Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Radioactivity as a Slow But Sure Weapon of Mass Destruction...
Fukushima Daiichi: From Nuclear Power Plant to Nuclear Weapon
by Prof. Anthony Hall
Albert Einstein’s Warning and the Ominous Fate of Fukushima Daiichi
As the bad news gradually spreads that the debacle at Fukushima nuclear power plant #1 is becoming more perilous rather than less so, the words of Albert Einstein come to mind. Recall that the legendary physicist, Einstein, helped to set in motion the Manhattan Project whose personnel designed and built the first atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. In his letter to US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1939 Einstein warned that if the United States did not enter and win the race to harness the destructive potential of atomic weaponry, Germany would almost certainly do so.
The Manhattan Project became a primary prototype for the Research and Development–R and D– partnerships linking the US government and for-profit corporations in what a Dwight D. Eisenhower would later describe as “the military-industrial complex.” Einstein himself did not directly participate in this huge initiative aimed at defeating the Axis powers linking Japan with Germany and Italy. One of the twentieth century’s most iconographic thinkers watched from the sidelines as other physicists and technologists applied many of Einstein’s theories to the building of atomic weaponry.
After Japan lay in ruins, not only from the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki but also from the massive carpet bombing of Tokyo and several other urban centers, Einstein went public with his fears and anxieties. In famous passages that have been subject to various translations and paraphrasing Einstein observed, “Our world is faced with a crisis that has never before been envisaged in its whole existence… The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and thus we drift towards unparalleled catastrophe.”
Japan as Laboratory
There have been many previews of the catastrophe anticipated by Einstein in the period after 1945 and before the March 3, 2011, 3/3/11, the day an earthquake and tsunami set in motion a chain reaction of interconnected crises that ruined Japan’s oldest operating nuclear power plant. The evidence grows every day that this local incident extends to national, regional and global chain reactions that one way or another will end Japan as we have known it and will transform our world in ways that are difficult even to imagine at this early stage of the crisis.
The direction and quality of this transformation depends very much on whether we can transform our way of thinking to adapt to the transformations brought about by our explorers of science and the innovators of technology that travel in their wake. By charting a course heading deep into inner space and tapping the volatile energy sources emanating from matter’s molecular constitution our civilization has been altered in ways that put us face to face with Einstein’s prophecy.
The four-decades-old installation on Japan’s eastern coast was at the moment of Fukushima #1’s destruction a virtual museum of nuclear technology. The design of the six GE Mark I reactors had been lifted from that of the power plant developed in the early 1950s for the US Navy’s first nuclear submarine.
As the tsunami hit, one of these antique GE reactors, number 3, was filled with the newest generation of plutonium-laced Aveda MOX fuel rods. A basic ingredient of nuclear bombs, plutonium isotypes are sprinkled among the 500 or so radionuclides currently being spread into air, ocean and groundwater from the massive explosions that transformed the Fukushima Daiichi power plant into the world’s largest and most menacing nuclear weapon.
In Japanese daiichi means number one. Fukushimi nuclear power plant #2, Fukushima Daini, is also situated on the Pacific coast about seven miles closer to Tokyo than Fukushima #1. Fukushima #2 also incurred major damage on 3/3/11. Presently all 54 nuclear power plants in Japan save one are completely shut down.
There is every reason to suspect that the vital information about the full extent of the nuclear disaster in Japan is still being kept from the public; that the life-threatening damage to Japan’s nuclear infrastructure does not end with Fukushima #1. The lack of public trust in an industry notorious for its lies, secrecy, military underpinnings, and lack of credible regulation is infusing resolve into the growing movement within Japan and around the world demanding that the nuclear power grid in one of the world’s most unstable geological regions should never be switched back on.
The growing evidence of increased frequency and severity of earthquakes in Japan with attending tsunami dangers adds urgency to the argument for the permanent decommissioning of nuclear installations that should never have been built in the first place. Some fundamental shift seems to taken place in the tectonic plates underlying this unstable region.
The Fukushima Debacle is Only in Its Infantcy
The growing realization that the worst of the Fukushima debacle lies in the future rather than in the past puts in sharp relief the pertinence of Einstein’s observation. Indeed, the prophetic nature of Einstein’s warning is starkly reflected in the failure of so many in government, in the media, in the academy, and especially in the richly-funded inner sanctums of the nuclear industry to respond appropriately to the terrifying implications of what is going so terribly wrong at Japan’s spewing Fukushima #1 power plant.
Rooted in old and outmoded motifs of perception, officialdom’s failure to identify the proliferating menaces in this unprecedented convergence of circumstances has extremely grave implications. What is being done and, more importantly, what is not being done at Fukushima nuclear plant #1 tragically illustrates Albert Einstein’s pivotal observation that the unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our old ways of thinking.
A major obstacle blocking proper perception of the Fukushima debacle’s true nature has its origins in a propaganda meme going back to the 1950s. Initiated by US President Dwight D. Eisenhower with his “Atoms for Peace” speech at the United Nations in late 1953, this propaganda meme seeks to disassociate entirely the dual compartments within the nuclear industry.
While the global public has been fooled into thinking that the supposedly civilian branch of the nuclear industry is totally separate from its dominant military branch, this distinction is really a phantom.From its inception the deployment of nuclear energy to generate electricity was designed to give PR cover to the hugely lucrative and totally immoral business of building nuclear weapons. Indeed, to this day the bomb builders draw some of their ingredients such as tritium for their weapons of mass destruction for the operation of nuclear power plants.
The façade of duality makes it difficult to see what is really transpiring at Fukushima. At Fukushima we are witnessing an installation built for the seemingly benign purpose of generating electric power suddenly transformed into a stationary weapon piled high with fissionable material with far more potential for mass destruction than a vast arsenal of large nuclear bombs.
Radioactivity as a Slow But Sure Weapon of Mass Destruction
In order to face squarely the hard truths of what is transpiring at Fukushima, it is necessary to possess some understanding of the powerful effects that many different forms of nuclear radioactivity have on life’s cyclical renewal. While radiation itself is as old as the universe, the capacity of human beings to generate this force of nature through the power of nuclear technology is something new under the sun.
Humanity’s new means of unleashing energies with godlike agency to alter life’s genetic blueprints, the very DNA of existence, forms by far the most consequential of the changes that Einstein warned us about. The stunning failure of Japanese and international responses so far to Fukushima’s radioactive emissions—emissions that could skyrocket at any moment beyond the wallop of what would be emitted from a full-fledged nuclear war — constitutes a tragic confirmation of Einstein’s worst fears. More than any other crisis to date, the nuclear debacle at Fukushima illustrates the failure of our species, but especially those who put themselves forward as our leaders, to adapt old ways of thinking to the changes ushered in by the splitting of the atom.
The science of measuring and understanding the effects of radioactivity on biological transformations is still in its infancy. Nevertheless since 1945 the tendency has been for promoters of applied nuclear power to deny, negate, or downplay the effects of radioactivity on life’s natural patterns of renewal. This culture of denial has its origins in the official response of US government officials to the radioactive contamination of all people, plants and animals that survived the first wave of destruction from the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This unwillingness to contend with the effects of radioactivity on the public health of large population groups was captured in a headline in The New York Times on September 13, 1945. That headline proclaimed, “No Radioactivity in Hiroshima Ruin.”
Through the decades that followed the inception of the Nuclear Age in the A-bombing by the US government of Japanese civilians, the formal position of officialdom has hardly shifted at all. Again and again we have been reassured that the public health effects of industrially-generated radioactivity are negligible no matter what the source. Again and again public funding has been directed to convincing us that there is no need to fear, for instance, nuclear testing in the atmosphere; the mining, processing and manufacturing of nuclear products including nuclear weapons; the deployment of nuclear energy for the generation of electricity and for the propulsion of ships and submarines.
Not surprisingly this same pattern of disinformation is being tragically repeated in the failure to depict the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe as the true monstrosity of an emergency it really is. The system of professional malfeasance originated in 1945 is being extended to the Fukushima cover-up by nuclear industry officials as well as those in government, media and the academy who have allowed themselves to become their criminal accomplices. What are the legal implications of withholding from the public the information we need to do the best we can to protect ourselves, our families and our communities from potentially lethal assaults on our health?
This ongoing propensity of officialdom to downplay the effects of nuclear contamination is similar to the decades-long history of the tobacco industry’s stonewalling. Who can any longer be blind to the tobacco industry’s efforts to deny the mountains of evidence proving that smoking has major deleterious effects on human health?
A more recent equivalent is the campaign of the old, entrenched and sumptuously-funded lobby of Big Oil to deny that the massive burning of its main product over generations is affecting the global atmosphere. The other side of this same coin involves the suspicion that some of the big backers of the nuclear industry have covertly contributed to overinflating the political balloon of global warming in order to make nuclear power plants look like the green alternative to the fossil fuel industry.
Who Are the Credible Sources?
Although the mainstream media has been largely AWOL on the Fukushima story, a number of conscientious authorities in the field of nuclear energy have come forward to explain the emergency in venues like Russia Today. These learned experts include Arnold Gundersen, Christopher Busby, Helen Caldicott, and Michio Kaku. Other officials, including at least two Japanese ambassadors and the Japanese emperor himself, have added their voices to point out the severity and unremedied character of the ongoing Fukushima crisis. For instance Akio Matsumuru, who regularly represents Japan at UN-sponsored conferences, issued a report dated June 11, 2012. Among the many alarm bells he rings, Matsumuru calls attention to the possibility that the phenomenon known colloquially as the China Syndrome is close at hand if it is not already occurring. Matsumuru observes,
1. In reactors 1, 2 and 3, complete core meltdowns have occurred. Japanese authorities have admitted the possibility that the fuel may have melted through the bottom of the reactor core vessels. It is speculated that this might lead to unintended criticality (resumption of the chain reaction) or a powerful steam explosion – either event could lead to major new releases of radioactivity into the environment.
2. Reactors 1 and 3 are sites of particularly intense penetrating radiation, making those areas unapproachable. As a result, reinforcement repairs have not yet been done since the Fukushima accident. The ability of these structures to withstand a strong aftershock earthquake is uncertain.
While more and more very serious crises are identified every day, the chorus of voices keeps growing pointing to the catastrophe of catastrophes poised to happen at reactor number 4. Mitsuhei Murata, the former Japanese Ambassador to Switzerland, minced no words in pointing out what he considers to be the main impending danger to the UN General Secretary. Murata asserted “It is no exaggeration to say that the fate of Japan and the whole world depends on No. 4 reactor.
The diplomat was commenting on the precarious state of the spent waste pool held 100 feet in the air by a blown-out structure that quite likely would collapse along with many tons of nuclear waste if another earthquake was to occur. The further break up of the already severely damaged “cooling pool” would lead to a huge radioactive fire that would burn for perhaps a century releasing dozens of the most toxic radionuclides known to science into air, ocean and groundwater.
Ron Wyden, a Senator representing the US state of Oregon, echoed similar sentiments after having himself inspected the Fukushima site. He observed,
The scope of damage to the plants and to the surrounding area was far beyond what I expected and the scope of the challenges to the utility owner, the government of Japan, and to the people of the region are daunting. The precarious status of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear units and the risk presented by the enormous inventory of radioactive materials and spent fuel in the event of further earthquake threats should be of concern to all and a focus of greater international support and assistance...