radioactive Cesium by March of 2015, just four years after the destruction of Fukushima, Japan.
Because governments keep raising the “safe” limits for radioactivity in food, it is a little hard to say what the consequence will be, but it is clear that radiation is carried by air and by sea, and has been finding its way into our food chain and water supply since the accident occurred.
Even so, this computer simulation may be a bit of an understatement. It does not take into account the announcement in September, 2013, from the Japanese government stating that some 3-hundred to 4-hundred tons of radioactive water have been leaking uncontrollably into the Pacific Ocean every day, and radiation levels are many times higher than what has been reported.
What we know is that radioactive fuel rods from the melted reactors are burning their way down into the earth and radioactively contaminating the groundwater that flows under the nuclear facility, which then pours into the Pacific.
An underground wall was constructed in recent months as a dam to block the flow of ground water, but this had the unintended consequence of raising the local water table until the ground has become saturated and mushy and may not be able to support the heavy nuclear-reactor buildings above. At the same time, the ground water is simply going around the barrier into the ocean.
Dr. Janette Sherman, radiation expert states: “… my concern is the enormous amount of radioactive material flowing ... into the Pacific Ocean. And we know that the ocean flows northward along Alaska and down the coast of Canada and the United States. And I think it probably will imperil the entire Pacific Ocean, and the sea life that’s in it.”
How Did it Begin?
On the afternoon of March 11, 2011, a seismic event occurred deep in the ocean off the east coast of Fukushima, Japan. As in the beginning stages of a war, the early estimates of damage to property and lives badly underestimated what was to come.
Only in the past few months have we begun to grasp the scope of what is happening to the world as Fukushima unfolds. A growing economic and health-care meltdown in Japan is only the first casualty of this war.
Early on, the then Prime Minister of Japan, Mr. Naoto Kan invoked the Japanese Emergency Law, Article 15, ordering a clamp-down on all government agency news releases. Japan, like the United States, has a law that allows government censorship when it feels threatened. Even so, the clamp-down could not save Mr. Kan’s career.
The denials began almost as soon as the first waves struck the six-reactor facility. Built perilously on shifting landfill extending out into the ocean, and protected from the open sea by only a short wall, Fukushima Daiichi was built like a circus balancing act.
With thousands of still-radioactive fuel rods submerged in cooling pools, and perched nearly one-hundred feet above the ground, Fukushima was designed as though nothing could ever go wrong. The entire facility, in fact, was built on the gamble that it would have an uninterrupted supply of electricity... forever.
Almost three years later, despite the suicidal efforts of more than one-thousand emergency workers and technicians, TEPCO (the utility that owns the nuclear power facility) has not been able to stop massive radiation releases.
As satellite images and computer models confirm, eventually we all share the same air and water. But being downwind of Japan, and directly in the path of rain clouds and ocean currents, the United States shares air and water with Japan much sooner than most other countries.
Of the many radioactive isotopes identified in the Fukushima fallout, iodine 131, cesium 137, strontium 90, uranium 235, and plutonium 239 are generating the most attention.
The heavier elements, uranium 235 and plutonium 239 tend to fall to the ground and sink to the ocean floor, yet they are being consumed by fish that migrate nearly everywhere.
The lighter elements, such as cesium follow the air and ocean currents and can circle the Earth many times before they fall to the ground or come down in the rain. Inevitably, areas with the highest rain fall are the hardest hit as cesium settles into our cities, pastures, livestock, food, and water.
Sea life, including polar bears, seals, and widely harvested fish, such as salmon and tuna, are beginning to show signs of radiation contamination.
Following the explosion at Chernobyl in 1986, radioactive iodine and cesium were responsible for the greatest damage to human health and life, bringing suffering and birth defects to children being born even today. According to Paul Fusco, a photographer who made a documentary of the region, in the Republic of Belarus alone, almost five-hundred thousand children are victims of Chernobyl. Please see his documentary here:
In Fukushima today, plans are in place to begin removing the still-radioactive fuel rods, one at a time, from the cooling pool of reactor 4 (SFP 4) which has an estimated 1,535 rods, or close to 400 tons of explosive nuclear fuel. Computerized cranes cannot be used because the building is now a twisted wreck, so humans will have to visually control the cranes, something never before done.
It should be noted that reactors in countries the world over, including the United States, follow this same practice of perching leftover fuel rods in high places, increasing the risk that one fuel rod will touch another and generate a nuclear explosion.
Yet TEPCO has few options at this point. Experts warn that if the damaged structures should collapse from an earthquake, the resulting fires and explosions of the spent fuel rods could force the evacuation of Japan, and radiation would envelop the entire northern hemisphere for centuries to come.
It is this sobering possibility that has brought nuclear-power generation virtually to a halt in Japan and spawned secret contingency proposals for mass relocations.
Because air and ocean currents move mostly clockwise north of the equator and mostly counterclockwise south of the equator, pollution tends to stay in one hemisphere or the other for a long time. Knowing this, Dr. Helen Caldicott, M.D., winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, stated in a lecture delivered to Physicians for Social Responsibility that if SFP 4 collapses, she and her family will evacuate Boston and move to Australia.
Is There Progress?
Inside the reactor buildings themselves, neither robots nor humans seem to be capable of getting close to the melted fuel cores, and by now they are tunneling deep into the earth.
At least five robots to date have been destroyed by the radiation, and humans can only work for short intervals, and even then only at a distance, so with today’s technology both humans and robots have limits.
The nuclear industry ran into those limits in 1986 after the explosion at Chernobyl. On the morning of April 26th, when fires and explosions demolished reactor 4, Ukraine firemen went in, knowing the danger they faced. Many died that very day from radiation. Their boots and gloves and jackets still remain scattered in the basement of a small, on-site hospital that was incapable of taking care of them.
Later, when the Soviet Union paid Germany a small fortune to send in robots to inspect the damage, the robots failed, too. Under such intense radiation, both electronics and biological systems fail.
One single accident of this intensity and magnitude can ruin a nation. In fact one of the seminal events that brought down the Soviet Union was Chernobyl. As described by Mikhail Gorbachev, then General Secretary of the communist party, over a span of just two years Chernobyl crippled the Soviet economy and forced openness and accountability upon their once secretive government.
In Japan, the financial impact is only now beginning as Japan has fallen behind India in GDP.
Nearly everyone agrees, Fukushima will have an impact that is many times that of Chernobyl. Yet, the damage is difficult to assess due to the long half-life of most radioisotopes and the latency of diseases caused by genetic mutations.
Even now, twenty-seven years after the meltdown at Chernobyl, the plant continues to leak, and the young people, in particular, suffer from high rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Birthrate, too, is falling below population replacement levels.
Today, at the Fukushima plant, a multistory “tent” covers reactor #1, helping to contain the “hot” radioactive particles. The plan was to forcibly vent the particles out of enormous chimneys using powerful exhaust fans. This would reduce the ambient radiation inside the reactor building, with the hope of allowing workers to go inside.
It may have been a step forward, yet tents above ground will do nothing to contain the radioactive water and fuel that is escaping into the ocean, due to cracks in the floor of the reactor buildings.
Aside from the inability of workers to get too close to the melted fuel for too long, the slow pace of repair is understandable, given the alarmed reports of deep fissures opening up in the ground, with radioactive steam escaping.
An unidentified Fukushima worker stated in an email, “A lot of the cracks came up in the ground. Massive steam is coming up from there. It’s too smoggy here. Can’t see a thing. It seems like a nuclear reaction is happening underground. Now, we are evacuating. Watch out for the direction of the wind.”
According to Dr. Robert Jacobs of the Hiroshima Peace Institute, cracks in the earth opened up soon after two 6.0+ earthquakes hit Fukushima in July and August, 2011. Pipes may have burst and the concrete reactor buildings may have ruptured, releasing tens of thousands of tons of radioactive water and/or fuel into the soil. Once molten fuel reaches the water table, steam is produced, opening cracks in the earth as it forces its way to the surface, even as the radioactive fuel burns deeper.
Such a possibility was introduced in the 1979 movie, The China Syndrome. If a reactor were located in a remote desert area, any melt-down that burned completely through the floor of the reactor building into the earth might not cause too much concern.
Fukushima, on the other hand, like many reactors in the United States, is built on the ocean. For this reason, any fissures spilling radioactive waste are poisoning the entire Pacific, including the rain clouds that form above it, the migratory birds that land on it and feed, and all sea life within.
Where is the Radiation Going?
All modern governments are aware of the threat radioisotopes can pose to health. Yet, social conscience often is in short supply when a country’s economy is at stake.
Following the meltdown at Chernobyl, which produced fallout over much of Europe and the Soviet Union, nations often knowingly exported contaminated produce and dairy products to their neighboring countries. Up and down the ranks, government officials simply turned a blind eye.
Things are no different today. The exporting of radiation in food and manufactured goods continues, ranging from seaweed products to used cars. The exporting of toxic isotopes, in fact, has become a new form of warfare.
Throughout the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars, tens of millions of pounds of depleted uranium (a waste product of the nuclear industry) have been converted into munitions.
These munitions are being exported to the Middle East, where millions of rounds have been fired. Uranium is incendiary and vaporizes on impact, and it scatters a fine dust throughout and around populated areas. Everyone in the region, including US troops, is at risk. Birth defects, cancer, and genetic disorders that pass from generation to generation will be the result. Belarus is proof.
The tragedy of birth defects cannot be described. Dr. Caldicott and other medical authorities are reporting, with stories and pictures, the heartbreaking effects of radiation on the newborns.
Birth defects are epidemic in Fallujah, Baghdad, and other regions in Iraq where some of the heaviest fighting has taken place. Children and newborns often are so severely defective as to be hardly recognizable as human. Doctors in Fallujah, Dr. Caldicott reports, are mercifully telling women not to have babies.
Ignorant of the same potential consequences, cities and prefectures in Japan have been instructed to collect and burn as much radioactive debris and rubble as they can find. This includes crops that normally would be plowed under, building materials, roofing, and anything else that can be scraped off or torn down and thrown in a heap and burned. Unburnable debris will be buried in landfill.
In coastal areas alone, this debris amounts to more than 4.35 million metric tons (almost 10 billion pounds of debris). With all the incinerating facilities in northern Japan in operation, this debris is expected to take no less than two and one-half years to burn, from October 2011 to March 2014.
In the United States, radioactive debris of this nature is mandated to be buried in areas where it could be expected to stay for thousands of years. The same should be done in Japan. It will help neither North Americans nor the Japanese to take radioactive material that already has settled to the ground and send it back up into the atmosphere, by burning it, for wider distribution over populated areas.
Such decisions are increasingly becoming public knowledge, and the anger level is rising. Face-saving decisions that show disregard for public safety, when uncovered, are no longer getting a free pass.
Even so, in Japan the national and regional governments are doing little to help homeless and jobless residents, and social problems such as divorce have increased. As reported in Russia Today, Jan Beranek, a member of Greenpeace, who investigated the fallout from Fukushima, says the “Japanese are encouraged to return to their normal lives unaware of the dangers they face in the contaminated area.”
“I personally find it very disturbing, because on the one hand you see the Japanese authorities forcing people and society to get back to normal… and yet at the same time there are still extremely high levels of radiation and the contamination of the soil, and also potentially in the food.”
“This is just unbelievable, because at those levels of exposure it certainly poses a risk to the lives and health of the people. If you draw a parallel to the Chernobyl disaster, then actually the Soviets decided to evacuate everyone living in the place, where radiation was three to four times lower than what we see in Fukushima City today.” Beranek personally visited the Chernobyl area after the 1986 disaster.
The fact that most radiation poisoning is not easily seen is deceptive. The real tragedy will become apparent over the next two to five years and beyond, as children are born. DNA mutations take time to accumulate as a result of low-level radiation.
In Japan, Dr. Yuko Yanagisawa, a physician at Funabashi Futawa Hospital, reports, “We have begun to see increased nosebleeds, stubborn cases of diarrhea, and flu-like symptoms in children,” The sad fact is that children -- because of their far-faster rate of cell division -- are becoming the laboratory animals in this great experiment, and will be the first to be sacrificed from shear negligence.
The simple and inexpensive habit of bathing babies and infants in distilled water, rather than tap water, could reduce the daily dose of radiation that the most vulnerable members of our families receive, both in Japan and in the United States.
No one wishes the stoic, seldom-complaining people of Japan more suffering, but they are not alone on this journey.
In June of this year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), published their Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, which concluded that the infant death rate in the Pacific Northwest rose 35% after the March 11th disaster (later revised to 45%). Whether the CDC will continue to monitor this trend is not clear, but this data concurs with elevated infant-mortality rates on the East Coast, as well.
The Executive Director of the Radiation And Public Health Project in New York, Joseph Mangano, also reported a 48% spike in infant deaths in Philadelphia, where shortly after the disaster in Japan radioactive iodine 131 was found in Philadelphia drinking water. Then the reports fell silent. The reports in Japan fell silent as well under the cloak of secrecy, but less than two years later over 42% of children in Fukushima already had been diagnosed with thyroid nodules or cysts.
This can be compared to the number of children documented in 2001 in Nagasaki, one of the two cities hit by an atomic bomb in WWII, where just 0.8% of the children had thyroid cysts, and none had nodules. Fukushima is many times the magnitude of Nagasaki and Hiroshima combined, but for a short time will be easier to hide.
In our arsenal of safety measures, iodide compounds are readily found in nature and are added, of course, to salt. As Dr. Terry Wahls explains, iodide is important for brain development and the production of myelin, the insulation that speeds up and protects nerve transmission. She further states that iodide supports the removal of toxins, such as mercury, lead, and other heavy metals, and reduces the risk of breast and prostate problems later in life.
In 1986, Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia were members of the Soviet Union, and all three, especially Belarus, were heavily irradiated by the fallout from Chernobyl. We now know that parts of the population received supplements of potassium iodide and zeolite, and parts of the population were evacuated, but at the time very little was being revealed to the West.
In a 2009 report, The New York Academy of Sciences sifted through over 5,000 recently translated articles that had been published in the Russian language in scientific journals. The Academy concluded that as many as 985,000 individuals died as a direct result of radiation poisoning.
The ultimate impact of radiation poisoning on health, though, is hard to quantify. Until recently, cancer was the only disease linked to radiation as a cause of death.
Dr. Yury Bandazhevsky, former Director of the Medical Institute in Belarus, took issue with this claim and proved that young people who are exposed to radioactive cesium are particularly prone to cardiovascular disease. The result is that young people were lost to cardiovascular disease long before they might be counted as a cancer radiation statistic.
What is even more difficult to quantify, however, is the loss of future generations due to infertility and birth defects. The Russian population, like that of Belarus, is well-known to be shrinking, but whether radiation is the major cause, who can say. What is abundantly clear, however, is that our future generations, our children, our infants and our soon-to-be-born, are the age groups most vulnerable to radiation poisoning.
Cell division in children is taking place much more rapidly than in adults, and radiation damage to dividing cells is well-known to increase the chance of cancer, including childhood leukemia.
Predictably, both the government and big industry have been leaning on the media to boost consumer confidence. This will help us to ignore any problems in our food and water supply. After all, people need jobs, and Japan came to the same conclusion. Yet, if we fail to protect those we bring into this world, years from now all that may remain will be our regrets. ■ ■