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Fukushima – Yet another inevitable disaster in a nuclear world

After the explosion of the Chernobyl reactor, the threat of another nuclear disaster anytime in the future became omnipresent amongst environmentalists. Another massive release of life threatening radiation was anticipated to change the energy policies world wide. On March 11, 2011, the beginning of the triple meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant was supposed to stop the nuclear era.

Now, almost two and a half years later, nuclear power is still kept on life support in many countries including the U.S.. With the help of enormous subsidies, corporations are still able to make easy money with nuclear. Therefore, the highest motivation of the nuclear industrial complex is to create and assure public acceptance for a deadly technology that is not even needed to meet our electricity needs.

 A new escalation in an ongoing catastrophe
In late July this year, the operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) admitted a leakage of 300 tons of contaminated ground water per day into the Pacific Ocean. Since the beginning of this year, the water has been flowing through the reactor buildings that hold the melting cores and flushing the radiation into the Pacific. Helpless attempts by TEPCO to build barriers proved unsuccessful. Some weeks later, TEPCO disclosed that additional 300 tons or more of highly radioactive cooling water is leaking from an above ground tank. The Nuclear Regulatory Agency rated this as a level 3 “serious incident”, the highest since the beginning of the meltdown.

The radioactive water contaminates fish with radioactive cesium. Extremely high concentrations were found in the trenches leading water into the open sea. And although diluted in the ocean, fish take up cesium like nutrition to be built into bones and tissues.

The recent worrisome news marks a peak in an ongoing tragedy that most news networks have lost interest in. The consequences of a failing contingency plan for the Fukushima prefecture are beginning to surface. Cancer rates are unusually high in children. The Fukushima prefectur reported 6 new cases of thyroid cancer and 10 children with new malignant thyroid problems in June and July this year. Shortly after its first release, the report was revised to show smaller numbers.

Even if not directly affected by the meltdown through disease and evacuation, Japanese citizens are burdened with the everyday hazard coming from the food they eat and the water they drink.

But the contamination also poses threats to the livelihood of fishermen on the East cost of Japan. These village residents have not been working in their traditional business since the start of the meltdown, and they will probably not be able to take up fishing for many years to come. Currently they are employed to clean up tsunami debris. What will they do after these temporary jobs are done? When the government forgets about the victims?

 Officials feign a controlled situation

 TEPCO is baffled. They have to show the public that they not only have the situation under control but also make progress with the clean up. This sham is now collapsing like a house of cards.

Their plan to remove the highly radioactive fuel rods out of the fuel pool and store them in a less dangerous place was heavily criticized by experts. The removal would likely cause a chain reaction, and there would be no means to stop it. Still, no plans exists to prevent the immediate threat from the fuel in the cooling pools and the ongoing water leakages.

Ever since March 11, 2011, the involved industry, the (inter)governmental institutions such as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Food and Drug Administration, World Health Organize, and the media have been making huge efforts to make the public perceive the Fukushima melt downs as a catastrophe that has a beginning and an end – an accident that is under control.

Those who followed media reports will probably remember TEPCO's announcement in late 2011 of a successful “cold shutdown” of three reactors as a major milestone in the ending of the tragedy. Now we can assume that, while the prime minister announced the reactors to be safe, hundreds of tons of contaminated water were flowing from the melted core into the Pacific O cean.

The blogger Iori Mochizuki assumes that the discovered leaks are just the beginning, and TEPCO's vice president Aizawa confessed that there are many more problems, but they are focusing on the leaks now.

 A local disaster?

 Even the Japanese officials cannot deny the devastating effects on the citizens of the Fukushima prefecture who were evacuated from their homes, gardens and farms, they try to make it appear like a local problem. Living on other continents, we are recommended to avoid seafood from Japan, but apart from that, this disaster feels far away.

 But is it really far away? Long before the recent frightening news, scientists pointed out the wide distribution of radioactive isotopes into the Pacific Ocean. The model reminded me of a simple experiment I performed in chemistry class in middle school. A small grain of potassium permanganate, a pigment of bright pink color, dropped into a glass of water. Soon after settling at the bottom, tails of deep magenta develop around the grain. After some time, the whole water body had turned into bright pink. The water glass is our planet, and at some point in time, the radioactive release will be evenly distributed. Just as the weapon testings fall out – it is now added to the background radiation. Nobody can escape it. Fukushima has always been a global catastrophe, and this reality is becoming more and more obvious.

 Is Japan and the world learning from Fukushima?

 The international nuclear complex – a clannish network of corporations, officially democratic governments, and supposedly independent agencies, claimed a successful step to regain credence of the deadly technology: The restart of the Ohi nuclear plant in July 2012. The anti-nuclear movement's hope of a world wide abolishment of the nuclear paradigm did not come true – not even in the country most affected by the disaster. Does it really take another meltdown?

There are people in the world who care about the truth, and there are people in Japan who work hard to get the truth out into the world. Like Iori Mochizuki with his blog against the media blackout in Japan, Fukushima-Diary.com. We have to support and empower activists like him by spreading their information and acknowledging their efforts. We rely on their work.

Although the nuclear industry has been declining world wide ever since the 1990s, we cannot wait and watch it slowly withering away. Fukushima proved once again that disasters are inevitable in a nuclear world. Is that not enough of a reason to quit the nuclear age and take a humane path of energy generation?

Elke Brandes is an anti-nuclear activist who worked with AntiAtomFreiburg and BUND (German Friends of the Earth partner organization) in opposition to the nearby French reactors in Fessenheim and nuclear policies in Germany. She is a Georgia WAND Environmental Justice intern and is also active with Nuclear Watch South and Stop Plant Vogtle.


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