NBC News is reporting that the level of radiation issuing from the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant has spiked to lethal levels. The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) said that the readings were discovered on Saturday at four new locations. The leaks are near the joints of storage tanks holding the contaminated water used to cool the reactor rods in the damaged facility. One of the readings reached 1,800 millisieverts per hour. That level is considered lethal enough to kill an exposed person in four hours. Previous readings taken from the same tank registered 100 millisieverts per hour. Readings at other locations register 70 to 230 millisieverts per hour.
To put it in perspective, the average American receives 6.2 millisieverts of radiation per year and the allowable amount for Japanese nuclear workers is limited to 50 per year.
Now here’s the rub: A TEPCO spokesperson said they are investigating the cause and that one factor that played a part in the disparity of readings is that previous measuring instruments were only capable of measuring up to 100 millisieverts, while the new instrument, which measured the spike, can measure up to 10,000 millisieverts. So, in effect, the radiation issuing from the damaged storage tanks may have been, and mostly likely has been, higher than the levels previously reported by TEPCO, all because the instruments used for measuring were limited in scope.
This is yet another example of the unbelievably inept and deceptive practices of TEPCO in an attempt to make an unparalleled disaster seem less than the ongoing catastrophe it really is. It is also a damning indictment of the Japanese government, which must have been aware of this and kept silent, or worse, has been so out of the loop that it was clueless.
TEPCO is preparing to remove 400 tons of spent fuel rods from damaged reactor building number 4. Nothing on this scale has ever been attempted before and the operation is fraught with danger. More than 1,300 used rod assemblies need to be removed from a building that is close to collapse from the damage inflicted by the March 11, 2011 9.0 earthquake and the tsunami that followed. The radiation contained in those rods is equivalent to 14,000 times the amount released in the bombing of Hiroshima.
The removal operation is due to begin in November. Due to the damage to the building, the operation, which is one usually done by computers, must be done manually. If an assembly breaks, gets too close to an adjacent bundle or gets stuck, the resulting disaster would be worse than the one already in progress.
Removal of spent fuel rods involves pulling the assemblies from the racks in which they are stored and inserting them into a heavy steel chamber. The entire procedure takes place under water. The steel chamber, which acts as a shield to the radiation emanating from the rods, is then transported to the plant’s common storage pool in a building that is undamaged.
Independent consultants Mycle Schneider and Antony Froggatt in their World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2013 said,
“Full release of the Unit-4 spent fuel pool, without any containment or control, could cause by far the most serious radiological disaster to date.”
Despite all of their previous failures to contain the radiation at the power plant, despite all of the falsehoods delivered to the press and to the government, TEPCO believes the operation can be carried out safely.
Meanwhile, a separate report from NBC says that a radioactive plume of water will likely reach the coastal waters north of Oregon and into Canada some time in early 2014 and peak in 2016. The plume has three sources: radioactive particles from the atmosphere that have fallen into the ocean, contaminated water that was released from the plant in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, and contaminated water leached from tainted soil.
Researchers tell us that the cesium-137 will be diluted to the point where it poses no hazard to human beings. The radiation is expected to measure 10-30 becquerels of cesium-137 per cubic meter in those northern regions. The California coast is expected to get a lower dose of 10-20 becquerels per cubic meter from 2016 to 2025.
A large portion of the plume won’t reach U.S. waters anytime soon. Instead the majority of the cesium-137 that is being measured will remain in the North Pacific gyre, in what has come to be known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Eventually, models show that about 25 percent of the radioactivity released in the initial accident will escape the North Pacific gyre and travel to the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean over the next twenty to thirty years.
The report keeps stressing that the cesium will be diluted, that it will pose no threat to human beings. But one has to ask: If radioactive water is being pumped into the Pacific Ocean at a rate of 300 tons a day (and it is), and that continues unabated for years (which it already has and continues as I sit here and write this), and containment is at least a year away (which is an optimistic and most likely unattainable objective), and nothing else goes wrong (which, at this point, seems like a pipe dream), how can anyone say with any confidence that the radiation exposure will cause no harm to human beings? How about the fish in the ocean that are a part of our food chain? How about all the other elements present in that contaminated water? What about strontium 90? What about plutonium, which is one of the most toxic substances in the entire universe? Both of those elements were released in the disaster and both accumulate in the bones.
Some have branded me an alarmist. Well, quite frankly, I AM alarmed. We are currently living in the shadow of a nuclear incident like nothing this planet has ever experienced. So far, two and a half years after the incident the radiation from that accident is uncontained, and we are now finding out that the levels first reported were just a fiction manufactured by TEPCO, a company that has proven itself to be unreliable and totally ineffective in handling a disaster that is, arguably, beyond comprehension.
It is easy to say there is no threat when the threat won’t show up for a decade or more in the form of epidemics of cancer among human beings. With all that we’ve dumped into the ocean, don’t be surprised to start hearing about, or perhaps even seeing, aquatic life washed ashore with evidence of radiological disorders. It is coming. The only question is when.