The Week That Was In Doom September 15, 2013

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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on September 15, 2013

Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.


I don’t personally consider myself Dr. Doom. I call myself Dr. Realist, even though it’s less exciting and more boring than being called Dr. Doom. If you are consistently saying ‘the world is going to end,’ who is going to listen to you?”

~Nouriel Roubini


The story of the “little boy who cried wolf” is a familiar part of our culture.  The professional Cassandras who inhabit the doomscape, including this scribbler, are forever pointing to instances that confirm our bias of impending doom. In fact, there’s an entire subsection of American culture where the reputations of “end of the world prophets” are interred. To date, they’ve all been wrong, sometimes spectacularly so.

Last year we were treated to the spectacle of a superannuated Harold Camping,  who unsuccessfully predicted Judgment Day for last May 21. Camping had predicted that the globe would be destroyed by earthquakes, plagues, fireballs and other doomsday–style pyrotechnics. After May 21 came and went, Camping was at least decent enough to publicly apologize for what amounted to hubris in attempting to predict the end of the world, and, in the process costing many of his followers their jobs, retirement savings or college funds.

And then there was Marshall Applewhite, the google-eyed religious leader of the Heaven’s Gate religious group and suicide cult.  Drawing from both science fiction and Scripture, Applewhite predicted that Comet Hale–Bopp would be trailed by an alien spaceship that would provide new bodies for his followers. All they had to do was shed their earthly meat sacks, upon which  they would be transported to the alien vessel and provided with new containers.  After a last supper of sorts, Applewhite his followers took their own lives by imbibing vodka and barbiturates. Result? Uhh– not so much. On March 26, 1997, police discovered the bodies of 39 members of the group who had committed mass suicide in order to reach that alien space craft trailing  Comet Hale–Bopp,  was then at its brightest.

Thus it is clear that predictions of impending doom, judgment day, or the end of the world being nigh are fraught. End-is-nigh prophets thus far have a 100% record of being wrong.  With this preamble in mind, we bring up the troubling matter of Fukushima. In an article from Washington’s Blog posted this week within the Diner Forum, and on the Diner Facebook page,  the real danger at Fukushima has yet to be addressed.

A record of duplicity

Anyone who has followed this story of Fukushima has read a record of evasion, incomplete statements, incompetence, half-measures and outright lies, seemingly aimed at managing the news rather than coming up with solutions to insure public health.

To review the bidding, Fukushima has been a horrible mess since this story broke in 2011.  The Japanese tsunami of March 11, 2011 disabled the power supply and cooling for three reactors, causing the cores to melt in all three.  Initial efforts were to stabilize the reactors and to control decay heat from the radioactive fuel. Later efforts were directed to prevent the release of radioactive materials.  this past June, it was clear that  record high levels of radioactive tritium were measured in the harbor at Fukushima. Given recent reports this past August of contaminated water leaking from the three units, this effort has obviously not borne fruit.  At least one US senator has recognized that the Fukushima disaster is a national security issue for America.

Yet the greatest danger seems not to be from the copious amounts of radioactive water rushing into the Pacific Ocean, but from the fuel cores themselves.  From Washington’s Blog:

But the real problem is that the idiots who caused this mess are probably about to cause a much bigger problem.

Specifically, the greatest short-term threat to humanity is from the fuel pools at Fukushima.

Arnie Gundersen is an oft-quoted and well respected nuclear expert intimately acquainted with Fukushima.  He said:

There’s more cesium in that [Unit 4] fuel pool than in all 800 nuclear bombs exploded above ground…

But of course it would happen all at once.

It would certainly destroy Japan as a functioning country…

Move south of the equator if that ever happened, I think that’s probably the lesson there.

It would appear that  Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO’s) incompetence has been exceeded only by its duplicity.  It would appear that much too much time has been spent on walls and ductwork, at the expense of the problems inside the reactors (which coincidentally are capable of visiting radiation equivalent to 14,000 times the amount released by the Hiroshima atomic bomb).  Apparently TEPCO plans to begin removal of fuel rods and assemblies beginning this November.   In a masterpiece of understatement, Washington’s Blog has it thus:

No one knows how bad it can get, but independent consultants Mycle Schneider and Antony Froggatt said recently in their World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2013: “Full release from the Unit-4 spent fuel pool, without any containment or control, could cause by far the most serious radiological disaster to date.”


The utility says it recognizes the operation will be difficult but believes it can carry it out safely.

Nonetheless, Tepco inspires little confidence. Sharply criticized for failing to protect the Fukushima plant against natural disasters, its handling of the crisis since then has also been lambasted.

Not only is the process of removing fuel rod assemblies technically daunting, but it is also fraught with danger. According to reports, each fuel rod assembly weighs 660 pounds and is 15 feet long. There are over 1300 spent fuel assemblies at the Fukushima site. And to up the ante, the spent fuel rods contain plutonium.  Plutonium is one of the most toxic substances in the universe.  And the rods are also vulnerable to fire should they be exposed to air.

An aerial photo shows the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in northern Japan. Radioactive water spilled during a tsunami-caused catastrophe in 2011 is slowly making its way toward the U.S. coastal area.

Like Pulling Cigarettes Out of a Crumpled Pack

The conditions described above would make the process of removal hard enough. But it’s even more complicated. Again, Arnie Gundersen explains the biggest problem with fuel rods:

I think they’re belittling the complexity of the task. If you think of a nuclear fuel rack as a pack of cigarettes, if you pull a cigarette straight up it will come out — but these racks have been distorted. Now when they go to pull the cigarette straight out, it’s going to likely break and release radioactive cesium and other gases, xenon and krypton, into the air. I suspect come November, December, January we’re going to hear that the building’s been evacuated, they’ve broke a fuel rod, the fuel rod is off-gassing.

I suspect we’ll have more airborne releases as they try to pull the fuel out. If they pull too hard, they’ll snap the fuel. I think the racks have been distorted, the fuel has overheated — the pool boiled – and the net effect is that it’s likely some of the fuel will be stuck in there for a long, long time.

Given that many been following this story for two years, and that TEPCO has been consistently late, consistently wrong, and consistently duplicitous in its public stance, and it has no financial incentive to actually fix the reactors, many say that TEPCO should be removed from all efforts to stabilize Fukushima. Why this is not a matter of the gravest international import defies common sense. If our so-called governments had any interest whatsoever in the public health and welfare of the citizenry, they would move it to the top of the list. That they fail to do so should speak volumes.

Remember that US Navy “humanitarian aid?”

Sailors aboard the USS Ronald Reagan scrub down the flight deck in an effort to remove any potential radiation contamination during Operation Tomodachi, March 23, 2011. Kevin Gray/U.S. Navy, Flickr

In the wake of the disaster, the U.S. Navy dispatched the USS Ronald Reagan and other associated vessels to help, providing humanitarian aid and doubtless looking after American assets in Japan. In a story that’s received little play in the domestic press, a number of sailors have filed suit for millions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages for being irradiated while on duty.

A lawsuit that U.S. servicemembers have filed against Tokyo Electric Power Co. is now seeking more than $2 billion, with a growing number of plaintiffs claiming Japan’s nationalized utility lied about the dangers to those helping out after a nuclear disaster two years ago.

The number of plaintiffs has nearly tripled from nine, when the case was first filed in December, to 26, and attorneys said another 100 people are in the process of joining the suit, despite criticism from their peers that they’re just looking for an easy payoff and claims from the Department of Defense that the amounts of radiation they were exposed to don’t pose serious health risks.

For its part, the Navy said it took all necessary proactive measures  to mitigate the levels of Fukushima related radiation to personnel and equipment, blah blah.

“Ship’s company used sensitive instruments to identify areas containing radioactivity, took action to control the spread of the radioactivity and washed and cleaned areas of the ship that contained radioactivity. For perspective, the radioactivity is typically easily removed with soap and water.”

What is interesting is, that according to anecdotal sources, maintenance contracts for several of the ships involved were canceled. As of this writing I cannot find independent confirmation of this. I did find this item, however, about teams from Oak Ridge performing “surveys” of the affected ships involved in relief efforts.


I’m from the government and I’m here to help…

So what have our governments done in response?

Governments worldwide raised acceptable radiation level levels as part of a coordinated cover-up. Indeed, what is a safe level of radiation? That is determined by politicians rather than scientists.  In the real world, where people live, even low doses of radiation are known to cause cancer. There’s a reason why the radiation tech hides behind a lead lined wall while dosing you with x-rays,  and a reason why they give you that little lead codpiece.  Apparently the Obama administration quietly gave final approval to the EPA to raise acceptable limits for radiation levels in soil and water this past April.

“According to PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the new standards would drastically raise the levels of radiation allowed in food, water, air, and the general environment. PEER, a national organization of local, state, and federal employees who had access to internal EPA emails, claims that the new standards will result in a “nearly 1000-fold increase for exposure to strontium-90, a 3000 to 100,000-fold hike for exposure to iodine-131; and an almost 25,000 rise for exposure to radioactive nickel-63? in drinking water.

Yes, these are the same people who told New Yorkers that the air was safe to breathe on 9/11.   And in a move you may have forgotten, the EPA put a halt to extra radiation monitoring, changing its focus to imported seafood.  This is from May, 2011, weeks after the disaster at Fukushima:

The Environmental Protection Agency has halted accelerated testing of precipitation, drinking water, and milk for radiation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the agency announced yesterday.

“After a thorough data review showing declining radiation levels related to the Japanese nuclear incident, EPA has returned to the routine RadNet sampling and analysis process for precipitation, drinking water and milk,” according to yesterday’s Daily Data Summary.

Milk and drinking water will return to a regular quarterly schedule and will next be tested in three months. Preciptation will be tested monthly.

The agency will continue to monitor air samples—where radiation is likely to appear first—in near real time and post the results, but “EPA is evaluating the need to continue operating the additional air monitors deployed in response to the Japan nuclear incident,” the summary states.

We don’t need no stinkin’ monitors.  We used to be concerned with radiation; now it’s just “vitamin R.” And about that carefully inspected Japanese seafood?

Hillary Clinton signed a pact with her counterpart in Japan agreeing that the U.S. will continue buying seafood from Japan, despite that food not being tested for radioactive materials.

American and Canadian authorities have virtually stopped monitoring airborne radiation, and are not testing fish for radiation. (Indeed, the EPA reacted to Fukushima by raising “acceptable” radiation levels.)

The Japanese government’s entire strategy from day one has been to cover up the severity of the Fukushima accident. This has likely led to unnecessary, additional deaths.

Indeed, the core problem is that all of the world’s nuclear agencies are wholly captured by the nuclear industry … as are virtually all of the supposedly independent health agencies.

And lest you think that “we’ve got our best minds on this, the hysterics must be pumping this up, there really can’t be anything to worry about”, there is this little noted story:

After the North American governments refused to fund testing, oceanographer Ken Buesseler, a senior scientist at the non-profit Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Mass, along with Nicholas Fisher, a marine sciences professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and other concerned scientists, managed to secure private funding for a Pacific research voyage.  The results?


Cesium levels in the Pacific had initially gone up an astonishing 45 million times above pre-accident levels. The levels then declined rapidly for a while, but after that, they unexpectedly levelled off.
In July, cesium levels stopped declining and remained stuck at 10,000 times above pre-accident levels.
This means the ocean isn’t diluting the radiation as expected. If it had been, cesium levels would have kept falling.
The finding suggests that radiation is still being released into the ocean long after the accident in March, 2011.
Less than two weeks after the tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster, Michael Kane, an investigative journalist, reported, “In the wake of the continuing nuclear tragedy in Japan, the United States government is still moving quickly to increase the amounts of radiation the population can “safely” absorb by raising the safe zone for exposure to levels designed to protect the government and nuclear industry more than human life.”

The radiation has absolutely reached the shores of North America.  Water samples from across the continent have tested positive for unsafe levels of radioactivity.  The levels exceeded federal drinking water thresholds, known as maximum contaminant levels, or MCL, by as much as 181 times.”This means that the complete ecosystem of the Pacific Ocean is now poisoned with radiation and we aren’t being warned. 

The only people this will surprise are those not aware of how government regulatory agencies had been captured by corporate interests.

If you’re concerned by this, you can check-in with this website:

And if you’d like to monitor the spreading radiation from Fukushima in real time, there’s this:

In the meantime, a large plume of radioactive ocean water is due to reach US shores in 2014. So we’ll have that to look forward to.

A radioactive plume of water in the Pacific Ocean from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, which was crippled in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, will likely reach U.S. coastal waters starting in 2014, according to a new study. The long journey of the radioactive particles could help researchers better understand how the ocean’s currents circulate around the world.

Ocean simulations showed that the plume of radioactive cesium-137 released by the Fukushima disaster in 2011 could begin flowing into U.S. coastal waters starting in early 2014 and peak in 2016.

Meanwhile, the geniuses at TEPCO are planning to build an ice wall to contain the radioactive water after the recent series of leaks mishaps and bad press. Who knows what will come of that effort?    What is truly interesting is that Fukushima is starting to attract more mainstream press attention. Forbes moved an article several hours ago. Russia Today is gloating about how the 2020 Olympics will be under contamination threat. ABC news has also moved a story in the last day.

So with all deference to Dr. Roubini, let him continue to be called “Dr. Doom.” I have no desire to be lumped in with the Marshall Applewhites, Harold Camping’s, or hair–on–fire bloggers predicting  impending Armageddon.  Yet it is no stretch to assert that Fukushima poses an existential threat of Doom-scale proportions. TEPCO has lost all control of Fukushima, and had no contingency plan for the disaster. Given the events of the tsunami and aftermath, it’s almost forgivable that they were not prepared for this. Yet if the governments of the world were serious about mitigating this disaster and its attendant health effects, there would be an international effort to address this issue and relieve it immediately. As noted above, the fact that there is not speaks volumes.







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