Tragedy in waiting
I WANT to provide some important facts about the Japanese nuclear tragedy-in-waiting.
Our sister city Iwaki is only 50km south of the doomed Fukushima nuclear power plant, along the coastline.
Nuclear power plants are built around a fuel of uranium.
This is a radioactive element which breaks down by nuclear reaction, in a reactor, to daughter elements, all of which are also radioactive.
The radioactive products’ half-life is between several weeks and millions of years, at which point they are present at half their original amount.
A nuclear reactor is a controlled atomic bomb. It contains enough uranium to make hundreds of nuclear bombs.
It does not explode as a nuclear bomb during normal operation because it is controlled by two measures: • Keeping the fuel rods sufficiently far apart that their combined mass does not become ‘‘ critical’’ and explode in a nuclear holocaust, and • Keeping the fuel rods sufficiently cool that they do not heat to melting point, destroy the reactor and irradiate the region.
Should either measure fail, control is lost and the reactor may become a bomb, releasing monstrous amounts of lethal radiation over a wide area.
A nuclear reactor contains several hundred tonnes of fuel rods and the same or more tonnage of spent fuel rods in permanent cooling tanks.
The total lethally radioactive mass of roughly 1000 tonnes is sufficient, if spread around the Earth ( which thankfully is not really possible), to kill all species many times over.
Uranium is so radioactive it requires eternal ( not merely constant) cooling by a large system of high-pressure water piping.
The Fukushima reactors are in the circum-Pacific earthquake zone, and Japanese earthquakes are some of the biggest in the world.
Fukushima was built on sea frontage, with one reactor 50m from the beach, without a pro- tective wall. Fukushima was broken by the earthquake, then flooded by the tsunami.
The six Fukushima nuclear reactors comprise the 15th largest nuclear power station in the world. Its owner TEPCO is the world’s fourth largest energy company with an annual revenue of $ A70 billion.
In 2002 TEPCO was convicted of systematic major fraudulent reporting of nuclear safety incidents. The chairman, president and vice-president resigned.
In 2007 it admitted many more unreported nuclear incidents but was not forced to identify those responsible.
TEPCO operated 17 nuclear reactors until 2008 but has since closed 11 of them because of earthquake and tsunami damage.
One of the Fukushima reactors contains plutonium which is considerably more dangerous than uranium.
I have just watched on CNN News, helicopters dropping seven tonnes of water, half of it missing the reactor, on to 20,000 tonnes of red-hot metal at the power station.
This is the same as putting a couple of drops of water on a kettle heating element and expecting it to cool to room temperature.
BBC World News reported that the Japanese had raised the radiation ‘‘ legal limit allowed’’ to emergency workers in the stricken reactors.
This is brutal spin. Translated, it says ‘‘ We officially instruct these workers to die after doing their heroic job to save millions of others, and this change in levels allows our government to avoid being sued by their families’’.
It is an irony that the future of Japan appears to remain in the hands of nature – which way the wind will be blowing if and when explosions release massive amounts of lethal radiation, into the Pacific Ocean or over Japan, China, Korea and/ or Siberia. Or further.
If this had occurred in Australia, we would have radiation monitors every where, we would tell people what was happening, and we would prepare to evacuate whole cities.
The media would hound the prime minister and the company spin doctors until they told us the real story.
DANGERS: Workers in radiation protecti on s ui t s exchange instructions before they start radiation screening in Iwaki