Commentary by Steven Hoffman
As the crippled reactors in Japan continue to emit radiation into the environment, the risk grows that it will appear in our food. Radiation has already been detected in trace amounts in milk across the U.S., and in strawberries, kale and other vegetables in California.
“The Swiss government Wednesday decided to exit nuclear energy, phasing out the country’s existing nuclear plants and seeking alternative energy sources to meet Switzerland’s energy needs, following widespread security concerns in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.” – Dow Jones, May 25, 2011
“We believe we can show those countries who decide to abandon nuclear power—or not start using it—how it is possible to achieve growth, creating jobs and economic prosperity while shifting the energy supply toward renewable energies.” – Chancellor Angela Merkel when announcing on May 30 that Germany would abandon nuclear power by 2022.
Nuclear energy is clean…until it isn’t.
The emerging reality of the ongoing nuclear reactor crisis in Fukushima, Japan—now in its third month after a devastating earthquake and tsunami caused nuclear explosions at the plant 150 miles north of Tokyo—is that it is not under control at all. Three of the six reactors are in meltdown. The crippled reactors are acting like a huge dirty bomb, emitting significant quantities of radioactive isotopes that are, in fact, contaminating our air, water, soil and food in a steady stream that may continue for a long time.
And it’s not just affecting Japan, though they’re certainly getting the worst of it. Since the accident on March 12, radioactive fallout from Fukushima has been spreading to the U.S. and across the northern hemisphere. Elevated levels of radiation caused by the meltdowns in Japan have been detected in drinking water across the country, in rainwater, in soil, and in food grown on U.S. farms.
The mainstream media is not really reporting on this. Since the initial weeks of the accident, there has been a disturbing silence. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the utility that owns and operates the reactors, and the government of Japan have handled public relations around this monumental disaster about as well as BP handled the Gulf oil spill last summer, and they are losing credibility fast. The radiation has leaked much faster than TEPCO’s disclosure of information related to the crisis; it’s only now that we know that three of the six reactors at the plant are in full meltdown. One of the meltdowns occurred within hours of the accident on March 12, but was not revealed until May 15, more than two months later.
Crisis, What Crisis?
In announcing the news, TEPCO admitted that it did not want the public to know the extent of the accident early on to avoid panic. They continue to downplay the time it will take to get the reactors under control and the threat this unprecedented crisis presents to our food, health and environment. While TEPCO has given a time estimate of six to nine months to control the reactors, on May 29 a senior TEPCO official admitted that it may be impossible to stabilize the crippled plant by the beginning of 2012. One U.S. official, John Kelly, deputy assistant secretary for nuclear reactor technologies at the U.S. Energy Department, told the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in late May that the Fukushima reactors are still in grave danger and may continue to vent radioactive steam for a year or more, according to the Washington Post.
With the reactors in meltdown, TEPCO employees are racing to avoid a potential “China Syndrome” as superhot nuclear fuel melts down through holes burned into the steel and concrete containment vessels into the earth, thus liberating it into the environment.
Additionally, highly toxic radioactive iodine, cesium, strontium, plutonium and other toxic man-made radionuclides have leaked unabated since March 12 into the ocean and atmosphere. The radiation is contaminating large areas of Japan. Monitoring the ocean around the Fukushima plant, Greenpeace reported on May 26 that the contamination is spreading over a wide area and accumulating in sea life, rather than simply dispersing like the Japanese authorities claimed would happen.
Also, radiation continues to blow in a steady stream across the Pacific Ocean toward North America, following the course of the jet stream in the atmosphere, and major currents in the ocean that flow from Japan to America. It took less than a month for radioactive iodine and cesium from the Fukushima nuclear accident to first show up in U.S. milk, and it continues to be detected in trace amounts in milk produced in California, one of the only states conducting any kind of testing for radiation in food.
More on nuclear power:
- No more nuclear power for Switzerland
- Germany also says nein to nuclear power
- After Fukushima, Japan says no more nukes
- Japan nuclear mess: They really have no idea
- Japan melts down, Europe backs off, but US says “Full speed ahead”
- After Japan quake, new questions about nuclear power
- After the Gulf Oil Disaster You Should be Asking: How Much Safer is the Nuclear Industry?
- TED Talk: Pro vs Con on Nuclear Energy
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