Fukushima's Hot Water: Now Fallout in Our Kitchens?
by Kimberly Roberson
Information about radioactive fallout from Japan has been in very short supply since the unprecedented triple nuclear meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi on March 11, 2011.
"Nuclear meltdown" is a term for a catastrophic reaction in a nuclear reactor that has overheated. The uncontrolled heat damages the reactor itself, causing an uncontrolled release of life threatening radioactive material, also known as "radioactive fallout" into the environment. At Fukushima this happened three times, an unprecedented catastrophe.
With the 67th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in August 2012, it was strange to realize that Japan unwittingly dropped an even deadlier bomb on itself. Fukushima contained over 100 times more cesium-137 alone than Hiroshima, and there are literally hundreds of dangerous radionuclides in the "mix."
Professor Tatsuhiko Kodama, head of the Radioisotope Center at University of Tokyo, underscored this point in testimony before the Committee on Welfare and Labor in Japan in August 2011. He stated: "When we research the radiation injury/sickness, we look at the total amount of radioactive materials." Although no report from the government or TEPCO utility was available about the radioactive materials released by Fukushima, Kodama used the knowledge base at his center to calculate it. "Based on the thermal output, it is 29.6 times the amount released by the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima. In uranium equivalent, it is 20 Hiroshima bombs. What is more frightening," he said, "is that whereas the radiation from a nuclear bomb will decrease to one-thousandth in one year, the radiation from a nuclear power plant will only decrease to one-tenth." (emphasis added)
There has been scant continuing attention from the media or politicians about the ongoing catastrophic consequences of Fukushima, but experts and citizens have continued to probe. Documents acquired under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) show that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) was well aware of significant radioactive fallout blanketing the West Coast of the U.S. beginning the second week of March 2011. The radioactive plume spread as far east as Vermont. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission knew of significant danger to citizens, but made no warning.
Instead, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it did not intend to test north Pacific fish for radiation from Fukushima, and the Environmental Protection Agency scaled back its testing of water and milk.
Other concerns arise from the ongoing incineration of contaminated tsunami debris. Japan has initiated a program by which it is moving tens of millions of tons of tsunami and earthquake rubble around the country and incinerating it at various locations nationwide, some of it containing industrial and nuclear waste. The debris in Japan is adding to steady delivery of more fallout via the Pacific jet stream and ocean.
Meanwhile, Fukushima Daiichi's Reactor 3 and 4 are waterlogged, cracked and just one major earthquake jolt away from a catastrophe that one expert said could be "of biblical proportions."
Nuclear Power Rolls On Despite Dangers
The "Atoms for Peace" program of the 1940s and '50s in the United States began when nuclear weapons technology was converted to an energy source that promised to be "too cheap to meter." Still, President Eisenhower spoke of his concern about nuclear power: "How far can you go without destroying from within … what you are trying to defend from without?" In other words, he recognized that splitting the atom can be dangerous business and the U.S needed to be careful to not create a backlash on itself with nuclear power.
Nonetheless, General Electric continued to build reactors around the world, going to places like New Mexico and Africa for the deadly raw material of uranium to fuel them. Uranium mining itself is a profoundly dangerous and polluting process, producing uranium mill tailings that remain lethal for millions of years. Plutonium, which is produced from uranium and used in the reactors, is the most dangerous element known to humankind.
The dangers of radioactive fallout were also known to U.S. Presidents from nuclear tests, above ground, in the 1950s and 1960s. Rising childhood cancer and leukemia rates caused widespread health concerns during the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, and these concerns led to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963 between the U.S. and the then-Soviet Union. President Kennedy's decision to halt above ground atom bomb tests was in reaction to strontium 90 discovered in baby teeth
Just this year, French researchers confirmed that childhood leukemia rates are greatly elevated among children living near nuclear power plants. The January 2012 International Journal of Cancer published the study, Childhood Leukemia Around French Nuclear Power Plants -- the Geocap Study 2002-2007.
The inherent function of nuclear reactors requires routine invisible releases of cancer-causing radionuclides via the towers. Researchers also continue to see increases in cancer clusters -- especially of thyroid cancer, breast cancer and leukemia -- in areas near nuclear power plants.
In addition, how to handle the waste from nuclear power plants is still unsolved. The question is: how to safely store the millions of pounds of so-called "spent fuel" created by nuclear power production. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission was recently forced to halt licenses for new nuclear plants until a solution can be found to store deadly radioactive waste that will remain hazardous for millennia at best.
Who is backing nuclear power? General Electric, which controls much of the mainstream media, built the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors, as well as 22 percent of the nuclear power plants in the United States. Taxpayers, in the form of loan guarantees by U.S. government, subsidize these purchases.
The political machines of both President Obama and Mitt Romney serve as destination stops for nuclear lobbyists. Romney's pick for his running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, is married to a woman who at one time lobbied on behalf of the nuclear industry. President Obama's former Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, lists Exelon Corporation, the largest operator of nuclear plants in the U.S., on his resume.
President Obama called nuclear power "an important part of the energy mix" and pledged billions of dollars for the proposed "nuclear renaissance." Eight billion dollars have been approved to date. It's underwritten by taxpayers because Wall Street refuses to back a risky proposition such as nuclear power without subsidized insurance for investors should something go wrong.
Global Citizens Stepping Up
Millions of people, young and old, in Japan have taken to the streets in protest. Women have led the revolution there. Many of us in the U.S, India and Europe are standing in solidarity with them, as we, too, demand an end to nuclear power.
As an environmental and health advocate, and founder of the Fukushima Fallout Awareness Network, I wrote an online petition on April 1, 2011, calling for the monitoring of food for radioactive fallout from Fukushima Daiichi. The petition -- to President Obama and Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein -- calls for the monitoring of milk, water and food in the U.S., as well as exports from Japan.
The petition is intended to alert our elected officials to the fact that citizens know that radioactive fallout has likely migrated to our children by way of our kitchens. This is transgenerational DNA damage, as the late Dr. Rosalie Bertell called it in her book, No Immediate Danger: Prognosis for a Radioactive Earth. The food-monitoring petition puts our government on notice that we demand and deserve food and water free of transgenerational DNA damage, and that our government agencies must begin to react and respond in a truthful manner.
But we have 104 nuclear power plants across the U.S. that, like Fukushima, are nuclear weaponry and that threaten our very survival. There is only one truly effective solution: the United States must join Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium and other countries in their post Fukushima pledge to reduce energy consumption and transition to renewable energy sources.
In California, citizens are fighting to keep the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) permanently closed. SONGS has the worst operating record in the U.S. It sits on a beach atop an earthquake fault and within miles of the world's fifth largest producer of food, the California Central Valley. California's other nuclear reactor -- within miles of the Central Valley -- is Diablo Canyon. It returned to full restart on June 26, 2012 after a three month-month emergency shutdown, caused by a large jellyfish blocking a pipe, according to press reports.
We have two paths to take: either we continue with a life-destroying form of energy over which we have no real control, or we reduce consumption while bridging over to safe, efficient, available energy alternatives. Wind and solar power are abundant, available and non-life threatening. Recent polling and surveys indicate that Democrats and Republicans both like solar power. Just as the nuclear nightmare is bipartisan, so is the promise of renewables.
Join the conversation. Leave a comment.
All comments will be reviewed before being posted live. All fields REQUIRED.
What’s concerning us, feminists and progressives? From the front lines to the back burners, our angle on vital matters on our minds and popping up in the news.
ENTER HOT TOPICS
We’re now taking comments!
Enter the Cafe
The Love of Strangers by Merle Hoffman
"She Had a Heartbeat Too" The Tragic Death of Savita Halappanavar in an Irish Hospital by Ann Rossiter
First Irish Abortion Clinic Opens Amid Controversy, Threats and Confusion by Caelainn Hogan
Forty Years After Roe V Wade, Getting an Abortion is Still a Major Challenge by Eleanor J. Bader
It's Up to Us to Defend Abortion Rights by Mary Lou Greenberg
Back and Forth by Judith Arcana
The Poet's Eye: Curated by Judith Arcana
Suggested Reading by Anna Platt and the Feminist Press
Related Articles, January 2013