Will nu­clear wa­ter be a threat?

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS -

As Barack Obama put pres­sure on his un­will­ing in­ter­na­tional part­ners to join what could be an­other Iraq in the mak­ing, bul­letins from an­other theatre warn Pa­cific Ocean neigh­bours like us that the omi­nous men­ace from the Fukushima atomic plant is get­ting much worse.

What’s hap­pened so far may have al­ready passed the stage beyond any known rem­edy.

One of makeshift stor­age tanks hold­ing con­tam­i­nated wa­ter at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nu­clear plant leaked 300 tons (more than 70,000 gal­lons) of highly ra­dioac­tive wa­ter over a few weeks into the ocean we share – and con­tin­ues to do so.

The Tokyo Elec­tric Power Com­pany has now ad­mit­ted that ra­dioac­tive wa­ter from its un­der­ground stor­age tanks and ground­wa­ter has leaked into the ocean and that the com­pany mis­led gov­ern­ment agen­cies about ex­po­sures suf­fered by cleanup work­ers.

In the past, top level re­sponses to such ad­mis­sions have been in­fre­quent and worth­less.

The lat­est bul­letin prompted Ja­pa­nese Trade and In­dus­try Min­is­ter Toshim­itsu Motegi to go to Fukushima in an at­tempt at dam­age con­trol.

His re­sponse was typ­i­cal of those in the past: ‘‘I strongly feel that the gov­ern­ment should get fully in­volved,’’ he told the press.

So do mil­lions of other Ja­pa­nese. And New Zealan­ders may feel the same very soon if we find our­selves in the path of drift­ing ra­dioac­tive wa­ter.

The Ja­pa­nese Gov­ern­ment de­nied any re­spon­si­bil­ity more than two years ago and has fal­si­fied data and safety checks since.

For more than two years the Ja­pa­nese gov­ern­ment left the Tokyo Elec­tric Power Com­pany in charge of the cleanup, while know­ing the com­pany’s long his­tory of phony fig­ures and prom­ises.

Min­is­ter Motegi rec­om­mends that the com­pany – which has had hun­dreds of bil­lions of yen in gov­ern­ment aid since the 2011 earthquake – should doc­u­ment its in­spec­tions bet­ter and use welded wa­ter tanks in­stead of weak, bolted tanks.

One weaker tank has the lat­est leak. It holds ap­prox­i­mately 1000 tons of wa­ter and has leaked 10 tons of wa­ter ev­ery day. Of 1000 or so stor­age tanks on site, ap­prox­i­mately 350 are bolted, with the seams in­ad­e­quately sealed by plas­tic pack­ing ma­te­ri­als.

The com­pany fills the tanks ev­ery two and a half days to keep up with vol­ume of wa­ter cool­ing Fukushima’s crip­pled re­ac­tors and fuel rods.

It doesn’t yet have func­tion­ing fil­ters to re­move ra­dioac­tive chem­i­cals from the wa­ter. Large vol­umes of cool­ing wa­ter are needed ev­ery day be­cause the closed loop used to cool the boiled wa­ter re­ac­tors dur­ing nor­mal op­er­a­tions was de­stroyed by the March 2011 quake, tsunami and sub­se­quent ex­plo­sions.

The French daily Le Monde re­ports that pud­dles near the leak­ing tank yield an ex­po­sure of more than 100 mil­lisiev­erts per hour when Ja­pa­nese law says work­ers should not be ex­posed to more than 100mSv over a five-year pe­riod.

One hun­dred per hour for 10 straight hours brings on ra­di­a­tion sick­ness, in­clud­ing nau­sea and lower white blood cell count.

Na­tional Geo­graphic re­ported the leak­ing wa­ter has high lev­els of stron­tium-90 and ce­sium-137.

In July, lev­els of th­ese el­e­ments in wells in­side the plant in­creased 15-fold. The power com­pany can’t ex­plain that in­crease and hasn’t found the leak.

Stron­tium-90 leak­ing into our ocean will ac­cu­mu­late in the bones of fish, and in the bones of peo­ple who eat con­tam­i­nated seafood.

The Ja­pa­nese nu­clear en­ergy watch­dog has raised the in­ci­dent level from one to three on the in­ter­na­tional scale that mea­sures the sever­ity of atomic ac­ci­dents.

This ac­knowl­edges the great­est cri­sis since the re­ac­tors melted down af­ter the tsunami in 2011.

Some nu­clear ex­perts fear the prob­lem is much worse than ei­ther the power com­pany or the Ja­pa­nese Gov­ern­ment are will­ing to ad­mit.

‘‘It is much worse than we have been led to be­lieve, much worse,’’ said My­cle Sch­nei­der, who is lead au­thor for the World Nu­clear In­dus­try sta­tus re­ports.

The head of Ja­pan’s nu­clear reg­u­la­tion au­thor­ity, Shu­nichi Tanaka, ap­peared to give cre­dence to Sch­nei­der’s con­cerns, say­ing that he feared fur­ther leaks.

‘‘We should as­sume that what has hap­pened once could hap­pen again, and pre­pare for more. We are in a sit­u­a­tion where there is no time to waste,’’ he told re­porters.

Dr Ken Bues­seler, a se­nior sci­en­tist, has ex­am­ined waters around Fukushima says: ‘‘It’s not over yet by a long shot. Cher­nobyl was in many ways a one week fire­ex­plo­sive event, noth­ing with the po­ten­tial of this right on the ocean.

‘‘We’ve said since 2011 that the re­ac­tor site is still leak­ing, whether that’s the build­ings and the ground wa­ter or th­ese new tank re­leases. There’s no way to re­ally con­tain all of this ra­dioac­tive wa­ter on site.

‘‘Once it gets into the ground wa­ter, like a river flow­ing to the sea, you can’t re­ally stop a ground wa­ter flow. You can pump out wa­ter but how many tanks can you keep putting on site?’’

Some ra­dioac­tive el­e­ments like cae­sium con­tained in the wa­ter can be fil­tered by the earth. Oth­ers are man­ag­ing to get through and this wor­ries watch­ing ex­perts.

‘‘Our big­gest con­cern right now is if some of the other iso­topes such as stron­tium 90, which tend to be more mo­bile, get through th­ese sed­i­ments in the ground wa­ter,’’ Dr Bues­seler says. ‘‘ They are en­ter­ing the ocean at lev­els that then will ac­cu­mu­late in seafood and will cause new health con­cerns.’’

There are also wor­ries about the spent nu­clear fuel rods cooled and stored in wa­ter pools on the site. Mr Sch­nei­der says th­ese con­tain far more ra­dioac­tive cae­sium than was emit­ted dur­ing the ex­plo­sion at Cher­nobyl.

‘‘There’s ab­so­lutely no guar­an­tee that there isn’t a crack in the walls of the spent fuel pools. If salt wa­ter gets in, the steel bars would be cor­roded. It would ba­si­cally ex­plode the walls, and you can­not see that, you can’t get close enough to the pools,’’ he says.

Mr Sch­nei­der is call­ing for an in­ter­na­tional task­force for Fukushima. ‘‘ The Ja­pa­nese have a prob­lem ask­ing for help. It’s a big mis­take – they badly need it.’’

For our sake too. In the mail­bag:

Read­ing of the in­ter­ro­ga­tion by po­lice of an in­no­cent cou­ple in the po­lice’s fruitless at­tempt to pin the Crewe mur­ders on some­one gave me the shiv­ers. Po­lice asked the cou­ple when they be­came Chris­tian, as though this was sig­nif­i­cant – could they have been feel­ing guilty?

It re­minded me of why I have such mis­giv­ings about the GCSB Bill. When I’ve dis­cussed it with oth­ers, they shrug and say, ‘oh I’ve never done any­thing I’m ashamed of – they could never pin any­thing on me’. But para­noid author­i­ties can twist in­no­cent ac­tions to make them sound sus­pi­cious, I ar­gue.

The pointed ques­tion­ing by the po­lice to the cou­ple of ‘‘when did you be­come Chris­tian?’’ il­lus­trates exac tly what I was try­ing to ex­plain. Since when was it sus­pi­cious to be­come a Chris­tian in this coun­try? – Name pro­vided

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