It's the most important story nobody's talking about: the continued
dire situation at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, ravaged by a
massive earthquake and Tsunami last March.
Judging by the official position of the Japanese Government - which maintains the worst of the catastrophe has passed, declaring the plant now "stable" - and drying up of mainstream media coverage, it's easy to see how most of the world has been lulled into a false sense of security about Fukushima.
Wyden, a senior Democratic senator on the Senate Energy
committee, toured the ruined Fukushima plant on April 6, and said the
damage was far worse than he expected.
"Seeing the extent of the disaster first-hand during my visit conveyed the magnitude of this tragedy and the continuing risks and challenges in a way that news accounts cannot," said Wyden in a letter to Ichiro Fujisaki, Japan's ambassador to the United States...
...Wyden said he was most worried about spent fuel rods stored in damaged pools adjacent to the ocean, and urged the Japanese government to accept international help to prevent further release of the radioactive material if another earthquake should happen.
The senator expressed concern on his website that all that was standing between the spent fuel ponds and another Tsunami was "a small, makeshift sea wall erected out of bags of rock." Wyden called for the spent fuel rods to be moved to safe storage more quickly than the 10-year time frame laid out by the Japanese Government under its Fukushima remediation plan.
Dr. Robert Alvarez, a former top advisor at the US Department of Energy, confirmed the fears of Wyden and Gundersen when asked by Japanese diplomat Akio Matsumura to review the situation at Fukushima. Alvarez responded:
The No. 4 pool is about 100 feet above ground, is structurally damaged and is exposed to the open elements. If an earthquake or other event were to cause this pool to drain this could result in a catastrophic radiological fire involving nearly 10 times the amount of Cesium-137 released by the Chernobyl accident. (emphasis added)
Another Japanese diplomat, former Ambassador to Switzerland and Senegal Mitsuhei Murata has also joined the chorus of concern over reactor 4, writing in a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, "It is no exaggeration to say that the fate of Japan and the whole world depends on No. 4 reactor." (emphasis added)
Experts in communicating environmental themes to the broader public tend to stress the importance of providing people with hope and tangible actions they can take to help resolve the issue at hand. Perhaps that's one reason I've resisted covering this story up until now. I confess, every time I read about the dire situation at Fukushima, I can't help but feel depressed and powerless to affect a situation that threatens to destroy everything I hold dear: my wild salmon and marine ecosystems, my coastal home, the health and welfare of my family and community, my whole country and the very planet as I know it. If we take to heart the warnings of people like Senator Wyden, Dr. Alvarez, Ambassador Mistuhei - or even if at minimum we apply the Precautionary Principle to the situation, which seems well-warranted - then we have to acknowledge the very real possibility that nothing short of the fate of human civilization and the natural world hang on the teetering frame of Reactor 4.
Is that melodramatic? So what if these fears prove overblown in the
end? This is one situation where I don't mind being labelled a Chicken
Little, for the chance that the danger was real and my actions helped in
some way to mitigate it.
By all accounts, solving the problem is an extraordinary undertaking requiring enormous funding, highly specialized equipment and incomprehensible danger for the brave Japanese workers required to carry out the job. Which is why the International Community - and Ron Wyden's own government, who have yet to act on his concerns - must heed these calls to get off their buts and start pitching in. Of course, that requires Japan's acknowledgement of the problem and receptiveness to outside help, yet its leaders remain in full denial mode.
The combination of the scale of this looming disaster - which is beyond anything contemplated by humanity since the Cuban Missile crisis - the relative lack of profile and perceived collective credibility of the small number of messengers bearing these unwelcome tidings to date (though these are some highly credible people), and the lack of coverage by the mainstream media have all contributed to the paralysis currently afflicting the powers that be vis-a-vis Fukushima.
Yet, just today, the Wall Street Journal too chimed in on the emerging story. While the brief article, titled, "Fukushima Daiichi's Unit 4 Spent-Fuel Pool: Safe or Not?", presents the official line parroted by Japanese vice-minister for reconstruction, Ikko Nakatsuka - namely, that recent efforts to fortify reactor 4 have rendered it relatively safe - the paper retained some healthy skepticism, concluding: "But just how big an earthquake could Unit 4 withstand before it collapses? That’s one of many questions from reporters that Mr. Nakatsuka and the head of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency’s seismic safety unit evaded or wouldn’t answer."
Thanks to the efforts of the above politicians and nuclear
experts, the story is beginning to break through in the mainstream
media, forcing the Japanese at least to appear to step up their efforts.
What is required now is for this issue to gain enough prominence in the
mainstream media and, consequently, the public consciousness, to compel
a unified political effort to move those bloody fuel rods to safety
before another earthquake topples them and takes us all with them.
It is my hope, in talking about this thing no one wants to contemplate, that I'm doing my small part in inching the world closer to the action necessary to avert a crisis of unthinkable proportions. And perhaps if you take a moment to share this story and others you come across with your social media network, friends, colleagues and family - and write your political representatives and media - we can help build the movement required to keep our air and water clean, our children's future preserved.
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