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Home / Articles / Opinion / Editorial /  Fuku Fubar
Editorial

Fuku Fubar

How quickly we forget nuclear disasters

By Jim Catano
Posted // February 29,2012 -

A year ago, northeastern Japan was rocked by the fourth-largest earthquake ever recorded. It triggered a massive tidal wave that swallowed entire cities and swamped the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Three reactors melted down, causing explosions and fires that spewed radioactive contaminants that mostly headed east by air and sea toward North America.

Contaminated water continues to flow into the ground and ocean water as workers try to bring the situation under control, pumping water onto the still-hot reactor cores and spent fuel rods.

But thanks, American media, for moving on to newer news. You held our attention for a whole month even though the disaster is anything but over. Stories that went essentially untold include ones like coastal Japan being littered with stone warning markers dating back centuries to not build anything below certain points—points far up on hillsides. Fukushima Daiichi was constructed right next to the beach.

I attended the American Geophysical Union’s Ocean Sciences Conference held this year in Salt Lake City on Feb. 20 to 24. One session saw a day’s worth of presentations on the disaster’s effects on oceans. (Side note: Japanese academics move way too quickly through PowerPoint slides and refuse to use language interpreters even when needed.)

Any good news to report? The ocean is big, and currents tend to spread out and dilute the bad stuff coming out of the plant. And unlike airborne contaminants that end up in one layer on the ground, the ocean’s depth distributes nasty stuff. Seafood is being watched (kind of) and so far has been determined to be “within safe levels,” except that coming from close to the plant.

I tried months ago to write a feature-length article on Fukushima—and the editor of this publication surely hates me for taking this short and lazy route—but my fairly well-educated brain was swamped by isotopes (the various elements and their degree of radioactivity), half lives (the time it takes them to “decay” or break down to less dangerous forms, which ranges from a few days to hundreds of thousands of years), the various ways to measure radiation (becquerels currently being the most popular), its impact on living things, and even how various types of invisible radioactive contamination affect different tissues.

Even an individual’s health and state of nutrition factor in. For example, airborne Iodine-131 reached the Western United States within days of the disaster. Rain dropped it mostly in the Pacific Northwest (but also in Utah) including on cow feed. Iodine concentrates in milk, so humans who drank it and also had low levels of iodine had radioactive iodine lodge more easily in their thyroid glands where, like tiny microwave ovens, it bombarded and possibly mutated DNA for a couple of weeks, increasing their risk of thyroid cancer. Detected radiation in the United States post-Fukushima was deemed “within safe levels” by authorities, however.

Of course, that’s what they said back in the ’50s and ’60s when southern Utah’s “downwinders” were regularly hit with the fallout from nuclear-bomb testing in Nevada that fell in St. George like snowflakes. We all know how well that turned out for some folks.

Ignorance or outright lying by officials about nuclear stuff is a time-honored tradition. For the 1986 Soviet Chernobyl disaster, the official number of dead from the incident and cleanup is still about 100. Other estimates by sane researchers with three letters after their names say nearly 1 million earlier deaths in Europe are attributable to diseases caused or complicated by the incident. Hey, what’s a 10,000 to 1 difference among friends?

I’ve often observed that the truth lies somewhere between extremes, but even the possibility that “only” half a million people went to somewhat earlier graves due to a reactor blowing up is somehow not all that comforting.

Initial reports by the Japanese government and TEPCO power company about Fukushima’s severity also proved “less than factual,” which greatly undermined the traditional Japanese cultural respect for authority—perhaps a positive consequence. Citizens mobilized and started collecting data using their own radiation detectors and disseminating findings through online networks that continue to bring more openness to this ongoing story—in Japan, anyway.

Such efforts may lack “scientific rigor,” but having an area 25 percent bigger than the Salt Lake Valley with 80,000 evacuated residents (more than Sandy, Orem or Ogden) who may never be able to return to $800 billion of real estate, with perhaps more to come, tends to motivate people.

As America continues to contemplate more nuclear power as a solution to the energy and environmental crises, don’t forget that we still don’t have a way to get rid of nuclear waste so it won’t cause problems for future generations. The Finns are doing something halfway reasonable, entombing it in horrendously expensive shafts drilled deep into bedrock, with hopes that it’ll remain undisturbed for a hundred thousand years while it cools off.

Here, EnergySolutions wants to bury high-level but “blended” nuclear waste in poorly secured locations just west of Salt Lake City. Utah’s state engineer recently decided to give away a lion’s share of our limited water resources to operate a proposed nuclear power plant near Green River.

How quickly we forget that also in the past year, we almost had our own Fukushimas—in Virginia, where a nuclear plant had to survive an earthquake, and when the flooding Missouri River nearly inundated a nuke plant in Nebraska. So, to all the plans to build yet more nuclear plants and kick the can of worms down the road on what to do with their waste, I’ll continue being critical through two abbreviated words: Fuku and Dai. 


Internet resources for Fukushima news

EneNews is one of the most comprehensive sites for perspectives not only from the anti-nuclear position but also from a wide range of opinions. http://enenews.com/ The site seems to go down occasionally but usually comes back within hours.

While the American press in general hasn't done stellar work covering the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, The New York Times has done some very good investigative reporting. You need to subscribe to the NYT site to see articles, and they don't have a convenient aggregation page for all of its articles on this topic. You can, however, do keyword searches of its database. If you can't access it from home, you can reach it through the city or county library systems. Ask a librarian how to use your library card for that.

The foreign press has been far more aggressive in covering Fukushima. One good source is Russia Today. Here's its site that aggregates its Fukushima articles: http://rt.com/trends/fukushima-nuclear-disaster/

This site is probably the best source of Japanese perspectives on Fukushima translated into English from the Japanese media and press. Overlook the hokey anime super-hero graphic to get to the good stuff: http://ex-skf.blogspot.com/

This site lists abstracts from Japanese alternative sources. The English translations are often very poor, but you can find some helpful information and can get full use if you read Japanese. http://fukushima-diary.com/

 
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Post a comment
REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // March 31,2012 at 10:21

I wasn't able to post previous rebuttals, but I  learned that maybe that was perhaps because of this site not liking URLs.

I simply don't need to respond to  jfarmer9's wimpy apologetic trollings.  This former kingpin in the nuke industry will take care of that for me.  Let's hope this altered URL format will work.  You'll need to convert the dot and com.

forbes DOT COM /sites/jeffmcmahon/2012/03/29/exelons-nuclear-guy-no-new-nukes/

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // March 10,2012 at 22:47

Jim Catano aka planet killer,

 

You are really one weird and funny guy.  Your response had to be the longest dissociated piece junk that I have ever read.  Oh wait there was this editorial posted in the city weekly on 2/29/11 that that was even full of more BS.  

Hey Jim you know what since you never replied to my original point I think I am going to just go ahead a repost it. Jim Canato article clearly shows why he is a person who lacks creditability.   Let’s look at one of the many fallacies of his editorial, which he claims to be true.  Jim Caatano wrote, “…the 1986 Soviet Chernobyl disaster, the official number of dead from the incident and cleanup is still about 100. Other estimates by sane researchers with three letters after their names say nearly 1 million.”   This number That Jim Cantdo promotes is a lie that no anti nuclear groups can backup with legitimate science.  Other words, the ‘sane’ respectable scientists have not been able to reproduce a number that comes even close to a million.    ‘Radiobiologist Scott Miller, a research professor at the University of Utah, calls the million-death figure for Chernobyl "a complete fabrication." Miller said, "My reaction is, that's a made-up number."-KSL 3/15/11 John Hollenhorst

 

Why should anyone listen to this guy Jim Canata?  He obviously makes up numbers in order justify his anti nuclear position or paycheck?   If I was the editor of the City Weekly and I was scammed into paying this hack any money I would be pissed.

 

PS. In reply to what my thoughts are on the Mark1 I can’t be too harsh on this piece of 1950 technology.  This technology has never killed a soul and it has provided thousands upon thousands of terawatts of carbon free power at very economical prices.

 

Bests,

  

Jfarmer9

 

  

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // March 6,2012 at 12:42

Well, well, well, John Farmer aka Jfarmer9, aren't you the busy little beaver on all things nuclear. A little Googling with your handle reveals that you relish picking fights just about anytime nuke power gets mentioned and that your specialty is ad hominem attacks against those with whom you disagree. Good move as it distracts somewhat from your highly vacuous arguments.

It's interesting to note, however, that you often get your hind quarters handed to you in such exchanges. Here's a fun one from an opponent to which you never responded. Wise move since a cogent rebuttal would have been impossible. I'll re-post it here in the event you've been contemplating a response since last May when it was asked of you. It's in regard to the type of reactors that blew up at Fukushima:

"So, Mr. Farmer, you're in favor of shutting down the 23 Mark 1 reactors currently operating in the U.S.? That's great news! It's so reassuring when the nuclear industry over and over again tells us that new designs are safe -- it's just the old ones that are flawed. I don't recall the industry saying such bad things about Mark 1s prior to March 11."

From: http://kcpw.org/blog/local-news/2011-05-17/fukushima-matters-in-utah-nuclear-debate-says-expert/

Oh, and John, it was just hilarious how you misspelled my name four different ways. Were you hoping not to trigger my Google Alerts so you can take cheap personal shots, and I wouldn't notice? I had friends try to rebut you, but the City Weekly site went down after you posted, and it wouldn't accept new comments. Say, are you perhaps a more accomplished hacker than you are a troll?

And since your tagline elsewhere is "Viva the Nuclear Renaissance," perhaps you'll let us know how your employment relates to the energy industry or perhaps what your investment portfolio consists of. I, for the record, have no employment connections or investments in any energy-related industries (green ones included), although I believe jump starting alternative energy projects with the modern equivalent of a WWII/Marshall Plan/Apollo moon shot-type mobilization program would both revive the economy and wean us away from the fossil and nuclear industries with the later being so grossly financially inefficient that Wall Street investors won't touch it on its own, so it must rely on government handouts to survive.

You wrote: "Why should anyone listen to this guy Jim Canata?" (And, hey, I'm still chuckling about my name warp. You big card!) He obviously makes up numbers in order justify his anti nuclear position or paycheck?

There are very small paychecks involved with writing articles like that, but a team of Russian researcher "made up" those numbers based on epidemiological data and estimated that as many as a million deaths in Europe occurred somewhat earlier resulting from Chernobyl. You might disagree with their conclusions, but you may at least want to try referencing some of that science-y stuff that you allude to in other posts but either misinterpret or cherry-pick to suit your bias.

Oh, and if they don't offer a corporate shill training program at University of Phoenix where you can refine your skills, I do provide a discounted rate for editing for those who are pathologically in need. I won't go into all the typos and double negatives (that reversed your intended meaning, btw), but those do make you look sorta silly. Let me know if you to take me up on that offer so you don't embarrass yourself so much in the future.

Oh, and don't forget to let us know your proposal for all the other GE Mark Ones out there.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // March 2,2012 at 14:40

Yeah you damn hippies -- I for one will welcome Blinky the 3-Eyed Fish to the great Salt Lake.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // February 29,2012 at 13:21

Jim Canato article clearly shows why he is a person who lacks creditability.   Let’s look at one of the many fallacies which he claims to be true.  Jim Caatano wrote, “…the 1986 Soviet Chernobyl disaster, the official number of dead from the incident and cleanup is still about 100. Other estimates by sane researchers with three letters after their names say nearly 1 million.”   This number is a lie that no anti nuclear groups can not backup with legitimate science.  Other words, the sane respectable scientist have not been able to reproduce a number that comes even close to a million.    ‘Radiobiologist Scott Miller, a research professor at the University of Utah, calls the million-death figure for Chernobyl "a complete fabrication." Miller said, "My reaction is, that's a made-up number."-KSL 3/15/11 John Hollenhorst

 

Why should anyone listen to this guy Jim Canata?  He obviously makes up numbers in order justify his anti nuclear position or paycheck?   If I was the editor of the City Weekly and I was scammed into paying this hack any money I would be pissed.

  

Jfarmer9

 

 
 
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