The world is about to be shoved through the looking glass, head first.
New York Times: Japan Faces Potential Nuclear Disaster as Radiation Levels Rise
TOKYO — Japan’s nuclear crisis verged toward catastrophe on Tuesday after an explosion damaged the vessel containing the nuclear core at one reactor and a fire at another spewed large amounts of radioactive material into the air, according to the statements of Japanese government and industry officials. New York Times, March 15
The two critical questions over the next day or so are how much radioactive material is spewed into the atmosphere, and where the winds carry it.
"We are on the brink. We are now facing the worst-case scenario," said Hiroaki Koide, a senior reactor engineering specialist at the Research Reactor Institute of Kyoto University. "We can assume that the containment vessel at Reactor No. 2 is already breached. If there is heavy melting inside the reactor, large amounts of radiation will most definitely be released." New York Times, March 15 (approximately 2:15 ET)
The explosion recalls the Washington Post article of March 13. The meltdown occurring, according to the New York Times report, is appalling. If the wind shifts direction, 103 million people are at risk on Japan's main island Honshu:
If a full meltdown occurs, a huge molten lump of radioactive material would burn through all containment, destroy the building and fall to the ground, exposed. A toxic stew of exotic radioactive particles would then spread on the wind and rain.
But if luck turns south and the winds do, too, radioactive particles could be spread far across Honshu, Japan’s largest island, [103 million population] and beyond.Washington Post, March 13
Russia TV presented a video of the explosion:
"Who's on Third?" Information Cluster…. at the UN and IAEA
Reuters ran a story on March 13 dismissing the health risks of radiation. Malcom Crick, Secretary of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, was cited as an authority:
"This is not a serious public health issue at the moment," Malcolm Crick, Secretary of the U.N. Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, told Reuters.
"It won't be anything like Chernobyl. There the reactor was operating at full power when it exploded and it had no containment," he said. As a precaution, around 140,000 people have been evacuated from the area around Fukushima.
Reuters tracked down the director general of the International Automic Energency Agency (IAEA), a former Japanese diplomat. His comments came as the Times reported the current conditions "verging" on nuclear disaster:
Japan nuclear crisis unlike Chernobyl - U.N. atom chief
Reuters March 15, 2011, 5:18 am
Vienna (Reuters) Yukiya Amano, director general of the … IAEA expressed confidence Japanese authorities were doing all they could to restore safety at the sites and said a Chernobyl-style disaster was "very unlikely."
"I think at this time we don't have any indication of fuel that is currently melting," IAEA safety official James Lyons said.
"The Japanese authorities are working as hard as they can, under extremely difficult circumstances, to stabilise the nuclear power plants and ensure safety," Amano told the agency's first news conference since Friday's earthquake. March 15
An IAEA safety officer offered these comforting words
"I think at this time we don't have any indication of fuel that is currently melting," IAEA safety official James Lyons said. March 15
Secretary Crick indicated the source of the IAEA's problems in an address to the UN General Assembly Fourth Committee in 2007. After noting that,
The secretariat was also beset by staffing problems: after the post for one of two professionals within the secretariat was abolished in 1992, it had become ever more difficult for it to keep pace with new scientific developments. Malcolm Crick, UN General Assembly, Fourth Committee, October 29, 2007
We have yet to hear the excuse for IAEA director general Amano's ignorance at the eleventh hour.
The knew or should have known
"… the real embarrassment for the Japanese government is not so much the nature of the accident but the fact it was warned long ago about the risks it faced in building nuclear plants in areas of intense seismic activity. Several years ago, the seismologist Ishibashi Katsuhiko stated, specifically, that such an accident was highly likely to occur. Nuclear power plants in Japan have a "fundamental vulnerability" to major earthquakes, Katsuhiko said in 2007. The government, the power industry and the academic community had seriously underestimated the potential risks posed by major quakes." The Guardian, March 12
At The Automatic Earth, poster Stoneleigh, (Nicole Foss) presents a scathing and comprehensive indictment of the ignorance and negligence required to create the current catastrophe. Foss holds a law degree with a focus on nuclear issues. The Oxford University Institute for Energy Studies published her study, Nuclear Safety and International Governance: Russia and Eastern Europe by N Foss, in 1999. The entire post by Stoneleigh is highly recommended.
Foss marches through the sequence of events that will define the coming scandal of nuclear negligence with documentation at each step. One of the most interesting points concerns the tests on the TEPCO (Tokyo power) Fukushima I reactors, No. 1 and No2. TEPCO built the plant. It didn't use test procedures that accounted for the recent earthquake:
"Simultaneous seismic activity along the three tectonic plates in the sea east of the plants—the epicenter of Friday's quake—wouldn't surpass 7.9, according to the company's presentation. The company based its models partly on previous seismic activity in the area, including a 7.0 earthquake in May 1938 and two simultaneous earthquakes of 7.3 and 7.5 on November 5 of the same year... Stoneleigh, The Automatic Earth, March 13
The test was devised to assure that the plant and reactors passed the test. It's that simple.
Foss makes this insightful comment about comparisons to Chernobyl:
Non-technical comparisons between Fukushima and Chernobyl are more apt, specifically in terms of governance in the nuclear industry and complacency as to risk. Nuclear insiders in many jurisdictions are notorious for being an unaccountable power unto themselves, and failing to release critical information publicly. Stoneleigh, The Automatic Earth, March 13
Fukushima I is a man made disaster just as the next disaster will be man made. Why? Because men forged ahead despite science and common sense to build these ticking time bombs that will inevitibly fail at a rate greater than zero. We now have the first frame of a total picture that defines the horror of nuclear energy.
Those in charge are just warming up. They have more in store for us.
Bringing it Home - "A Confederacy of Dunces" Prevails in Washington
Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate's Republican majority leader, endorsed ongoing efforts for nuclear power
"This discussion reminds me, somewhat, of the conversations that were going on after the BP oil spill last year,” Mr. McConnell said during an interview on “Fox News Sunday.” “I don’t think right after a major environmental catastrophe is a very good time to be making American domestic policy." Wall Street Journal, M arch 13
In the tradition of The Money Party, that bipartisan group of Democrats and Republicans who do the heavy lifting for the ruling elite, President Obama came through as expected:
Obama Stands by Nuclear Power
WASHINGTON—Obama administration officials Monday brushed aside calls for a freeze on new U.S. nuclear power development, and sought to reassure the public the nation's nuclear facilities are safe and the threat of harmful radiation reaching U.S. soil from Japan is minimal.
The Obama administration has said it wants to speed construction of nuclear-power facilities as part of a strategy to support sources of energy that emit little or no carbon dioxide or other gases linked to climate change.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday that Mr. Obama continued to support nuclear power, and that the administration would incorporate lessons from the Japanese accident into regulations. Wall Street Journal, March 15
Are these people completely out of their minds? (Rhetorical question)
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N.B. Special thanks to The Week for featuring yesterday's article, Post Nuclear Japan, Pre Disaster United States. Also thanks to users at The Agonist for their comments in a lively and informative ongoing discussion.