Search-and-rescue efforts are, of course, the immediate focus in Japan after a massive 8.9 earthquake and a series of powerful aftershocks rocked the island nation. We are hopeful that the “rescue” will include saving people from the radiation leaking from the Fukushima nuclear power plant only about 150 miles north of Tokyo.
Those people are very likely in as much danger as those trapped in the rubble, despite government insistence that radiation levels are “low.” Officials have expanded the evacuation zone from the initial 6 miles to 13 miles and told people to remain indoors and cover their mouths – a clear indication that airborne radioactive particles are a problem.
Unfortunately, we’ve learned time and again that government sources lie in these situations – Chernobyl, the 9-11 attacks, the BP oil spill – they lie at first, I guess, to try and prevent panic. Then they seem to lie to coverup their former lies, then reveal it all years later when few are watching. Whatever the reason, anyone trusting “official” sources is ignoring history.
Forbes was among the first outlets noting the extent of the nuclear threat, with its “Clean Beta” blog saying that this could be “worse than Chernobyl.” Along with whatever has happened so far, says Forbes, “…the multi-reactor Fukushima atomic power plant is now relying on battery power, which will only last around eight hours. The danger is, the very thermally hot reactor cores at the plant must be continuously cooled for 24 to 48 hours. Without any electricity, the pumps won’t be able to pump water through the hot reactor cores to cool them. Once electricity is lost, the irradiated nuclear fuel could begin to melt down. If the containment systems fail, a catastrophic radioactivity release to the environment could occur.”
The piece also recaps the situation so far: “Radiation leaked from a damaged Japanese nuclear reactor on Saturday after an explosion blew the roof off in the wake of a massive earthquake, but the government insisted that radiation levels were low…the blast raised fears of a meltdown at the facility north of Tokyo as officials scrambled to contain what could be the worst nuclear disaster since the Chernobyl explosion in 1986 that shocked the world.”
One big difference is that this nuclear threat will not play out in the relative privacy of Soviet-era Ukraine. This is a prime-time event – more than 17 news helicopters hovered off coastal Los Angeles yesterday to document relatively low-threat waves.
We’ll have more – but already this seems to be eerily on-cue for the energy industry. The BP spill illustrated the folly of “safe” deepwater oil drilling, a New York Times series documents the indiscriminate dumping of radioactive fracking wastewater into U.S. waterways and now the nuclear industry sees an earthquake blow the top off a power plant and fears of a meltdown loom.
Yes, it’s now time for search and rescue. But the larger questions, including how to “rescue” radiation victims, will linger for years.
The Forbes post by William Pentland is here: http://blogs.forbes.com/williampentland/2011/03/11/risk-of-nuclear-catastrophe-escalates-in-japan-worse-than-chernobyl/
Here’s a good Reuters story: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/12/us-japan-quake-idUSTRE72A0SS20110312
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