By Keith Johnson
For several months, there has been a news blackout in the United States concerning the devastation and human suffering caused by a 9.0 earthquake that rocked the east coast of Japan on March 11. The resulting tsunami claimed nearly 16,000 lives and made hundreds of thousands homeless.
On the island of Honshu, three reactors at the Daiichi nuclear power facility in Fukushima went into full meltdown. Explosions and fires caused additional damage to other reactors and released vast quantities of poisonous radioactive materials into the environment. Livestock, crops and drinking water within a 75-mile radius of the accident were immediately contaminated. Now, reports of lethal doses of radiation as far as 200 miles away are starting to become more commonplace.
In the U.S., a recent report by Janette Sherman, M.D. and epidemiologist Joseph Mangano indicate a 35% spike in infant mortality throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Meanwhile, the true extent of the damage and radioactive contamination caused by the Fukushima disaster continues to be downplayed or ignored entirely by the mainstream media. Getting to the truth has been difficult.
“Fukushima is the biggest industrial catastrophe in the history of mankind,” says Arnold Gunderson, a nuclear power expert who served as an expert witness in the investigation of the Three Mile Island accident. In an exclusive interview with this reporter, Gunderson gives a timely assessment of the ongoing crisis in Japan and aprises us of what he expects to unfold in the future.
“On the bright side, the reactors are in better condition than they’ve been in the last three months,” said Gunderson. “Right now, TEPCO has managed to avoid creating new pools of contaminated water by treating existing water through the Areva system.”
Areva is a process, devised by a French firm of the same name, whereby radioactive isotopes are bound together by chemicals that are injected into the contaminated water of a reactor’s cooling system.
Gunderson continued, “They’re cooling the reactors by pouring treated water into the top and onto the floor. That has a tendency to build up lots more radioactivity in the filters that are trapping it, but it’s not building up any more water, and that’s a good thing because they’ve run out of space on site.”
“What’s happening off site is frightening,” says Gunderson. “Dangerous levels of radioactive contamination are being found in kids’ urine, mothers’ breast milk and animal meat. I’m estimating that over the course of the next 20 years, there’ll be a million cancers. If they’re not caught soon enough, many of those will be fatal.”
“The first cancers will affect the thyroids,” Gunderson predicts. “They take about three years. In three to five years it’ll move on to the lungs. In the northern prefectures, I expect a 20% increase in lung cancers.”
Instead of taking steps to raise public awareness about the dangers of exposure to contaminated food products that will contribute to these cancer risks, the Japanese government is doing just the opposite. “They’re raising the radiation standards,” Gunderson reports. “Before, 600 becquerels [measure of radioactivity] were the most you could have in beef. Now they’ve raised the bar to 6,000. They’re telling people it’s safe.”
These standards are also being applied to humans. According to Gunderson, “Kids are now allowed to get the same dosages as adult nuclear workers would get in the U.S. It’s a complete distortion of radiation physics.”
Another recent development that has Gunderson concerned is the buildup of radioactive sewage that poses a catastrophic risk to drinking water. “Before the accident, they used to turn the sewage into building blocks,” says Gunderson. “Now they can’t. So they have these enormous piles of sewage sludge that can’t be disposed of. It’s not yet in the ground water, but it’s heading that way.”
The Japanese have also initiated a campaign to get people to return to homes as close as 20 miles from the site of the accident. They’re clearing streets and playgrounds, but everything else is still contaminated.
“On the sides of the roads where the runoff is, we’re seeing 50,000 to 60,000 becquerels in a pound of dirt,” adds Gunderson.
Inside the 20-mile radius, Gunderson said: “It’s all ghost towns. No one is walking around except stray dogs and cattle. . . . [I]t’s a nightmare.”
Though these are disturbing developments in themselves, Gunderson has saved the worst for last. “My biggest concern is that the Japanese are burning rubbish,” he says. “Farmers in rural areas are burning their contaminated crops and those in urban areas are burning their trash. If two pounds of material has less than 8,000 becquerels, the government allows it to be burned.”
Gunderson says the government also allows blending of highly contaminated material with material that isn’t, creating an even more lethal mix that, when burned, re-volatilizes the deadly, cancer-inducing cesium. The resulting plumes not only drift into neighboring communities, he said, but are also caught up in wind currents that reach the western coast of the U.S. and Canada.
Keith Johnson is a writer based in Tennessee. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.