Again, I wish I could be more positive, but I truly believe there is a false sense of relief and a childish apathic denial of the scale of the disaster unfolding at Fukushima.
Not only about the scale it has already reached, but also about what is still in store and will hopefully stay in store.
Even if the disaster would stop right now, few are able to see yet the longer terms effect on human lives and the devastating impact on the Japanese economy, and thus the world economy.
The French announced yesterday that radiation levels are already too high to be considered safe up to 100 km from the plant. Essentially this means an already much larger contamination than the Chernobyl area. Moreover, the impact on Japan, a very densily populated country, is expected to be much more severe, in comparison to the rural areas around Chernobyl.
Vegetables grown even around Tokyo contain too much radioactive cesium to be eaten. We will see more and more news from abroad about contaminated Japanese food products. Potatoes and beans from Japan were already destroyed in Taiwan and Thailand. Two Japanese travelers from Nagano and Tokyo arriving in China were found to be enough contaminated that they had to undergo treatment in Chinese hospitals. Traces of radioactive jodine were found in rain in Massachusetts, in the air over South Korea and in China, so far in too little concentrations for concern. These kind of messages will only increase over the coming days, weeks and months.
Even if you choose to believe there is no immediate danger to human health, it is not hard to see (at least for me) what the effect will be on the Japanese economy. The problem is also that these issues are not likely to fade away anytime soon. True, jodine has a halftime of 8 days, but cesium has a halftime 32 years, and that is what is (also) found in those vegatables and other food.
We know, or maybe you don’t, because the media do not tell all, that cesium levels found in the soil at 40 km from the plant, are already 6 times higher than what was enough to order evacuation from Chernobyl. The seawater near the plant is 2000 x more radiactive than permitted. And it is more likely than not that the sources of those leakages are still flowing. We can only guess because the authorities do not know either, or so they tell us.
Anyway, that is thinking about the scenario that further catastrofe can be contained. As we know, or hope, the brave Japanese firemen and technicians are desperately working to avert further detoriation. But the truth is that the circumstances under which they have to do that, are not improving, to put it mildly, and with the growing amounts of radiation they are exposed to, time is not on their hands either.
The water in one of the reactors is now reportedly radiating 1 sievert per hour (1000 millisievert per hour). This is is 10 million times more than normal, which is beyond the scope of comprehension. Wether that reading was false or not, wether it was 100,000 times or 10 million times, does it really matter? The fact is that 1 sievert per hour was not corrected, it was reconfirmed. And actually, I understand that this is the same as 10 million times normal. Whatever the case, all experts are unanimous that a very short amount of time exposure to these levels, will result in acute radiation disease and death within 30 days. We have learned that two of the workers were in touch with this water and sustained “burnwounds” from it that were treated in hopsital. And then we learned that they were sent home after treatment, reportedly to recuperate and suggesting that it was not so severe after all. Frankly I don’t believe it. If they were sent home at all, I rather believe they were sent home to die. The stress of the remaining workers must be close to unbearable.
Anyway, it is difficult for me to imagine how humans can pump away or “refresh” such radioactive water, let alone where the water is going to end up. Moreover, if the water is so radiactive, I imagine that the new water will be as radioactive in no time, unless the leak of the radioactivity has stopped. But has it? We don’t know, the authorities don’t know. But if we really think, the odds are in favour of the negative.
As if it wasn’t bad enough already, latest news from yesterday was that plutonium was found in the ground, but we were told that concentrations were not big enough to stop working. No matter what is to be believed, news is getting grimmer and grimmer. In fact, it is bordering to hopeless. It sounds like mopping the floor with the tap running. Especially when you read trough the lines. It is “we are planning, we are trying”. It is not: “we have succeeded”. You would hope that it cannot get worse than this. But unfortunately it can get much worse and unfortunately the odds to prevent that are not looking good. I wish I could say they are looking good. Nobody wants to know how much lethal fuel is stored in those reactors:
Nobody wants to imagine that all that fuel grows out of control and will released its radiation into the environment. Nobody wants to think about who can stop the flow then. Remember, in Chernobyl that flow was stopped. But this plant is way bigger than Chernobyl and way more toxic since one of the reactors runs on a mix of plutonium and uranium (MOX).
It does not matter wether those releases will be with explosions or smoke plumes high in the air. The downplaying comparisons with Chernobyl are false in my opinion. The truth is that even the experts are looking into never-never- land. They have no experience either with meltdowns of 6 reactors simultaneously. They have no experience with vast releases of plutonium. They cannot guarantee that there will be no explosions or fires. It is much more likely that there will be fires and explosions if things grow out of control. In every building there is inflammable material. And it will ignite from the heat of a meltdown which is, you don’t want to know how many thousands degrees.
And even if there will no be explosions and fires, the radiation will still spread around the globe. Through the air , the sea and the groundwater. Just a little slower. The question is: Can we stop it then?
If you still don’t grasp how bad it is, imagine what it is like not to drink tapwater, not to drink coffee or tea, not to take a shower or bath. These are the circumstances right now up to Tokyo. If you still don’t get it, ask yourself: Would I eat fish from Japan? Would I eat any food from Japan? Would I travel to Japan? Would I advise my loved ones in Japan to buy a ticket and fly home?
Te real tragedy is: If you answer these questions as I think you would, I am just the same chicken as you (and Kim Clijsters). Which speaks volumes about the courage of the people working there in Japan to relieve the agony.