Nightmare has become reality in Japan. It is feared multiple reactor meltdowns have taken place at the Fukushima plant, and nuclear explosions have released untold amounts of radiation into the environment. Meanwhile, the fission process inside the reactors continues unabated, leading one British scientist and nuclear expert, Dr. Christopher Busby, to suggest the “drastic” measure of lowering a massive dome over the site to contain the radiation.
Dr. Busby, scientific secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, gives a good layman’s description of a “meltdown” – a phenomenon that many people have heard of but few really grasp:
A meltdown means the fuel inside the reactor has gotten so hot it’s melted. And there’s a sort of raging radioactive inferno taking place inside the reactor. We believe…outside the reactor now, because the reactor pressure vessel is certainly breached.
A meltdown is considered a catastrophic event because of the potential for the release of large quantities of radioactive material. There have been nuclear explosions at Fukushima, which can also release dangerous levels of radiation, like atomic bombs but on a much smaller scale. Dr. Busby, a member of the Royal Society of Chemistry, had this to say about the current situation on the ground:
…there have been nuclear explosions – we now know from the data that has come in since I was last talking with you. …So we do know that it’s very, very bad. And radioactive particles are now appearing in the United States, and certainly there’s a lot of radioactivity appearing as far south as Tokyo. This is a very serious matter, indeed.
Dr. Busby hits on the relentless nature of nuclear disasters: Why they are so dangerous and hard to manage and control is that nuclear plants can’t be turned off. There’s no “off switch” that can be thrown to end these types of runaway accidents. Dr. Busby, a visiting professor at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland:
…it is still fissioning. So there is an ongoing nuclear reaction taking place now. We can tell that from the isotopic ratios of the substances being emitted. So it is still going on. It’s by no means over, this crisis.
And then there’s the problem of getting an even remotely accurate assessment of the situation from the plant’s owner or the Japanese government. Dr. Busby calls out Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the Fukushima plant owner and operator, for covering up the severity of the disaster – something we’ve seen in other nuclear accidents, like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. It’s clear from this catastrophic event, as it was from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, that independent research and monitoring are critical to keep the industry and the government honest.
Busby calls it like he sees it:
My feeling is that TEPCO never really miscalculated anything. TEPCO was just trying to cover everything up, from the very beginning. And the problem is that enough people are out there now measuring things for [TEPCO] to no longer sustain the idea that nothing is happening out there, which they presented from the beginning.
Dr. Busby believes it’s time for the Japanese government to assume control of the situation at the plant, but he recognizes the difficulty of actually doing it:
It’s very hard to know how you could take control of the situation. The situation is essentially out of control.
The Japanese have given themselves a nine-month deadline to get Fukushima under control, a timeline Dr. Busby feels is completely unrealistic:
I don’t even have the faintest idea what they’re going to do there. In fact, I find it hard to imagine anything that they can do at the moment… .Certainly from the point of view of global releases of these substances, which are now appearing here in Wales and in England and in Europe, they have to do something pretty drastic to try and cover this reactor up. To build some sort of dome and containment around it so at least the radiation that’s been released by the reactor fissioning doesn’t get out any longer, it’s contained.
Based on Busby’s risk model, as I’ve said before, I believe the radiation released from Fukushima could ultimately reach the levels of Chernobyl. We will, of course, have to wait for the research to make a final determination, but with the fissioning process still in full swing and no end in sight, Fukushima will continue to emit radiation for the foreseeable future. Read my previous post, “Perspective on Japan’s Nuclear Disaster: Radiation Risk Model Shows 120,000 Cases of Cancer in Tokyo” (http://www.stuarthsmith.com/perspective-on-japans-nuclear-disaster-radiation-risk-model-shows-120000-cases-of-cancer-in-tokyo).
In the face of grossly inaccurate and delusional on-the-ground reports from plant owner, TEPCO, we’re lucky to have brilliant minds like Dr. Busby sifting through the confusion and giving it to us straight. We’ll get more candid insight from him in the coming weeks – but for now, it looks like a long road ahead before the spiraling Fukushima crisis can be contained.
Read more about the Three Mile Island accident in 1979: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Mile_Island_accident
Read about the 1986 Chernobyl disaster here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_disaster
© Smith Stag, LLC 2011 – All Rights Reserved