Sunday, March 27, 2011

Reports from Fukushima find 10 Million Times Normal Radiation

27 March 2011 :: J.E. Robertson

Reports from Tokyo today have authorities telling residents water is now safe for infant consumption, even as reports from Fukushima show radiation levels may have surged to 10 million times the normal level. Readings taken 30 miles out to sea have found radiation levels in seawater at 1,850 times the normal level. More nations around the Pacific Ocean are expressing concern about the handling of the disaster.

There appears to be a rising tension between Japanese government officials and the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, TEPCo. When three plant workers were reportedly exposed to highly dangerous levels of radiation, two of them hospitalized with severe radiation burns, government officials suggested the radiation may have come from a breach of the reactor core and TEPCo officials retorted that the leak could be coming from a water-pumping system.

It is unclear whether the high levels of radiation can be confirmed, as there may be, at the moment, too much danger for workers to return to the site where the 10-million-times radiation reading was taken. Officials have said they are not concerned about the seawater radiation levels, because ocean currents will “disperse” the radiation. But concern about seafood, Japan’s seafood industry, food supply and the impact on marine life, is mounting.

As reports of the spike in radiation levels went out this morning, there have been more warnings that even the initial process of containment will last for months. It is now becoming clear that the Fukushima disaster will be similar to the Chernobyl disaster in at least one respect: there will be a need for plant workers to continue going into an environment of extreme danger, for many years after the crisis is more or less brought under control, on a daily basis, to make sure the containment operation is running smoothly.

There are increasing calls for a long-term strategy, designed to roll back and contain the release of radiation, on a permanent basis, along with the permanent cool shut-down of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Critics of the crisis response have suggested government and power-company officials may be hoping to avoid that kind of long-term permanent shut-down, and that this reluctance may be hindering the planning for a comprehensive crisis resolution.

As of this writing, several questions remain unanswered:

  1. What is the source of intensely radioactive water that hospitalized at least two plant workers last week?
  2. Have one or more reactor cores been breached?
  3. Are elevated levels of radiation in the Pacific Ocean a permanent contamination?
  4. If so, of how wide an area?
  5. Of what sort of marine life?
  6. Is there any way to prevent radiation in seawater from entering the human food supply?
  7. Has meltdown begun in one or more reactor cores?
  8. Is there any way to contain radiation emanating from the spent-fuel cooling pools?
  9. Will the Japanese government and TEPCo agree to permanently shut-down, secure and seal the Fukushima reactors and spent-fuel cooling pools?
  10. Is there a plan in place to achieve long-term containment?

These are just the most urgent questions. There are others that must be asked, by extension. For instance: how is radiation reaching Tokyo in such levels that drinking water was considered no longer safe for infant consumption last week? Then: how can those radiation levels be considered safer now, as levels measured at the source of the radiation —the Fukushima Daiichi plant— soared?

These are difficult questions. No one could possibly envy the officials forced to deal with them, much less the workers who have to do the most dangerous work on the ground. But they are open questions, and tens of thousands of lives will likely hinge on how well and how swiftly they are answered. It is possible to answer these concerns directly, in a forthright manner, and with a scientifically viable crisis response. But it is not possible to do any of that, if authorities do not fully admit to the radical long-term gravity of what they are dealing with.

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