Thursday, March 31, 2011
The dangers of plutonium...
By MIKE WHITNEY
Three of the six nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant have partially melted down and plutonium is seeping into the soil outside. Plutonium is less volatile than other radioactive elements like iodine or cesium, but it's also more deadly. According to Business Week, "When plutonium decays, it emits what is known as an alpha particle, a relatively big particle that carries a lot of energy. When an alpha particle hits body tissue, it can damage the DNA of a cell and lead to a cancer-causing mutation." If plutonium leaches into groundwater or pristine aquifers, the threat to public health and the environment will be extreme.
This is an excerpt from an article in the Guardian:
"The radioactive core in a reactor at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant appears to have melted through the bottom of its containment vessel and on to a concrete floor, experts say, raising fears of a major release of radiation at the site. The warning follows an analysis by a leading US expert of radiation levels at the plant....
“Richard Lahey, who was head of safety research for boiling-water reactors at General Electric when the company installed the units at Fukushima, told the Guardian workers at the site appeared to have "lost the race" to save the reactor..." ("Japan may have lost race to save nuclear reactor", The Guardian)
It also appears that underground tunnels at the facility have been flooded with radioactive water that contains high-concentrations of caesium-137. A considerable amount of the water has made its way to the sea where samples show the levels of contamination steadily rising. This is from the Wall Street Journal:
"Levels of radiation in the ocean next to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have surged to record highs, the government said Wednesday, as operators try to deal with large amounts of radioactive water—the unwanted byproduct of operations to cool the reactors.
“The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said water taken Tuesday afternoon from the monitoring location for the troubled reactors Nos. 1 to 4 had 3,355 times the permitted concentration of iodine-131. That is the highest yet recorded at the sampling location, which is 330 meters south of the reactors' discharge outlet." ("Seawater Radiation Level Soars Near Plant", Wall Street Journal)
All fishing has been banned in the vicinity as the toxins pose a danger to human health.
The Japanese government's chief spokesman, Yukio Edano, issued a public statement admitting that the situation at Fukushima is progressively getting worse with no end in sight. "We are not yet in a situation where we can say when we will have this under control," said Edano. In other words, the emergency effort is failing.
The fact that Japan is experiencing what’s shaping up to be one of the biggest environmental catastrophe in history explains why the media have been trying so hard to divert the public's attention to Obama's military adventure in Libya. But it hasn't worked; all eyes are locked on Fukushima where the crisis continues to get more precarious by the day. News anchors assure their viewers that they are only being exposed to "safe levels of radioactivity", but people aren't buying it. They've seen the comparisons to Chernobyl and made their own judgements. Here's an excerpt from an article in Counterpunch by Chris Busby that gives a thumbnail sketch of the human costs of the meltdown at Chernobyl:
"The health effects of the Chernobyl accident are massive and demonstrable. They have been studied by many research groups in Russia, Belarus and the Ukraine, in the USA, Greece, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and Japan. The scientific peer reviewed literature is enormous. Hundreds of papers report the effects, increases in cancer and a range of other diseases. My colleague Alexey Yablokov of the Russian Academy of Sciences, published a review of these studies in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences (2009). Earlier in 2006 he and I collected together reviews of the Russian literature by a group of eminent radiation scientists and published these in the book Chernobyl, 20 Years After. The result: more than a million people have died between 1986 and 2004 as a direct result of Chernobyl."
One million dead, that's the bottom line. And, according to Busby, "we can already calculate that the contamination (at Fukushima) is actually worse than Chernobyl."
That's certain, but don't expect to read it in the MSM...