Monday, November 18, 2013

Demanding Action on Fukushima

 By Reginald Johnson

    A determined group of anti-nuclear activists are working feverishly to spread the word about the grave dangers posed by the earthquake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan, and demanding that other countries get involved in making sure that the plant doesn’t have a catastrophic nuclear accident.

  Recently the group delivered a petition to the United Nations with over 150,000 signatures which asks that UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and other world leaders take immediate steps to intervene in the Fukushima situation, by sending a team of elite scientists and engineers to Japan to oversee the safe dismantling of the plant.

  The company that owns the facility, Tokyo Electric Power Company, on Monday began the removal of 1300 highly radioactive fuel rods from an unstable storage building at Reactor 4.  The work is expected to last a year.

 But activists such as long-time nuclear power critic Harvey Wasserman maintain that TEPCO does not have the expertise to handle this operation properly, and there’s the possibility of a major accident.

  Wasserman and others say the fuel rods (now in a cooling pool) are in some cases bent or embrittled, and the removal will be extremely tricky. Should any of the rods break, hit each other, or get exposed to the air, there could be an explosion and serious radiation releases.

   The amount of radiation that could potentially be released if all the rods were caught up in an explosion is 14,000 times the amount contained in the fallout from the Hiroshima bomb, according to Hiroaki  Koide, assistant professor at Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute.

   Charles Perrow, a professor at Yale University said the amount of radioactive caesium - 137 in the spent fuel pool is 10 times the amount that was present in the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the Soviet Union in 1986. Radiation from the Chernobyl meltdown spread around the world. At Fukushima, one slip-up in the removal process would trigger a chain reaction, Perrow told ABC News.

  “This has me very scared,” he said. “Tokyo would have to be evacuated because caesium and other poisons that are there will spread very rapidly.”

   At a gathering Nov. 7 at Dag Hammerskjold Plaza outside the UN prior to the delivery of the petition and accompanying letter, Wasserman and other activists spoke about their work and the Fukushima crisis. A number of those present were members of  the group the “Green Shadow Cabinet,” an alternative presidential cabinet whose members often speak in opposition to government policies and offer progressive alternatives.

  “The letter we’re delivering promotes a plan developed by 16 top nuclear experts urging that the government of Japan transfer responsibility for the Fukushima reactor site to a worldwide engineering group….this plan stresses that the clean-up be overseen by a civil society panel and an international group of nuclear experts independent from TEPCO and the International Atomic Energy Admnistration (IAEA),” Wasserman said.

  Also speaking was Dr. Margaret Flowers,  a pediatrician and another member of the Green Shadow Cabinet.  “There is the potential for a massive release of radiation that would have significant health effects for people and other life across the world --- from Japan to the Pacific Islands to the continental United States, “ she said.

  Flowers added,  “The U.S. government and many regulatory bodies are dominated by the nuclear industry and have failed to take appropriate action to provide assistance to Japan. We can’t cross our fingers and hope that TEPCO pulls it off,”
  Also on hand was Dr. Jill Stein, the president of the Green Shadow Cabinet and Green Party presidential candidate in the 2012 national election.

 Stein spoke about the need for transparency in the information coming out about Fukushima and the clean-up operation --- also known as decommissioning.

  “The media must be provided with timely, accurate information and must report on Fukushima throughout this critical phase. The public needs to know what’s going on, step by step,” said Stein.

  The problem with the Reactor 4 spent fuel rods is by no means the only issue of concern at Fukushima Daiichi, which was struck by an earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. The natural disaster caused over 18,000 deaths.

   Three entire reactor cores are missing since the earthquake; massive amounts of radiated water has leaked from the plant into the Pacific Ocean, contaminating sea life; thousands more radioactive spent fuel rods lie in storage buildings around the facility, creating additional health risks in the event of another earthquake.
    The activists will continue to agitate to get the word out about the dangers posed by Fukushima and the need for a proper clean-up. More petition drives and actions are planned.

    Wasserman said he and others also will engage in a fast on the 11th day of every month, “to honor the victims of this horrible disaster, and to focus our efforts on finding ways to survive it.”


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