About fallout – there and here
It was a neat one (or maybe two) liner. I remember it well. I realise it mightn’t click with everyone – but I’ve got good reasons for giving it a return season. It goes like this: ‘‘There was a guy who read so much about the dangers of smoking that he gave up reading!’’ Why did this slip into my recall? Because I’d just read the latest conflicting specialist reports on Fukushima.
Then – quite accidentally – I picked up a letter which again faulted Auckland’s emergency services and rejected the last confident official assessment in this column.
But first, those varying views on aftermath of the Japanese tsunami and the wrecking of the atomic energy plant in its path. Al Jazeera’s Steve Chao reports: Forests covering 70 per cent of the Fukushima Prefecture have high concentrations of radioactive caesium.
Not only in fallen leaves and soil, but in the trees themselves. The findings suggest radiation is permeating into the ecosystem.
The government is spending billions of dollars decontaminating towns in Fukushima, but the forests continue emitting radioactivity.
Jason Clenfield took up the analysis:
Every morning, 3000 cleanup workers don hooded hazard suits, air-filtered face masks and multiple glove layers. Most gear is radioactive waste by the end of the day. Everything that touches it becomes toxic. It goes into thousands of waste bags stored in shielded containers.
Rows of tanks hold enough irradiated water to fill 100 Olympic pools on the plateau overlooking Daiichi’s four ruined reactors. And the water keeps coming. It may be eight years before radiation levels fall enough to let workers remove 260 tons of melted nuclear fuel.
That process took more than a decade at the US accident on Three Mile Island, a partial meltdown at a single reactor with one-fifth the amount of fuel at Fukushima.
The other report, from Ben Schiller, under a heading: ‘‘ Forget Fukushima, Nuclear Power Has Saved 1.8 Million Lives’’ sums up:
Two researchers at NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies calculate the damage if the world hadn’t had nuclear power for the last several decades, and what damage might be caused if communities don’t embrace the technology.
Pushker Kharecha and James Hansen estimate that 4900 people died through nuclear power between 1971 and 2009, mostly from workplace accidents and radiation fallout.
But, they say 370 times more people (1.84 million) would have died, had the same power been generated from fossil fuels.
The scientists’ figures are based on estimates of mortality caused by pollution, which killed 1.2 million people in China in 2010.
Their research is that no deaths have been attributed in a ‘‘scientifically valid manner’’ to radiation from the other two major accidents – Three Mile Island in 1979, where a 20-year comprehensive scientific health assessment was done, and at Fukushima Daiichi.
But a United Nations study of the 1986 Chernobyl accident, the worst in history, insists that only 43 people died, including 15 first responders.
And while we’re at it, Auckland has a situation very much smaller in scale, the crucial fallout is in fact and opinions.
The difference so far: Retired long-serving civil defence man Gary Westbury highlighted problems in super-city centralised emergency services, controlled from a central city HQ.
Civil Defence supreme Clive Manley replied: All is well.
Totally unconvinced, Gary now asks are we waiting for a major emergency to resolve worrying issues about the ability of key services to cope with disaster?
His reaction, headed ‘‘Auckland city’s growing risk’’:
‘‘Warnings of probable flaws in the emergency management planning for a major disaster in Auckland have been fobbed off by the current Civil Defence management, but criticism has been supported by many who are, or were, closer to reality. One major flaw is having all your eggs in one basket with only one centre for all communication.
‘‘Responding to, or even replying to, every message at the start and during a disaster at all levels (local, regional, national, and operational) is impractical and ridiculous. They do not have the staff.
‘‘Gaps in their emergency communication networks are serious (and secret) but have not, or cannot, be resolved.
‘‘Local communities are an integral part of Civil Defence but they will suffer as Auckland grows, all services and the infrastructure become overloaded and resources diminish.
‘‘They do not have any actual bases to work from, clearly visible identification, or authority to manage people before or during a disaster.
‘‘Volunteers disappearing rapidly have not been replaced fast enough. Local emergency response/rescue teams have been isolated and must now operate separately from emergency services – contrary to what they told us about their so-called support.
‘‘Local community support has diminished as local Civil Defence operational centres have been shut down or become ineffective under this regime. There’s a lot of lip service on how great things are but that’s far from the truth.
‘‘No real major training exercises have been held for years. A few minor and restricted ‘desktop’ exercises were done at top level.
‘‘Although satisfying their management ideas of efficiency, these never really tested the whole city civil defence system.
‘‘Previous planning by local civil defence officials has been ignored, again contrary to what we are asked to believe. There are no standard procedures across the super-city to get local assistance or alternative shelter.
‘‘Deciding on the day is not good planning.
‘‘To rely on cellphones or internet in the early stages of a disaster would be a disaster in itself. How effective would the alert be at night when most are sleeping? That is untested.
‘‘Local communications in any emergency are vital, but changes here have weakened many longestablished and proven local networks. How they expect to get information rapidly from any of many incident locations is now a serious question and the community will suffer.
‘‘Not all disasters are visual or violent (like earthquakes or tsunamis). If the super-city loses its power supply for days or weeks, that will be a major disaster. Think about it: No water or sewerage pumps, no petrol, no refrigeration, no ATMs, no supermarkets, overloaded communications, crowded roads or highways, and more.
‘‘With the increasing city population, stretched infrastructure, more high-rise housing, and changing climate, the likelihood of real disaster is growing.’’