Fukushima news forecast: mostly dark, with showers
Scouring our various sources for news of the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, Japan this morning brings up several troubling items.
First, as we suspected, Tokyo Electric's plan to filter the radioactivity out of the nasty water that's accumulated by its desperate dumping on the molten reactor cores has failed in the first hours of its implementation. The water's too radioactive for the equipment. A part in the filtration system that was supposed to last a month reached its radiation exposure limit in five hours.
Much highly radioactive water has already leaked into the Pacific and the groundwater under the nuclear plant, and unless a miracle occurs and a realistic filtration system can be concocted, eventually all of the tens of millions of gallons of accumulated wastewater will wind up in that same place. And if a major aftershock to the 9.0 March 11 earthquake occurs, further structural damage to the reactor and turbine buildings will hasten the flow of the contamination. Plus heaven knows what else.
The damage already done has apparently reached the rivers in the area as well as the sea. According to a Tweet by the Daily Yomiuri, "Shipments of 2 species of fish from a river in Fukushima Prefecture have been halted due to radioactive cesium more than 4x legal limits." The rivers could be picking up the radioactive particles from snow melt off nearby mountains on which fallout from the three mid-March explosions at the reactors has settled.
Meanwhile, 6,000 miles away, inspectors at an airport in France have turned away a shipment of green tea from Shizuoka, Japan, that was found to have more than twice the legal limit of radioactive cesium in it. Shizuoka is on the other side of Tokyo from Fukushima. Cesium has a half-life of 30 years, and contamination from cesium will remain for centuries.
Are the Japanese learning any lessons from this disaster? There are signs that they are, but given their lack of energy resources, they're in a desperate spot. They need nuclear if they want to continue to live in the style to which they've become accustomed. And so even with the obvious staring them in the face, they are still likely to press on with dangerous reactors and enormous health risks -- as this story confirms.
Finally this morning, several readers have inquired about this article, in which two writers theorize that Fukushima fallout caused a spike in infant mortality on the west coast of the United States in the month after the earthquake and tsunami. We commented on that posting here. Looking through the statistics that those authors used -- from the Centers for Disease Control -- we compared infant mortality in Portland in the 12 weeks following the meltdowns with infant mortality in Portland in the same 12 weeks last year. We found that the number of infant deaths was actually higher the year before -- 24 as opposed to 18. We're skeptical of any link between the radioactive clouds and infant deaths -- although we are extremely concerned about the long-term effects of such exposure, especially on children and fetuses.