The Cur­rent Year is 6265

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The three melt­downs and at least four big core explo­sions at the Fukushima nuclear-​power plant’s six American-​designed Dai­ichi reac­tors in March 2011 still con­sti­tute the world’s worst nuclear night­mare so far, sur­pass­ing even the Cher­nobyl #4 reactor’s explo­sion and melt­down of April 1986. While Chernobyl’s dis­as­ter was very quickly con­tained albeit at the cost of at least 30 human lives (accord­ing to Soviet sources) — by first hav­ing the stricken reac­tor com­pletely buried in sand from the air and then imme­di­ately seal­ing it inside a sar­coph­a­gus of rein­forced con­crete, Fukushima’s tragedy has remained an open, fes­ter­ing wound to this day. A U.N. report issued in 2012 stated that at least six Fukushima work­ers had died since the melt­downs and the tsunami (accord­ing to a later report by the Japan­ese gov­ern­ment, only one of these work­ers had died from radi­a­tion exposure).

The Japan­ese seem to have been reluc­tant to risk the lives of their more than 6,000 res­cue work­ers pour­ing daily hun­dreds of tons of sea water over the fully destroyed reac­tors as well as the sev­eral partly dam­aged ones. Yet, as of 27 Feb­ru­ary 2017, the Fukushima pre­fec­ture gov­ern­ment counted 2,129 “disaster-​related deaths” in that pre­fec­ture alone. At least 1,368 among those deaths have been listed as directly “related to the nuclear power plant.” Pre­dicted future can­cer deaths due to accu­mu­lated radi­a­tion expo­sures in the pop­u­la­tion liv­ing near Fukushima are expected to run in the many hun­dreds, if not the thousands.

Obvi­ously, the Japan­ese government’s wish­ful think­ing is that the nuclear dis­as­ter would just go away if as few peo­ple as pos­si­ble — both at home and espe­cially abroad — knew about its true extent and actual sever­ity. Accord­ing to Har­vey Wasser­man (“14,000 Hiroshi­mas Still Swing in Fukushima’s Air,” The Free Press, Octo­ber 9, 2013), the sit­u­a­tion on the ground was still rather cat­a­strophic more than two years after the dis­as­ter, because

Mas­sive quan­ti­ties of heav­ily con­t­a­m­i­nated water are pour­ing into the Pacific Ocean, dous­ing work­ers along the way. Hun­dreds of huge, flimsy tanks are leak­ing untold tons of highly radioac­tive flu­ids. At Unit #4, more than 1300 fuel rods, with more than 400 tons of extremely radioac­tive mate­r­ial, con­tain­ing poten­tial cesium fall­out com­pa­ra­ble to 14,000 Hiroshima bombs, are stranded 100 feet in the air.”

Have we been wit­ness­ing a major local cat­a­stro­phe with some per­ilous global reper­cus­sions that are still being con­cealed from the gen­eral pub­lic and the world under a veil of total gov­ern­ment secrecy — “appar­ently to avoid caus­ing ‘need­less’ social panic,” in the words of Japan­ese research sci­en­tist Haruko Satoh (“Fukushima and the Future of Nuclear Energy in Japan: The Need for a Robust Social Con­tract,” ARI, June 29, 2011)? While the Rus­sians had the excuse of hav­ing just one prior warn­ing — namely that of the Three Mile Island’s much smaller nuclear mishap in the U.S. on March 28, 1979 — the Japan­ese appear to have com­pletely ignored Chernobyl’s tragic lessons while oper­at­ing their Fukushima nuclear-​power plant built in a highly vul­ner­a­ble seis­mic zone in close prox­im­ity to the Pacific Ocean which is prone to mas­sive earth­quakes and tsunamis. Point­ing out that

…a vast area of land has been con­t­a­m­i­nated by radi­a­tion,” Haruko Satoh fur­ther writes that “…the nature of the on-​going nuclear cri­sis is bet­ter under­stood as a man-​made dis­as­ter result­ing from the sys­temic fail­ure of Japan’s nuclear energy regime for safety than an inevitable con­se­quence of unfore­seen forces of nature.”

In his con­sid­ered opin­ion, Japan “has also failed to act speed­ily to remove and treat the accu­mu­lat­ing con­t­a­m­i­nated soil and water” (ibid.).

As a result, accord­ing to The Guardian (“Plum­met­ing Morale at Fukushima Dai­ichi as Nuclear Cleanup Takes Its Toll,” Octo­ber 15, 2013), “the world’s most dan­ger­ous indus­trial cleanup” has been threat­en­ing not only Japan (long dubbed “America’s unsink­able air­craft car­rier” in the west­ern Pacific) but the rest of the planet as well. Will the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity finally wake up to this still on-​going lethal dan­ger that will per­sist for many years to come — at least until the afflicted nuclear reac­tors are finally cooled down? But it is not going to be an easy job since by Tokyo’s own esti­mates the full decom­mis­sion­ing of the wrecked nuclear site could take up to 40 years.

Could the 2020 Tokyo Olympics be canceled?

The Fukushima cat­a­stro­phe released in the air many radioac­tive pol­lu­tants such as cesium-​134, cesium-​137, strontium-​90, iodine-​131, plutonium-​238 and other so-​called radionu­clides that emit ion­ized (alpha and beta) par­ti­cles. With lifes­pan exceed­ing hun­dreds of years, these radioac­tive pol­lu­tants will con­tinue to pose a radi­a­tion threat for many decades to come. One eye­wit­ness tes­ti­fies about the fail­ure of Japan’s decon­t­a­m­i­na­tion mea­sures (Maxime Pol­leri, “The Truth About Radi­a­tion in Fukushima: Despite Gov­ern­ment Claims, Radi­a­tion From the 2011 Nuclear Dis­as­ter Is Not Gone,” The Diplo­mat, March 14, 2019):

…moun­tains of black plas­tic bags, filled with con­t­a­m­i­nated soil or debris, can be seen in many parts of Fukushima…. As such, decon­t­a­m­i­na­tion does not imply that radi­a­tion has van­ished; it has sim­ply been moved else­where. Yet in rural regions, where many of the bags are cur­rently being dis­posed, far away from the eyes of urban dwellers, res­i­dents are still forced to live near the stor­age sites. Many rural res­i­dents have crit­i­cized the actual effi­cacy of the decon­t­a­m­i­na­tion projects. For instance, vinyl bags are now start­ing to break down due to the build-​up of gas released by rot­ten soil. Plants and flow­ers have also started to grow inside the bags, in the process tear­ing them apart. With weather fac­tors, resid­ual radioac­tiv­ity inside the bags will even­tu­ally be scat­tered back into the environment.”

But with the upcom­ing 2020 Tokyo Olympics, it is doubt­ful that the secre­tive Japan­ese gov­ern­ment will ever acknowl­edge this threat­en­ing real­ity. For exam­ple, the Japan­ese have been silent about the cur­rent extent of radi­o­log­i­cal con­t­a­m­i­na­tion of the seas sur­round­ing Japan — obvi­ously for fear that the Tokyo Olympics sched­uled to be held next year may be canceled.

The Offi­cial Cover-​up

In the past, the Tokyo Elec­tric Power Com­pany (Tepco), the crip­pled nuclear-​power plant’s sole owner and operator,

has all but admit­ted (that) Fukushima’s radi­a­tion leaks are spi­ral­ing out of con­trol. In addi­tion to the leak­ing water stor­age units that are unleash­ing hun­dred of tons of radioac­tive water each day, Tepco now says (that) 50% of its con­t­a­m­i­nated fil­tra­tion capa­bil­ity has been taken offline due to cor­ro­sion. The result is that radi­a­tion leaks are esca­lat­ing out of con­trol and attempted reme­di­a­tion efforts are fal­ter­ing” (“Fukushima in Free Fall,” Nat​u​ral​News​.com, August 27, 2013).

The tra­di­tion­ally close-​mouthed Japan­ese bureau­crats have been far less truth­ful and much more eva­sive about the grav­ity of the Fukushima nuclear cri­sis than the Rus­sians ever were about their Cher­nobyl dis­as­ter. Only in June 2011 — three whole months after the Fukushima nuclear acci­dent — did Tokyo announce that melt­downs had actu­ally occurred in three of the six reac­tors. “From day one,” the Nat​u​ral​New​.com arti­cle continues,

the Fukushima fiasco has been all about denial: Deny the leaks, shut off the radi­a­tion sen­sors, black out the news and fudge the sci­ence. Yet more than two years later, the denials are col­lid­ing with the laws of physics, and Tepco’s cover sto­ries are increas­ingly being blown wide open.” (ibid.)

Buried under a vir­tual tsunami of compensation-​seeking law­suits, Tepco, “once a behe­moth that vir­tu­ally con­trolled Japan’s energy pol­icy“ (Haruko Satoh, “Fukushima and the Future of Nuclear Energy in Japan: The Need for a Robust Social Con­tract,” ARI, June 29, 2011), has sur­vived to this day as Japan’s biggest energy giant only thanks to the LDP gov­ern­ment which seems to be more than will­ing and eager to bail it out. Despite the attempted cover-​up by pro-​nuclear Japan­ese cab­i­nets and the Japan­ese news media alike, Japan’s own nuclear-​safety watch­dog — the Nuclear and Indus­trial Safety Agency (NISA) — gave Fukushima’s nuclear cat­a­stro­phe the worst pos­si­ble rat­ing for radi­o­log­i­cal dan­ger, Level 7 (“major acci­dent”) — the same rat­ing as the Cher­nobyl dis­as­ter — in accor­dance with the Inter­na­tional Nuclear and Radi­o­log­i­cal Event Scale (INES) stan­dards estab­lished by the Inter­na­tional Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 1990.

Show­ing how more than two years after the dis­as­ter the waters of the Pacific Ocean were actu­ally “boil­ing” off the coast of Fukushima in what it called “a viral photo of the day,” Before It’s News (“’Boil­ing Sea’ Off Fukushima Viral Photo of the Day,” August 30, 2013) asked rhetor­i­cally, “…if this radi­a­tion keeps leak­ing, and there is no way to stop it, will boil­ing seas spread all the way across the Pacific Ocean to the West Coast of the United States? If so, what hap­pens then?”

How was the crit­i­cally impor­tant oceanic ani­mal and plant life affected by the radioac­tive con­t­a­m­i­na­tion? Tokyo has denied that due to higher radi­a­tion lev­els it is dan­ger­ous to eat any fish caught by Japan­ese fish­er­men, but the gov­ern­ment has rein­stated its ear­lier fish­ing ban. Could it be that all of Japan has been poi­soned? More­over, is the whole planet going to be even­tu­ally con­t­a­m­i­nated by Fukushima’s many tons of radioac­tive mate­r­ial released into the air and sea? Again accord­ing to Har­vey Wasserman,

A worst-​case cloud would even­tu­ally make Japan an unin­hab­it­able waste-​land. What it could do to the Pacific Ocean and the rest of us down­wind approaches the unthink­able” (“14,000 Hiroshi­mas Still Swing in Fukushima’s Air,” The Free Press, Octo­ber 9, 2013).

The Fukushima nuclear acci­dent and its tragic con­se­quences have taken place at the worse pos­si­ble time for Japan, given its huge national debt (which is more than twice the size of its annual GDP) and pro­tracted eco­nomic slump last­ing now for almost three decades. Japan’s eco­nomic down­turn started with the burst­ing of Tokyo’s stock-​market and real-​estate “bub­bles” in the 1990s and was gravely exac­er­bated by the global Great Reces­sion of 20082009 sparked by America’s own bank­ing and real-​estate crises. The inter­na­tional com­mu­nity should have by now pressed the U.N. Secu­rity Coun­cil to con­sider and adopt a bind­ing res­o­lu­tion to close down Japan’s haz­ardous nuclear-​energy indus­try, given the major eco­nomic, pub­lic health and pub­lic safety risks involved.

Is Japan’s nuclear indus­try doomed?

But Japan’s nuclear power may already be doomed, with its nuclear units being grad­u­ally taken “offline” in the wake of the Fukushima fiasco (“After Fukushima, Does Nuclear Power Have a Future?” The New York Times, Octo­ber 10, 2011). In Sep­tem­ber 2013, the new Lib­eral Demo­c­ra­tic Party Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe ordered the shut­down — sup­pos­edly for rou­tine main­te­nance and safety checks — of its last nuclear reac­tor at Oi that was still work­ing after all the other 53 oper­at­ing reac­tors had been closed down for one rea­son or another. Fac­ing pres­sure from the Japan­ese pub­lic which has turned deci­sively against nuclear energy, the pre­vi­ous Prime Min­is­ter, Yoshi­hiko Noda of the Demo­c­ra­tic Party of Japan, had announced in Sep­tem­ber 2012 a major change in Japan’s energy pol­icy, pledg­ing to shut down all nuclear power for good by the 2030s, thus anger­ing the all-​powerful Japan­ese cap­tains of industry.

In power since Decem­ber 2012, Shinzo Abe’s LDP cab­i­net has been warn­ing about the steep eco­nomic costs of pulling the plug on Japan’s nuclear energy, mainly in the form of esca­lat­ing and very expen­sive energy imports, espe­cially for a coun­try which lacks fos­sil fuel reserves. Under tremen­dous pres­sure from the “iron tri­an­gle” com­mu­nity of elec­tric­ity util­i­ties, heavy indus­try, min­istry bureau­crats and aca­d­e­mic experts, known as the “nuclear vil­lage,” Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo has been try­ing to restart as many nuclear reac­tors as the still hos­tile domes­tic pub­lic opin­ion would per­mit him.

Fol­low­ing the Fukushima acci­dent, as each Japan­ese nuclear reac­tor entered its sched­uled main­te­nance and refu­el­ing out­age, it was not returned to oper­a­tion. Between Sep­tem­ber 2013 and August 2015, Japan’s entire reac­tor fleet was sus­pended from oper­a­tion, leav­ing the coun­try with no nuclear gen­er­a­tion. But in 2018 Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo’s cab­i­net restarted five nuclear power reac­tors (U.S. Energy Infor­ma­tion Admin­is­tra­tion, “Japan Has Restarted Five Nuclear Power Reac­tors in 2018,” Novem­ber 28, 2018). He is fac­ing a new and unex­pected obsta­cle — the renewed and strength­ened Nuclear Reg­u­la­tion Author­ity (NRA), which had been reformed and given more reg­u­la­tory pow­ers and admin­is­tra­tive inde­pen­dence after Fukushima, espe­cially since this now inde­pen­dent agency has to declare any nuclear plants safe before they could restart. There is also the implaca­ble oppo­si­tion of many pre­fec­tures, towns and vil­lages which, under the law, have a say over the reopen­ing of any local or nearby nuclear plants (“Elec­tric­ity in Japan: Power Strug­gle,” The Econ­o­mist, Sep­tem­ber 21, 2013). In spite of the deter­mi­na­tion of the rul­ing LDP to keep Japan’s ail­ing nuclear indus­try alive, its days may already be num­bered (Sumiko Takeuchi, “Is There a Future For Nuclear Power in Japan?” Japan Times, July 16, 2019).

Rossen Vas­silev Jr. is a jour­nal­ism senior at the Ohio Uni­ver­sity in Athens, Ohio.


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