By Stephen Lendman
Since March 12, a potentially unprecedented catastrophe has been unfolding in Japan, despite official denials and corroborating media reports - managed, not real news. Believe none of them. Nonetheless, on March 15, Reuters suggested what's ongoing, headlining: "Japan braces for potential radiation catastrophe," saying:
"Japan faced potential catastrophe on Tuesday" after a fourth Fukushima reactor explosion, fire, and high-level radiation release, posing grave human health risks to an expanding area, including Toyko's 20 million population 170 miles south.
France's Nuclear Safety Authority rated the disaster a six on the international seven-point nuclear accident scale. Clearly, it's the worst ever. Europe's energy commissioner, Guenther Oettinger called it an "apocalypse," telling the European Parliament that Toyko lost control of events.
Independent experts agree. It's an unprecedented disaster spreading globally. All six Fukushima reactors are crippled, four of them spewing unknown amounts of radiation.
On March 15, city officials said levels were 20 times above normal, later stating they'd dropped, downplaying the risk. Government authorities also claimed Fukushima levels were falling. For residents throughout the country, believing them is hazardous to their health, given the gravity of the situation, likely deteriorating, not improving.
In Maebashi, 60 miles north of Tokyo and Chiba prefecture further south, Kyodo News reported radiation levels 10 times normal, perhaps downplaying much higher ones. Even Prime Minister Naoto Kan was alarmed, saying "(t)he possibility of further radioactive leakage is heightening," meaning very likely it reached extremely hazardous levels. Earlier official reports downplayed the danger.
According to Hokkaido University Professor Koji Yamazaki, "Radioactive material will reach Tokyo but it is not harmful to human bodies because it will be dissipated by the time it gets" there.
False! Any amount of radiation is harmful. Moreover, it's cumulative, causing cancer if one human gene is affected. Depending on the type and amount, it damages chromosomes and DNA. In her landmark book, "Nuclear Madness," Helen Caldicott said:
"Lower doses of radiation can cause abnormalities of the immune system and can also cause leukemia five to ten years after exposure; (other) cancer(s), twelve to sixty years later; and genetic diseases and congenital anomalies in future generations."
Moreover, "nuclear radiation is forever," says Caldicott. It doesn't dissipate or disappear. Downplaying its danger is hypocritical and outrageous. For a scientist like Yamazaki, it's scandalous.
In 1953, Nobel laureate George Wald told students (including this writer) that "no amount of radiation is safe," explaining that "Every dose is an overdose."
Radiation is unforgiving. Exposure to elevated levels for short periods is harmful. If longer, cancer and other potentially fatal illnesses may develop. It's why using nuclear reactors to generate power is irresponsible, in fact, crazy.
On March 15, New York Times writers Hiroko Tabuchi, David Sanger and Keith Bradsher headlined, "Fire and Damage at Japanese Plant Raise Risk of Nuclear Disaster," saying:
Fukushima's operator Toyko Electric Power (TEPCO), a notorious industry scofflaw, "expressed extreme concern that (they) were close to losing control over the fuel melting that has been ongoing in three (Daiichi) reactors...." After Unit 2 exploded, "pressure had dropped in the 'suppression pool" - a section at the bottom of the reactor that converts steam to water and is part of the critical function of keeping the nuclear fuel protected."
Afterward, radiation levels soared. According to Hiroaki Koide, senior reactor engineering specialist at Kyoto University's Research Reactor Institute:
"We are on the brink. We are now facing the worst-case scenario. We can assume that the containment vessel at Reactor No. 2 is already breached. If there is heavy melting inside the reactor, large amounts of radiation will most definitely be released."
Moreover, a plant official said breaching would make it hard to impossible to maintain emergency seawater cooling for an extended period, and if workers are evacuated, "nuclear fuel in all three reactors (will likely) melt down," causing "wholesale releases of radioactive material...."
Further, already over 200 magnitude five or greater aftershocks have occurred, and authorities warned of a 70% chance of a magnitude seven or greater one in days, perhaps making a bad situation much worse. In addition, chief cabinet secretary Yukido Edano said previous radioactivity levels were misreported in microsieverts instead of millisieverts - 1,000 times stronger. Earlier he said the situation isn't similar to Chernobyl. In fact, potentially it's far graver, unprecedented.
Nuclear experts also explained that even without a full meltdown (perhaps ongoing), today's emergency will last a year or longer because of problems cooling the affected cores. As a result, long-term evacuations will be necessary. Already, nearly 500,000 people are affected, a total likely to grow, besides vast destruction, spreading contamination, growing threat to human health, and tens of thousands still missing, by now presumed dead, though not reported.
"Red Alert: Radiation Rising and Heading South in Japan"
On March 15, Stratfor Global Intelligence headlined that danger, saying:
After more explosions and risk of one or more full meltdowns (perhaps ongoing though unreported), "(t)he nuclear reactor situation in Japan had deteriorated significantly." Even Japan's Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) said Fukushima's No. 2 reactor radiation level rose 163-fold in three hours. At No. 3, it was 400-fold.
Muted Japanese media report rising radiation levels south and southwest, already reaching Tokyo and numerous prefectures. "The government says radiation levels have reached levels hazardous to human health," omitting that any level causes harm.
Reports "suggest a dramatic worsening as well as a wider spread than at any time since the emergency began." All Japan and the Pacific rim are threatened. "The situation at the (affected) facility is uncertain, but clearly deteriorating." How gravely, the fullness of time will determine.
A Final Comment
On March 12, nuclear expert Mark Grossman headlined, "Hydrogen, Zirconium, Flashbulbs - and Nuclear Craziness," saying:
Coolant loss causes hydrogen gas eruptions "because of a highly volatile substance called zirconium," chosen "in the 1940's and 50's" to build nuclear plants, "as the material (for) rods into which radioactive fuel would be loaded."
Each plant has "30,000 to 40,000 rods - composed of twenty tones of zirconium." It alone works well, allowing "neutrons from the fuel pellets in the rods to pass freely between the rods and thus a nuclear chain reaction to be sustained."
But not without "a huge problem...." Zirconium "is highly volatile and when hot will explode spontaneously upon contact with air, water or steam." With tons used in nuclear plants, in "a compound called 'zircaloy,' it "clads tens of thousands of fuel rods."
Any interruption of coolant builds quickly. However, because of zirconium's explosive power, the equivalent of nitroglycerine, it catches fire and explodes "at a temperature of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, well below the 5,000 degree temperature of a meltdown."
Before it happens, it can cause hydrogen explosions "by drawing oxygen from water and steam letting it off," what happened at Fukushima. They, in turn, create more heat, "bringing the zirconium itself closer and closer to its explosive level," what may, in fact, have happened, perhaps bad enough to cause a full meltdown.
Using tons of explosive material like zirconium is "absolutely crazy." Doing it makes every nuclear plant a ticking time bomb, vulnerable to explode, spewing lethal poisons into the atmosphere.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.